The Modest Proposal

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Science News Emily Gercke

Let's be upfront: I'm a nerd. Not a gamer or role playing aficionado, but a science nerd. I am enthusiastic about the quest for knowledge and discovery of universal truths. The scientific method is our ultimate guide to reality, and I support those who spend their lives in pursuit of a deeper understanding of the way our world works. Now, I'm not enough of a nerd to open Acta Crystallographica every night, but for the appropriate depth and breadth and readability, my periodical of choice is Science News.

Ever since my Dad gifted me the subscription after college, I have been an avid reader of Science News, a bi-weekly 'zine published by the Society for Science and the Public. I love Science News for many reasons, some personal and some intellectual:

1) I'm not the kind of nerd that works in a lab all day and then wants to come home and read the primary literature. Science News is NOT primary literature. The articles are approachable, understandable, and interesting. It sparks my wonder in the world without taking gobs of brainpower to dissect every sentence. It also gives me a break from my field (geology) and keeps me up to date on discoveries in other areas.

2) On that note, Science News aims its articles at scientists and other educated laypeople, but not experts in the field. It has the appropriate depth of knowledge for all scientific non-experts. It covers a wide range of fields (from computer science, psychology, and materials science to biology, conservation, social networks, and more) in enough detail to make you feel like you've learned something. I don't rely on it for detailed information in my own field of expertise, but I do use it to know what to follow up on in the primary literature.

3) The tidbits I learn from SN become conversation starters at pretty much every social function I attend. My partner is an academic scientist, meaning that our social life mostly involves other scientists and academics. I always have something to break the ice with so-and-so's electrical engineer husband, or the particle physicists pushing their glasses up in the corner.

4) Aside from one or two longer feature pieces in each issue, SN focuses on bite-sized articles that are perfect for my bus commute, waiting in line, or for a quick break at work. I don't feel like I have to have a large block of time to commit to reading it. I particularly enjoy the front matter that includes short blurbs such as "Say What?" which defines an obscure but interesting scientific term, and "Science Past," a brief synopsis of a historical scientific achievement from 50 years ago. I look forward to their annual "year-in-review" issues that for me serve as an uplifting reminder of all that we are collectively learning as a society.

5) My idea of a perfect rainy day is a cup of tea, blanket, and a SN on the couch. I associate it with comfort, relaxation, and leisure. I even donated to a fundraiser with only two emails asking for my contribution. If that's not devotion to a periodical, I don't know what is.

To give you a taste, here are some notable recent factoids that I've managed to retain: some flowers lace their nectar with caffeine and honeybees preferentially pollinate them. Cannibalism occurred at the Jamestown settlement. Drops and upticks in the Dow Jones Industrial Average are foreshadowed by certain Google searches. A bone marrow transplant has cured a boy of both leukemia and a severe peanut allergy. Babies can learn to recognize specific words before birth. The Everglades will likely be inundated by sea level rise before the end of the century. Surgeons have successfully replaced 75% of a man's skull with polymer shaped by a 3D printer. So many more.

Science News has become an indispensable part of what I consider my duty to stay informed. I am always eager to answer whenever someone asks me "where did you learn that?!"

You can subscribe to Science News here.

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