90th Anniversary Issue: Introduction

Science News mines its past for highlights from nine decades of science

At its inception, the organization originally known as Science Service planned to provide news of the latest scientific research to established syndicates for distribution to newspapers and other media. But the syndicates weren’t that interested. One offered to buy 400 words’ worth of science news a day, at three cents a word. That deal didn’t last long.

90 YEARS Since its launch in 1922 (as Science News-Letter), more than 4,000 covers of Science News magazine have presented images of science in action. Jim Webb

Fortunately, plan B was more successful. Science News Bulletin, a weekly mimeographed compilation of science news items, was mailed to newspapers across the country. Soon individuals, libraries and schools inquired about subscribing to the bulletin directly; with a few embellishments, it was repackaged and sold to subscribers as the Science News-Letter beginning in March 1922.

In the years that followed, Science News Letter (first losing the hyphen, then the Letter) became the nation’s leading source of comprehensive accounts of science in action. In its pages readers learned of the bizarre new view of the atom posed by quantum mechanics, the arrival of antibiotic wonder drugs, surprising new subatomic particles and the splitting of the atom. Household words today were once neologisms introduced to many through Science News articles: pulsar, transistor, DNA, laser. Science News reported the play-by-play of the space race, the arms race and the detective work revealing the evolution of the human race. Faithful readers have encountered quarks and quasars and quantum computing; genetic engineering and genome sequencing; black holes, brown dwarfs and buckyballs; CFCs and global warming; dark energy, dark matter and water on Mars; stem cells and Dolly the Sheep; countless images from the Hubble Space Telescope and accounts of the planet Pluto’s discovery and its demotion from planetary status.

Read on for other examples. You’ll find that for the last 90 years, Science News has truly lived up to its name. —Tom Siegfried, Editor in Chief

Plumbing the archives










Tom Siegfried is a contributing correspondent. He was editor in chief of Science News from 2007 to 2012 and managing editor from 2014 to 2017.