In 1921, the world was still struggling to recover from the ravages of World War I and the influenza pandemic that had killed 50 million people. The global economy slid into a brief depression. The media magnate E.W. Scripps was contemplating the parallel goals he saw in science and journalism: to discover how the world works, and to explain it truthfully and in a way that people can understand. An informed, educated public, he believed, was essential to a democratic society.
Scripps had become an avid student of science in his later years, thanks in part to his friendship with zoologist William E. Ritter. Scripps was appalled by the media’s willingness to promote fake cures and dangerous theories, writing in 1919 that “there is a vast quantity of misinformation being constantly spread abroad by our newspapers.”
To combat that misinformation and to help people learn how to “think like a scientist,” in 1921 Scripps and Ritter founded Science Service, an independent news service that covered the latest scientific research for publication in newspapers. Those weekly bulletins became so popular that starting in 1922, they were bundled into Science News-Letter, a stand-alone publication for the general public. That later morphed into Science News magazine.
Over the decades, we have stayed true to our founders’ mission. Science News reporters covered the discovery of insulin as a treatment for diabetes in 1922 and traveled to Tennessee in 1925 to cover the Scopes “monkey trial” that challenged the teaching of evolution. We were on the scene at Bikini Atoll to witness the 1946 atomic weapons tests, and in 1959, first reported on data showing that Earth is warming. We covered the revolution in computing that has transformed science and society from the era of vacuum tubes. And we’ve tirelessly covered the coronavirus pandemic, both the extraordinary scientific efforts to combat the virus and its toll on society.
Of course, we’re not going to let our 100th anniversary pass without notice. We’ll be looking back at transformative moments in science over the last century, starting in this issue with the emergence of the theory of plate tectonics in the 1960s. Earth and climate writer Carolyn Gramling chronicles the insights and technological advances that made it possible to reimagine the forces shaping our planet, and to discover that Earth’s surface is divided into giant chunks that collide and split apart atop a churning mantle. She also illuminates how this crust on the go informs other big questions in science, including the possibility of life on other worlds.
We have big plans to explore other epochal achievements in science in the coming months, both here in the magazine and on our new Century of Science site. The site is designed to encourage exploration, revealing unexpected connections across fields of science. It will also include additional features, such as timelines and links to the original coverage in our archive. We’ll be publishing new material through March 2022. I’m greatly looking forward to this journey of rediscovery and insight, and I’m glad you’re along for the ride.