We’ve got the genes for science journalism

Nancy ShuteBefore visiting my parents for spring break, I thought, “Gee, wouldn’t it be fun if I bought them those genetic ancestry kits?” But I never got around to making that purchase, and after reading Tina Hesman Saey’s cover story in this issue, I realize I might have inadvertently made a wise decision.

Consumer DNA test kits have become wildly popular, with millions of people hoping for a peek into their family history, their risk of diseases such as Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s, or even a suggestion on what wine will pair well with their genes. While tests like the genetic wine guide are clearly frivolous, others, like those predicting disease risk, can come with consequences.

That’s a problem, because, as Saey explains, the science of gene-based prediction is still in its infancy. Scientists don’t yet know how to interpret much of the information in a person’s genome, let alone apply that to health care. And there are serious privacy issues with sharing one’s genetic information, as detectives’ use of a genealogy database to find the suspected Golden State Killer revealed in April (SN Online: 4/29/18).

Saey’s article in this issue is the first of three that dive deep into the science behind direct-to-consumer genetic testing. Saey worked for five months full-time on the series as well as significant prior research and interviews, doing the kind of in-depth reporting on issues important to individuals and society that’s core to our mission here at Science News. I hope you find the story, as well as Saey’s reviews of genetic testing services, as thought-provoking as I did.

And though genetic tests might not be so great for predicting the future, it’s always good to have a plan. That’s why we’ve been working hard on a strategic plan for the Science News Media Group, which includes Science News, Science News for Students and the Science News in High Schools program.

Our goals haven’t changed: to deliver the most accurate, compelling coverage of advances in science, technology and medicine on the planet. We want to give people the tools they need to be critical thinkers and evaluate the news and the world around them, especially in this era of global disinformation.

So we’ll continue to cover the news of science as we have for nearly a century, while also tackling new initiatives, including:

  • Expand our coverage of the human sciences, including psychology, sociology and economics.
  • Experiment with digital tools that let readers control the complexity of an article, so people of all ages and abilities can understand and enjoy science.
  • Give people the tools they need to identify misinformation and junk science.
  • Undertake a much-needed upgrade of our websites, so that we can deliver high-quality science news to people where and when they want it.

And we’ll continue to work to diversify our sources of revenue, so that Science News will thrive for at least another 100 years.

Our readers are an opinionated lot, and we love hearing from you. So drop us a line by mail or at editors@sciencenews.org. Thank you for joining us on this adventure!

Nancy Shute is editor in chief of Science News Media Group. Previously, she was an editor at NPR and US News & World Report, and a contributor to National Geographic and Scientific American. She is a past president of the National Association of Science Writers.

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