When Science News readers talk, we listen

You may think of reading Science News as a solitary pleasure, but I have news for you: You’re not alone. At this moment, someone else is probably reading this very same editor’s note, or the story about the mysterious ways the coronavirus affects people’s brains, or maybe the piece about how feral donkeys and horses dig water wells that slake the thirst of many living things, even a visiting researcher.

And that’s not just hype. Between our flagship print magazine and the millions of people who read us online (24 million website users in 2020), plus students and teachers at more than 5,000 schools in our Science News in High Schools program, you’ve got a lot of company. Good company, too. Our readers are a savvy crew, and they don’t hesitate to let us know when we’ve made a mistake (thank you!), to ask questions, or to add perspective to an article. And though like any news organization we get our share of random rants, opening up our feedback inbox (feedback@sciencenews.org) never fails to delight me.

Take the recent letter from Judith Shea, who wrote in response to our special report on the science of misinformation, including the long history of attacks on vaccines (SN: 5/8/21 & 5/22/21, p. 32). “I wonder if anyone my age is ‘anti-vaccination,’ ” writes Shea, who was born in 1941. As children, she writes, “all of us and all of our friends got sick over and over,” suffering from measles, chicken pox, rubella, whooping cough and more. “Polio was the most dreaded,” she writes. “We would lie awake at night imagining what it would be like to have our legs, arms, or even our whole bodies paralyzed.”

When Shea had her own children in the 1960s, “Wow, it was so much better. No polio worries, no damage to unborn children from viruses such as measles.”

Some letters are heartbreaking, including one from a teacher in response to our article on the continuing underrepresentation of minorities in STEM (SN: 5/8/21 & 5/22/21, p. 20). Nanceen Hoskins described her own experience seeing students of color in lower grades being discouraged from taking honors classes, even when they’re more than capable. “Ultimately, the system continues to see those of color as less intelligent, which is then reinforced through statistics because they were tripped at the gate before being able to run.”

We also get firsthand stories from scientists who have had a front-row seat to the science, including a recent note from A. Michael Noll about our feature on the evolution of videocalling (SN: 4/24/21, p. 22). He worked on developing videoconferencing technology in the 1970s — and even contributed to the videophone sequence in the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey. And we’re always thrilled when Benny Rietveld’s name shows up in the inbox. He’s not only a longtime reader (subscribing, as he notes, “since before the internet”), but also the bass player for the legendary band Santana. His latest missive critiqued a headline on “damage” caused by vaccine hesitancy. “I personally would want everyone to read the article, and making the immediate judgment in the title runs the risk of turning away potential readers who may have an anti-vax stance to begin with.” Good point, Mr. Rietveld. Please keep writing, and thank you for the music!

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.