A Fond Farewell

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Science  24 May 2013:
Vol. 340, Issue 6135, pp. 901
DOI: 10.1126/science.1240454

Half a century ago, Philip Abelson, Science's longtime Editor-in-Chief, made a radical move in the world of scholarly publishing. He launched a new section of the journal, News and Comment, and staffed it with journalists, not scientists. His rationale: Fundamental changes were taking place in the funding and organization of research, and it was becoming increasingly important for scientists to know about and understand events shaping the scientific enterprise. A decade later, he added another journalist-written section, Research News, that would report on new findings and trends in research itself. This time, he reasoned that because research was becoming ever more specialized, scientists needed objective reporting on developments in disciplines outside their own. Under the leadership of early News editors such as Daniel S. Greenberg and Allen Hammond, the News sections quickly became among the most widely read parts of a journal that has continued to publish the very best research papers.

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I believe that Abelson's reasoning is as sound today as it was 50 years ago. The need has never been greater for good, timely reporting on an enterprise that is now global and is widely viewed as a critical element in economic development and in the solution of many societal problems. It is also an enterprise pushed and pulled by internal and external forces, filled with larger-than-life characters, and engaged in some of the most exciting and intellectually challenging pursuits imaginable. In short, it's a reporter's dream. And in a world in which information is increasingly obtained by targeted searches, the disciplinary narrowing that Abelson lamented is growing more pronounced, and it is happening at a time when advances are most likely to be made at the interfaces between the sciences. The merger of computer science and biology and the resulting explosion of “-omics” findings is just one example of that promise.


It has been my privilege to have been part of Science's News team for more than 30 years, the past 18 as News Editor, and to have served under the leadership of five distinguished Editors-in-Chief, beginning with Phil Abelson. Those decades have seen dramatic changes in our operation. We have gone from a solely Washington, D.C.–based unit to one with bureaus in China, Japan, India, Germany, the Netherlands, France, the United Kingdom, and four other U.S. cities, as well as a stable of freelance writers who report from many other places. Our readers are no longer restricted to those who have access to a print copy; we have extended our reach to anybody who has access to the Internet, with a free daily news service consisting of ScienceNOW and ScienceInsider that has more than a quarter of a million Facebook fans and that, in many months, attracts upward of 1 million unique visitors. In addition, through the journal's Web site, our reporting, analysis, and feature writing that are produced for the weekly print magazine reach a growing international audience. As a mark of excellence, our reporters have received some two dozen science writing awards in the past decade.

If this essay sounds like the reminiscences of somebody who is about to depart, it is. Next month, I will be stepping down as Science's News Editor and handing over the reins to Tim Appenzeller, an outstanding and seasoned science journalist. Tim was an editor at The Sciences and Scientific American before joining Science's News team as a Deputy News Editor in the 1990s. Since then he has been a senior editor at U.S. News and World Report and National Geographic, and for the past 3 years he has been Nature's Chief Magazine Editor. It is very gratifying to know that Science's News department and its exceptional team of reporters and editors will be in such capable hands, as Science and science continue to undergo changes that promise to be every bit as dramatic and exciting as those of the past several years.

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