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Scientific American–Then and Now

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Excerpt from the first issue of Scientific American

"Scientific America" is the oldest continuously published magazine in the United States

Thoughts on the first issue of Scientific American, from 1845, now available online.

Nature Publishing Group (which publishes Scientific American) announced today that it has now digitized all of Scientific American’s archive, going back to Volume 1, Issue 1 from 1845.

I decided to take a look at the first issue, which was targeted to Americans of a mechanical bent, and started to reflect on how much (or how little) has changed in the intervening 166 years:



In 1845, the editor wrote “we shall endeavour to avoid all expressions of sentiment, on any sectional, sectarian, or political party subject.”


In the words of Shawn Lawrence Otto, we at Scientific American understand that “Science is never partisan, but science is always political.” Stating that evidence shows that something is true independent of what others—no matter their wealth or rank—think of it can be very subversive. (I’m reading Otto’s new book, “Fool Me Twice: Fighting the Assault on Science in America.” Highly recommended.)



“[We] shall exercise a full share of independence, in the occasional exposure of ignorance and knavery, especially when we find them sheltered by arrogance and aristocracy.”


See “Flu Factories” (2011), “Drowning New Orleans” (four years BEFORE Katrina), anything by Michael Shermer.



“We shall advocate the pure Christian religion, without favouring any particular sect; and shall make it a point to adhere to reason and common sense, independently of the opinions of those, whose interests and popularity depend on their rigid adherence to traditional doctrines, and church creeds.”


Okay. So some things change. We do not advocate for religion, but we still feel free to ignore (and when necessary make fun of) creeds that demand belief in a 6,000-year-old earth or intelligent design, deny the evidence of anthropogenic climate change or posit “personhood” in an unimplanted fertilized egg.

For more “Anecdotes from the Archive,” check out Mary Karmelek’s blog.

About the Author: Christine Gorman is the editor in charge of health and medicine features for SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN. Follow on Twitter @cgorman.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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