You might think that my favorite magazine would be the New Yorker, or Granta, but in fact it’s the New Scientist. New Scientist is the British equivalent of Scientific American, a serious but popular journal about science. (I should mention a much newer publication, Seed, that aims to connect science and culture, too, and will write something about it soon, too.) New Scientist has come up in two conversations this week, as an essential point of reference. The first with Alex Pang, editor of the forthcoming Encyclopedia of the 21st Century, and the second with a New York agent yesterday. She too reads and admires the Economist (which led me to wonder why we are turning to UK journals for our information–I think we talked about balance, coverage, and good writing).
I was first introduced to New Scientist in 1979, when I went to London as a student and got a summer job at Blackwell Scientific Publications. We editorial assistants were English majors, and mostly female, while the subeditors were new science graduates, mostly but not exclusively male, all scattered in a maze of rooms in two houses on John Street, minutes away from the Dickens House Museum. There was definitely something Dickensian about the Blackwell offices: piles of old manuscripts on top of every cupboard and desk and shelf; bookcases propped up because the floors of the rooms dipped and dived. The one thing that circulated throughout the whole of the office was the weekly New Scientist. This was ostensibly for educational purposes, but of course the jobs section was most read. Blackwell was a kind of incubator for young editors, and very few people stayed long. But that wasn’t a bad thing, there was a lovely sense of comradery I never forgot. (And some people still remember that “American girl.” One of my bosses from those days insists that I wore jeans and sneakers to work. I am almost certain this isn’t true, but perhaps he’s right. I know that I was the only one who would trek down to the basement kitchen to make tea in a pot, instead of using a teabag.)
The one thing I think New Scientist gets it wrong on is Wikipedia, which they seem to accept as completely meritorious without taking their usual scrupulous look at the underlying assumptions. It intrigues me that the scientific community is less critical about the idea of wiki content than scholars in other disciplines, and will write something about that soon after interviewing some people.
And, from New York, a photo of Emily Davidow (who blogs here) and me at Grounded, an organic coffee shop in the West Village. Emily is someone I’ve been corresponding with thanks to Remy Chevalier, of Project Lü. She speaks Chinese, works in environmental design, and is something of a geek–what’s not to love?! I have a feeling that we’ll be doing some things together before long, and in the meantime here’s a photo from our first meeting, taken on her Mac.
I’m not knocking the New Yorker, either–how could I, enjoying this city so much?