In 1921, the world was still struggling to recover from the ravages of World War I and the flu pandemic that had killed 50 million people. The global economy has fallen into a brief depression. Media mogul E.W. Scripps contemplated the parallel goals he saw in science and journalism: discovering how the world works and explaining it truthfully and in a way that people can understand. He believed that an informed and educated public was essential to a democratic society.
Scripps became an avid science student in his later years, thanks in part to his friendship with zoologist William E. Ritter. Scripps was dismayed by the media's willingness to promote false cures and dangerous theories, writing in 1919 that "there is an enormous amount of misinformation that our newspapers constantly spread abroad."
To combat this misinformation and help people learn to "think like a scientist," in 1921 Scripps and Ritter founded Science Service, an independent news service that covered the latest scientific research for publication in newspapers. These weekly bulletins became so popular that from 1922 they were included in Science News-Letter, a stand-alone publication for the general public. This was later transformed into Science News magazine.
Over the decades, we have remained true to the mission of our founders. Science News reporters covered the discovery of insulin as a treatment for diabetes in 1922 and traveled to Tennessee in 1925 to cover Scopes' "monkey trial" that challenged the teaching of evolution. We were at the Bikini Atoll site to witness the 1946 atomic weapons tests, and in 1959 we first reported data showing that the Earth is warming. We cover the computer revolution that has transformed science and society since the era of vacuum tubes. And we tirelessly cover the coronavirus pandemic, both the extraordinary scientific efforts to combat the virus and its toll on society.
Of course, we’re not going to let our 100th anniversary pass without warning. We will look back at the transformative moments of science in the last century, beginning in this issue with the emergence of the theory of plate tectonics in the 1960s. Earth and climate writer Carolyn Gramling narrates the ideas and technological advances that have allowed us to reimagine the forces that make up our planet and discover that the Earth’s surface is divided into giant pieces that collide and separate on a turbulent mantle. It also illuminates how this moving crust informs other major issues of science, including the possibility of living in other worlds.
We have big plans to explore other achievements of science in the coming months, both here in the journal and on our new Century of Science site. The site is designed to encourage exploration, revealing unexpected connections between fields of science. It will also include additional features, such as timelines and links to the original coverage in our archive. We will be posting new material until March 2022. I look forward to this journey of rediscovery and insight, and I look forward to you being accompanied.