Science Service and the origins of science journalism, 1919-1950
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In 1919, just after the end of World War I, Edward W. Scripps and William E. Ritter joined to form a science news organization dedicated to pioneering the dissemination of accurate, accessible, and engaging news of science to the public primarily through the mainstream media. Scripps, a longtime journalist and successful entrepreneur, and Ritter, a respected biologist and teacher, were convinced of the importance of science knowledge to the American public. They also were concerned about limits and abuses under other political systems where science research was abridged or threatened. They sought to create a "scientific habit of mind" among the general public to increase the average person's awareness of the role of science in his or her daily life, to gain support for science research, and to help protect American democracy through an intelligent--meaning science- educated--citizenry. The result of this collaboration was the organization Science Service, established in 1921 for the popularization of science, with the support and participation of the leading science organizations, including the American Association for the Advancement of Science, National Academy of Science, and the National Research Council, as well as leaders of the journalism community. Reaching the public also meant navigating the contentious relationship between scientists and the press to create new ways of translating science information, and overcoming scientists' reticence about sharing their research interests with the lay public. Additionally, Science Service weighed capturing the public's attention through enticing but only fact-tinged stories, versus adhering to higher scientific and journalistic standards of fact-based but less sensational articles. Through the post-war twenties, the Depression thirties, and the war-plagued forties, Science Service forged relationships with
scientists, the press, political figures, government agencies and offices, and the general public that continue in the 21st century. Science Service made the first sustained effort at gathering and disseminating consistently credible, engaging, and understandable news of science and emerging technologies to a nationwide audience through the easily accessible mainstream media. This emerging field of "science journalism" sought to create a science-minded public able to appreciate, and willing to support, science and science research. The organization expanded the science news climate by creating a forum for science dialogue among scientists, journalists, and the public--a dialogue that continues today.