Science publications suffer

No caption.
No caption. Photo by Lindsay Gellman.

Despite Yale’s push to expand the sciences, student and University publications in the field are feeling the bite of the recession.

Funding cutbacks from Master’s Offices and departments, as well as decreased advertisement revenue, are making it difficult for several science magazines to meet their goals of expanding coverage, Director of the Yale Journalism Initiative Mark Oppenheimer said. The publications are responding to the harsh financial climate by seeking additional advertisements and corporate sponsorships, three student editors said.

Though science publications have struggled for years to obtain adequate funding, according Ashish Bakshi ’10, editor-in-chief of the Yale Journal of Medicine and Law, a student publication, funding is even more difficult to obtain because of the current economic climate. Producing a print journal costs thousands of dollars per issue, he said.

Bakshi said the Yale Journal of Medicine and Law — which will publish four issues this academic year and has a circulation of about 2,000 — receives only $600 per semester from the Undergraduate Organizations Funding Committee. While this allowance has remained constant in recent years, Bakshi said procuring outside corporate sponsors to supplement UOFC funding has become a time-consuming priority.

“No print publication with decent circulation can survive on funding available within Yale College itself,” Bakshi said.

In an interview last month, Oppenheimer added that the recession makes it difficult for all publications to fill corporate advertising spots.

“It used to be that you saw an ad for Tyco [Copying and Printing] or Yorkside Pizza in every publication,” he said.

Bing Han ’11, a co-publisher of the student publication the Yale Scientific Magazine, said a “generous” grant from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute has allowed the publication to maintain its circulation numbers. Although Han declined to disclose the exact amount of the grant, the magazine has a circulation of about 1,600 and publishes four times per year, according to former editor in chief Ilana Yurkiewicz ’10.

But some science journals continue to expand coverage despite funding challenges, said Michael Greenwood, the managing editor of the Yale Public Health Magazine, a University publication which has a circulation of about 6,000. Greenwood said the journal, which has published two issues so far this academic year, increased the length of its second issue to accommodate more reporting.

Despite trying to expand coverage to better represent Yale’s advances in the sciences, 21 of 23 interviewed undergraduates said they do not read on-campus science journals.

Clara Men ’11, a molecular biophysics and biochemistry major who occasionally reads Yale science journals, said she finds them accessible but that they are not her first choice of reading material.

Lily Lamb-Atkinson ’12, a prospective psychology and theater studies double major, said while she does not often read science journals, she would be more inclined to read a journal article if it were relevant to course material than if it focused on a topic with which she were unfamiliar.

Greenwood and Bakshi said they want their publications to target both science and non-science majors. Greenwood said science journalists aim to communicate simply while preserving nuance and depth.

But reaching a non-scientific readership is no easy task, Newsweek senior editor Sharon Begley ’77 said in an interview in November.

“The obstacles of explaining [science to the public] are so daunting that the task is fairly hopeless,” said Begley, who writes science articles for Newsweek.

Begley, who was a contributing reporter for the Yale Scientific Magazine as an undergraduate, said the public clings to irrational beliefs in the face of overwhelming scientific evidence. But she added that universities such as Yale provide an opportunity for aspiring science journalists to communicate with an often open-minded readership.

Indeed, Deputy Provost for Science and Technology Steven Girvin said Yale’s science professors and administrators are in part relying on student publications to spread awareness of University research.

“Science journalism should ideally help non-experts and non-scientists understand the implications of new discoveries made at Yale,” Girvin said.

Comments