Arguably the best New Yorker cover of all time was Saul Steinberg's "view of the world from 9th avenue" (March 29, 1976), which showed the richly detailed streets of Manhattan in the foreground, a highly simplified USA stretching into the distance, and "China," "Japan," and "Russia" as amorphous islands dotting the Pacific Ocean.
I am reminded of this cover every time I visit the Huffington Post and see the words "Politics," "Media," "Business," "Entertainment," and "Living" on the top banner. These comprise the Huffington Post's view of the world. Where, I would like to know, is "Science?"
Take my last blog, which was on the scientific study of religion. It appeared in the "Living" section, where it was listed along with other blogs such as "Pregnancy, orgasms, and lying about your age," "Top 10 ways to celebrate international women's day," and "Spring break wisdom." Within days it was gone, to be replaced by the likes of "The art of global warming," "Working with children on the streets," and "4 ways to get excited for Easter."
Don't get me wrong. I'm not knocking these other blogs or questioning the influence of the Huffington Post. When my fellow scientist and HuffPost blogger Dan Agin got me started, he said that HuffPost blogs get picked up by hundreds of other websites, and he was right. I know that my blogs are being read worldwide and I'm grateful for the forum. Glancing at the blogger's index, I see that numerous other scientists are making use of the same opportunity. But the Huffington Post can do better. It can make science part of the foreground, rather than an amorphous island in the distance, by creating a "Science" section.
After all, the New York Times has its highly successful Tuesday science section. Major internet news outlets such as CNN have a science section. What self-respecting intellectual can deny that understanding and improving the human condition will depend in large part on scientific knowledge?
The only argument against creating a "Science" section, as far as I can see, is that it would be B-O-R-I-N-G. Sure we should know about science, and we should also eat our vegetables and exercise daily, but that's not what causes people to visit websites. I think that this argument fails for two reasons. First, it only works for media outlets driven purely by entertainment, such as People magazine. Media outlets that strive for the intellectual high ground have an obligation to report substance. Second, who says that science must be boring? Done right, science journalism can be riveting, especially when it is used to understand and improve the human condition, as it increasingly is in my own field of evolutionary biology.
I also think that if many scientists can be persuaded to blog for the Huffington Post, then something new and magnificent might emerge--a forum for scientists to engage in the actual scientific process, in full view of the general public. When the scientific process works as it is supposed to, it is more accountable than almost any other social process. If there is one thing lacking in popular culture today, it is accountability. The idea of putting the scientific process on display on the virtual pages of the Huffington Post makes me positively giddy with excitement.
So, even though they haven't asked me, I propose that the Huffington Post should create a "Science" section. The best way to attract Arianna's attention is with a groundswell of popular support. If you agree with my proposition, then please vote by posting a brief comment on this blog and encouraging your science-minded friends to do the same. Who knows? Perhaps our collective voice will put us onto the "Most popular on HuffPost" box on the front page. Or, perhaps the response to my modest proposal will be so anemic that "Science" will remain an amorphous island in the distance.