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Some Good News, and a Hard Truth, About Science

Nonetheless, the section was an inspiration to science journalism as a whole. By 1989, more than 90 newspapers in the United States had weekly science sections, supported in part by ads from the growing home-computer industry. Science journalism became a subject of research in its own right. In 2006 the journal Science Communication published a research paper with the title “A Longitudinal Study of The New York Times Science Times Section,” which noted that the section had “established itself as an important, reliable, and influential guide to the world of science, medicine, and technology.”

By 2013 the number of weekly science sections had fallen to just 19, as newsprint-ads evaporated, the newspaper industry shrank, and the conversations shifted online. And there, it seems, the world of science is being discussed more vigorously than ever, on dozens of science news websites — Aeon, Ars Technica, Gizmodo, Live Science, Nautilus, Quanta, Stat, Undark, Vox — and a social-media landscape humming with the voices of engaging scientists and deeply informed writers.

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The first Science Times cover, published on November 14, 1978.Credit

Yet, increasingly, we are besieged by alternative truths. Climate change is a myth — a notion espoused by President Trump, despite all evidence to the contrary. The mass shootings in Parkland and Las Vegas were elaborately staged hoaxes, much like the moon landing, according to countless YouTube videos. The recent wildfires in California were started with lasers, by people scheming to reduce the population.

These and other nuggets of misinformation are shared and amplified by cynics, the credulous and bots, thriving on the air of false equivalence. And, online, they live forever. Andrew Wakefield’s research purporting to link vaccines to autism was discredited two decades ago, but it continues to circulate and infect, frightening parents into not vaccinating their children, and fueling the resurgence of measles. Over the weekend, several hundred people gathered in Denver for a two-day conference to celebrate and share their very sincere belief that Earth is flat.