One of my favorite parts of the Sunday Buffalo News, for years, was its Science page. This page appeared on the back of the Viewpoints section, and featured the paper’s only real science coverage: articles on the latest findings from the various sciences, and a weekly column by a local naturalist named Gerry Rising. As one of those people who reads the paper in the “my favorite stuff last” order, I saved the science page for one of the last things I read, and I actually e-mailed Mr. Rising a note of appreciation for his columns a while back.
A few Sundays ago, there was no Science page. Instead, the News decided to use that space to print facsimiles of its very first editions, from whatever year in the 1800s the News started publishing. Not to put too fine a point on it, but I don’t give two shits about this and I figured this would be a temporary thing until the Science page’s return.
Well, I learned last night that the Science page is gone. Gerry Rising speculates as to why the page was axed in an article he wrote for a local weekly publication, The Public:
On October 4 my final Sunday Buffalo News column was published. The column, my 1,280th over a period of 25 years, was critical of the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS). On October 8 I was informed that the entire science page of the Sunday News would no longer appear so, according to my editor, “I do [sic] no longer have a place to run your column.”
On October 15 a rebuttal to my column from HSUS representative Brian Shapiro appeared in the News’s ”Another Voice” column. I find this coincidence interesting, because, as I pointed out in my original column, HSUS has a history of intimidation.
I’ll spare the details (you can read them at Mr. Rising’s article), but Mr. Rising suspects that the Science page was axed, at least in part, because of a column he wrote that was critical of the Humane Society. Now, I don’t know how true that is or may be, and to be honest, I don’t really care. If the News felt that a particular columnist was out of line or beyond the pale or whatever, that’s one thing. But the decision to eliminate the entirety of the paper’s science coverage is indefensible and stupid, and it angers me greatly.
I believe, very deeply, as Carl Sagan did: Our civilization’s future will only be more and more dependent on science as it moves forward, and to the extent that we’re successful as a civilization, it will be because of our respect for science. I am troubled by the increasing levels of hostility toward science in America today, and part of this is the general dearth of real science coverage in our major news media. What the News has done, whether because the Humane Society protested or because the News just wanted to fellate itself, is to tacitly endorse the idea that science is best left to scientists, that regular citizens have no real need to know anything about it or engage it in any real way, and basically, that it’s OK to be dumb about science. Science is just an optional thing that we can live without just fine, as long as the scientists are off doing their thing…someplace.
Watching the increasing levels of arrogance from Buffalo News personnel over the years (especially from their sports department) has been pretty disappointing, but cutting the entirety of science coverage (even if it consisted of a single original, locally-written column and a bunch of stuff culled from the wire) is worse than that. The News has become a little less useful, and it’s come a bit closer to being what it dreads: nothing more than a weekly delivery service for grocery coupons.