For nearly 7 years, National Public Radio (NPR) has been host to “13.7: Cosmos and Culture”, a science blog that is a commentary on science in society (the 13.7 comes from the approximate age of the universe). Unfortunately, this initiative will soon be ending as NPR focuses on other areas. It has long been the main organized “opinion” coverage at NPR, which has a strong reputation for solid reporting that is based in fact. The blog covered all manners of discussion, from broad questions about the origin of the universe and the search for life among the stars to more down to earth topics like the psychology of fake news.
The importance of this commentary was, as the creators put it, to allow “a place in the popular media where scientists could talk about science and culture in the broadest terms”, and to give these issues a unique platform. While other major media outlets do not outright neglect reporting on science, it does not take precedence when compared to other issues. And in terms of asking the big questions, about ourselves and the universe, scientific commentary from mainstream outlets like CNN are sorely lacking.
NPR deserves credit for allowing something like this to exist, especially when not many sites had done it before. But I believe they are making a grave mistake in ending Cosmos and Culture, especially in the current cultural and political climate.
First and foremost, NPR should make every effort to continue this blog because it presents fascinating and insightful content. Science is such an incredible field with intriguing discoveries, but it has historically been perceived as a cold and analytical field of study. Blogs like Cosmos and Culture help destroy this perception, helping to inspire a sense of wonder throughout the many fields and topics discussed in their commentaries. Maybe this is just me, but there is a sheer sense of enjoyment that I get when I find my mind twisted with questions on what could have possibly come before the Big Bang or how soon we might find life on other planets. It is, I think, critical to our society that we highlight aspects of science that inspire that same wonder and fascination and encourage people to seek new information and learn about the natural world.
In this same vein, we are at a sort of crossroads in regards to science in our society. A person who questions established science on climate change and vaccines sits in the Oval Office, and many of his top advisers and leaders within his own party are disdainful of widely accepted science and the “experts” and “elitists” they accuse of pushing it. Anti-intellectualism is persistent in many areas.
Because of this, the importance of perhaps the most well-respected news outlet in this country having a significant portion of their content dedicated to science cannot be overstated. NPR is one of the few places that can discuss scientific issues while avoiding legitimate accusations of pushing a political agenda. Regardless of whether scientific discussions from CNN, MSNBC, or Fox News are accurate or not their very association with outlets regarded as partisan hurt their credibility. NPRs inclusion of science-oriented articles bolsters the credibility of said articles and helps ensure they are considered without fear of political bias.
13.7: Cosmos and Culture is the kind of scientific commentary we need in American society. A blog like this helps bring science to the forefront of everyday conversation, and encourage interest in topics from astronomy to biology to psychology. It helps people gain respect for the work that scientists in all fields do, and encourages them to be more trustful of reports even if they may challenge their preconceived opinions. And it helps combat the growing spread of anti-intellectualism that is plaguing our nation. So please NPR, even if you can’t keep Cosmos and Cultures as it currently exists, make every effort to give science the exposure it needs to thrive.
Jacob Kowalski is opinion editor for The Daily Campus opinion section. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.