The Australian | 22 June 2005
By Bernard Lane
WHEN PHYSICS departments in universities are closing, Wilson da Silva concedes it is puzzling that the general public’s fascination with science is growing. That fascination is about to be put to a practical test with the launch today of a glossy new science magazine, COSMOS, which goes on sale for $8.95.
As founding editor, da Silva said COSMOS would find a ready market; nothing surprising there. But if media ventures like this do succeed then perhaps, they might help restore science enrolments.
“These things do come in cycles,” da Silva said. “Maybe if we make science a natural part of culture now, in five years the cycle will be different.”
He believes he has the formula to attract even the “agnostics” who don’t think of themselves as natural readers of science. “We look unashamedly for the human in everything – ultimately, science is the story of people.”
At any rate, he believes he has the formula to attract even the “agnostics” who don’t think of themselves as natural readers of science. “We look unashamedly for the human in everything – ultimately, science is the story of people,” he said.
The first edition cover of the 112-page monthly features an ice-blue maiden (cheating death, perhaps?) and conjures with names such as Buzz Aldrin (revisiting the Moon in memory), Richard Dawkins (in the Galapagos Islands) and science fiction by Ray Bradbury.
“If you think about it, science fiction writers are the best futurists because they have to consider developments in science today and they have to spin them out to the future and see what the implications might be – and they have to entertain you at the same time,” da Silva said.
He said he detected an unmet demand for science stories and a popular fascination that transcends the latest “Aussie breakthrough”. “Science history has been a booming category in books since 1992 when Dava Sobel launched Longitude,” he said.
Not all forays into the science magazine niche have been so successful. In Australia, titles such as Omega and Newton (edited by da Silva) did not survive. But da Silva said COSMOS had the right formula, solid backing (thanks to biotechnology entrepreneur Alan Finkel) and a business plan based on a gradual build-up in circulation.
Bryan Gaensler is a believer. “This niche in mainstream publishing has been waiting to be filled for a long time.”
Bryan Gaensler is a believer. “This niche in mainstream publishing has been waiting to be filled for a long time,” he wrote in a letter of support from Harvard University. He signed himself “an exiled Australian”. Since agreeing to serve on the COSMOS advisory board – with University of NSW science dean Mike Archer, among others – Dr Gaensler has been lured back to Australia as a Federation Fellow at the University of Sydney.