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Is More News Better?

WASHINGTON—Undaunted by a lack of advertising and the general decline of science magazines, more U.S. newspapers are adding a weekly science section to their pages. But despite the 350 percent increase in the number of such sections in the last two years—from 19 to 66 according to a recent survey from the Scientists' Institute for Public Information—it's not known if the growth has improved the type or quality of coverage. SIPI, a New York-based nonprofit group that works to im

February 9, 1987

WASHINGTON—Undaunted by a lack of advertising and the general decline of science magazines, more U.S. newspapers are adding a weekly science section to their pages. But despite the 350 percent increase in the number of such sections in the last two years—from 19 to 66 according to a recent survey from the Scientists' Institute for Public Information—it's not known if the growth has improved the type or quality of coverage.

SIPI, a New York-based nonprofit group that works to improve public understanding of science, defined a science section as at least 1½ pages of news on science or health that appears in a clearly marked space the same day each week. Unfortunately, such sections are costly to produce, noted Sheryl Burpee, SIPI's director of research, and at least one of the 66 sections has folded since the survey was completed. Burpee said the rising number indicates a belief among editors that the public wishes to read about science, and officials at papers with established science pages say the sections have earned the loyalty of readers.

Whether these readers are getting more complete coverage of science news, however, is not clear. "It depends on who you talk to," said Burpee. "Some editors are really enthusiastic about the sections and say they've improved science coverage overall." But critics argue that the sections merely compartmentalize news that would otherwise have appeared throughout the paper.

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