WASHINGTON—The growing popularity and continued financial health of Science News offers hope to readers saddened by the recent demise of two mass-circulation science magazines sacrificed in an attempt to bail out a third.

Published here continuously since 1922 by the nonprofit Science Service, Science News reached its highest circulation level ever in 1986, going from 179,000 subscribers in June to more than 215,000 by the end of December. The magazine does not know how many of its new readers are former subscribers to Science 86 or Science Digest, both of which folded last year after being bought by Time Inc., publisher of Discover. And the magazine's renewal rate of 68 percent, according to publisher E.G. Sherburne Jr., is one of the highest of any magazine in the country. It is not sold on newsstands.

"We're different from the other science magazines because, first of all, we're a weekly," says Sherburne....

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