It may be that beyond what the polls can detect there exists a lot of additional queasiness about the state of the world, because suddenly there is a booming proliferation of interest in what has come to be contemporary society's crutch of last resort-science.
A good measure of this is to be found in the publishing industry. There, in just the past year of so, a great deal fo cautiously managed money has been thrown into undertakings that essentially boil down to selling the public simplified explanations of what establishment science boom is startling, especially since there was no dearth of publications in this field.
nonetheless. The New York Times last month began publication of a separate science section with its regular Tuesday edition. Long in the works.The Times' section made its debut only a few months after the first apperance of new monthly, Omni, a creation of the Penthouse publishing empire. Descirbed as a magazine of "science and science fiction." Omni at $2 per copy, recorded a million newstand sales in its first month and even drew a letter of praise from Philip Handler, president of the National Academy of Sciences the criadel of orthodox science.
Meanwhile, the British weekly Economist after surveying the interests of its readers, recently added a regular science and technology section to its worldwide coverage of political and business affairs. At the American Association for the Advancement of Science-publishers of the century-old professional weekly, Science-a new monthly intended for non-scientists interested in science is in an advanced state of preparation. Time Inc. is at work on a monthly scientific magazine and expects to have a prototype completed by spring. And, at about that time, CBS plans to complete a pilot of a half-hour TV science "magazine."
The thriving market has also benefited existing publications. For example, Science News, a weekly that provides reliable, high school level news about science and technology, was near bankruptcy in the early part of this decade. Several years ago, however, it as reprieved by the boom, and its circulation has gone from 120,000 in 1975 to 175,000 at present.
An overly simple explanation for this surge of new ventures is that serious treatment of science andelated matters in the last frontier for an industry that has otherwise exploited every potential audience from celebrity oglers to devotees of jogging. Furthermore, as the recent scuttling of New Times magazine suggests, the public isn't keen for probing political analyses and institution knocking. Therefore, in this view of the matter, science is a natural growth area, drawing on the "gee-whiz" atitude that most layment feel toward the mysteries of research, and doing so in a non-partisan, guilt-free, sit-back-and-be-amazed fashion. Looked at this way, the interest in science represents a blend of curiosity and repectable escapism.
Beyond that composite interpretation, however, it may be worth considering the possiblity that the growth of popular appetite for lucid descriptions and explanations of modern research and its finding actully represents something else: A king of disullusionment with kooky, fad explanations of what the world is all about and a quest for reliable, enduring understankings. Admittedly, astrology still outsells pop explanations of molecular biology but the marketplace trends cam properly be called extraordinary.
Off in the political realm, it should be noted, the popular turn to science is currently being matched in several nations by an outbreak of government concerns about the adequacy of support for reseach. Budget-cutting Jimmy Carter has repreatedly insisted that basic research, virtually alone in the inventory of federally assisted activites, must be guranteed substanial growth above the inflation rate, because as be has often claimed it cam uniquely contribute to the solution of many problems. And the goverments of France, Britian and Italy, all acting independently, and in the context of austerity budgets have recently decided to increase "real" speding on science.
Given the choice, it is preferable to have more rather than less research and also expanded public understaning of its performance and consequences. The danger, however, is that in the quest for solutions to what are fundamently political and social problems the gusger of interest in science night simply lead to swapping one set of which doctors for another. CAPTION: Picture, no caption, By Gerald Martineau-The Washington Post