The results of scientific and scholarly research are all around us. Some are routine, like brushing our teeth, checking email, or taking a vitamin. While others, such as cloning animals, building nuclear weapons, and exploring deep space, are nearly unimaginable.
Regardless of the apparent scope and complexity, each of these advancements impacts our quality of life at multiple levels. They influence every facet, including health, culture, economics, transportation, politics, agriculture, and countless other areas.
This expansion of knowledge and understanding about ourselves, societies, and environments is the goal of all researchers. Scientists and scholars strive to inspire all people, not just others within their field.
Since the majority of valuable research is ultimately published in field-specific or interdisciplinary academic journals that are out of reach to the layperson, the question is, “How does a scientist or scholar ensure that their research is accessible and understandable to the general public?”
One highly effective way for researchers to approach a wider audience is by publishing their work in the magazine Scientific American. This article discusses the ins and outs of how to get published in Scientific American, why researchers should be motivated to do so, and what benefits it offers to both them and society.
What is Scientific American?
Rufus Porter, an American painter and inventor, founded Scientific American in 1845 as a large format newspaper. With the subtitle, "The Advocate of Industry and Enterprise, and Journal of Mechanical and Other Improvements," it originally focused on patents and advice for inventors.
In less than a year, Porter sold his publication to Alfred Ely Beach and Orson Desaix Munn who treated it as a "workbench" publication, similar to the twentieth century version of Popular Science. Beach and Munn, later recognized as Munn & Company, maintained ownership of Scientific American for just over a century, consistently reporting on the discoveries and inventions of the Industrial Revolution, like the telephone and incandescent light bulb.
After World War II, the magazine experienced financial hardship that brought about its sale two more times, to three business partners in 1948, Gerard Piel, Dennis Flanagan, and Donald H. Miller, Jr., and later to the Holtzbrinck group of Germany in 1986. During this time period, the target audience also shifted from researchers and scientists, to a more diverse, popular audience.
As the oldest continuously published magazine in the United States, Scientific American is now considered the authority on science and technology for a general market. It features in-depth articles, news stories, expert opinion and commentary, podcasts, videos, photo features and more.
Why do authors and researchers strive to get work published in Scientific American?
For the past 178 years, researchers have recognized the value of publishing their work in Scientific American. Contemporary authors continue to seek this beneficial exposure by following the example of over 150 Nobel laureates who have published pieces in Scientific American, such as:
- Marie Curie- 1911 Prize motivation: "in recognition of her services to the advancement of chemistry by the discovery of the elements radium and polonium, by the isolation of radium and the study of the nature and compounds of this remarkable element"
- Scientific American: “Preparation of Pure Radium Salts”
- Albert Einstein- 1921 Prize motivation: “for his services to Theoretical Physics, and especially for his discovery of the law of the photoelectric effect”
- Scientific American: “On the Generalized Theory of Gravitation”
- Svante Pääbo- 2022 Prize motivation: “for his discoveries concerning the genomes of extinct hominins and human evolution”
- Scientific American: “Ancient DNA”
By publishing with Scientific American, authors benefit from not only joining the ranks of these renowned Nobel Prize winners, but also reaching a vast global audience. With 12 foreign-language editions, more than 10 million people interact with Scientific American each month through print and digital versions of its magazine, an interactive website, subscriber newsletter, and mobile apps. It reaches millions more through social media and other platforms, including 4 million Twitter followers alone.
This opportunity to influence such an immense scope of readers is rather unique to Scientific American. Their expert science writers and editors eliminate the conventionality and jargon of traditional academic manuscripts, making the research accessible and understandable to the general public.
How do authors get published in Scientific American?
There are four broad categories of pieces accepted for publishing in Scientific American:
- News articles- typically present notable current events in a format that is factual and concise
- Feature articles- go beyond the facts of a hard news story by using narratives to explore new developments more deeply and explicitly, sometimes referred to as soft news
- Opinion and analysis articles- essays from thought leaders and scholars at all levels that offer fact-based arguments concerning any STEM-related field or enterprise
- Poetry- can cover any aspect of science or math but must be new work or at least previously unpublished
The submission guidelines for each of these accepted formats are provided on the Scientific American website. While these instructions are detailed, straightforward, and provide helpful links to their editors, following them when submitting a proposal does not guarantee publication.
Another option is to use Springer Nature's Research Digests service. This offers authors a distinct advantage in navigating the rigorous submission process with Scientific American. Experts review manuscripts that have already been published or accepted, and work with authors to create compelling pieces suitable for public readership. This service not only eliminates guesswork but also offers additional perks.
What factors does Scientific American consider when determining what to publish?
As a long-running, prestigious scientific magazine, Scientific American retains high standards in its publishing decisions. The news and research it considers must remain evidence-based and credible while being exciting, meaningful, and interesting to the public.
Scientific American further seeks out authors who, as authorities on their given topics, contribute impartial analysis to narratives and arguments that are engaging and rational. Some recent examples of the most impactful articles in Scientific American are:
- The Crispr Revolution Gains Momentum 2015
- Volkswagen Sabotages “Clean” Diesel 2015
- Will Democracy survive Big Data and Artificial Intelligence? 2017
- More Guns Do Not Stop More Crimes, Evidence Shows 2017
- What Makes People Act on Climate Change, According to Behavioral Science? 2023
- How the Mifepristone Ruling Could Affect Abortion Access 2023
While scientists and scholars know that the quest for journal publication is as important as it is intense, they also recognize that it is not their end goal. Bettering the world by increasing public knowledge and understanding through their research is the real objective.
Publishing their work in Scientific American is a key strategy for researchers who strive to influence this wider audience. With its enduring history, high standards, and range of authority, Scientific American is the indisputable next step in an author's journey to share their research with the world.
About the author
Charla Viera, MS
Charla Viera graduated from The University of Washington with a BA in Urban Studies and a BA in Environmental Studies. Her undergraduate research included household energy consumption and practical greywater systems. She later earned an MS in Library and Information Science from Texas Woman's University. Her graduate thesis focused on the role of libraries as community anchors in rural Texas communities.