Geeks need not apply: Science is chic in SEED magazine

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SEED magazine is about science.

But don't look for treatises on Mars or anthrax - at least not without an artsy graphic or a fashion ad.

The cover of the premier edition is so ambiguous and suggestive that its contents could be about anything from agriculture to sex, meant for gardeners or Cosmo readers.

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What's inside is described as "science couture," which sounds like leopard-skin lab coats, but it's

meant to imply that science isn't separate from from the rest of culture.

"SEED defines the science of contemporary urban culture," writes founder and editor Adam Bly in his first editor's note. In an interview from his office in Montreal, the young scientist says his provocative first cover shows that science is sexy. It's not only "for lab-coat wearing, frizzy-haired geeks. This is about showing science as pop culture."

That may send shivers down the spine of scientists, but some who follow science writing say SEED's concept is a good one. "A magazine that would integrate science into all parts of our life, I think is a fabulous idea," says Deborah Blum, who teaches science journalism at the University of Wisconsin in Madison. "We live in a time when science permeates everything we do ... right down to the lipstick we buy. [We] need to understand the science and technology behind the decisions we're making," she says.

SEED's debut deals primarily with the theme of birth. (It's the premier edition, get it?) Inside the 105,000 copies distributed in the US and Canada are ads for things like Swatch watches and Evian water, which blend into the magazine's bold graphics, often making it difficult to tell where the journalism ends and the sales pitches begin.

This rare pairing of the natty and the brainy is the result of a desire to make science magazines more modern - to focus more on applications than on what went on first in a lab. Fashion is only one of the vehicles SEED will use to do that, says Mr. Bly. He expects his new bimonthly publication to appeal to a gregarious, Armani-wearing group and to include those who already know something about science - possibly even studied it - as well as those who just like to dabble.

To attract this niche, he aims to show that science is involved in everything from the blue sky to split ends. He also wants to re-engage those who don't see themselves in other science magazines such as Discover, Popular Science, and Scientific American.

"The distinguishing feature [with SEED] is that the reader is in the magazine," he explains. "What we're trying to do is communicate the people behind science. I intend to give science a face."

To him, that means having people, not viruses, on the cover. It also means going to well-known science writers and photographers for inspiration.

"I'm going to be involved because I feel that they're trying to do something that no one's done before, and that is to engage people in science who don't usually think about it," says Felice Frankel, a science photographer and a research scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Ms. Frankel, who is the magazine's arts editor, is not without her reservations. "This is for a generation that is not mine," she notes. Still, she is behind the effort. "This is about engagement - introducing people to the very exciting idea that everything is about science."

To the science-journalism establishment, the magazine may seem to make science sound simplistic, which some publishers say could keep readers away. "If you trivialize a subject such as science and technology, you do so at your own peril," says R. Bruce Journey, publisher of Technology Review at MIT.

Bly contends that he doesn't plan to abuse a subject he has had a passion for since his youth. "We're elevating it to a level that it hasn't been elevated to before," he says. "My objective is to give you just enough to be inspired to go look it up. I don't think it's simplifying it - it's finding the essential."

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