While in Guelph last week, I picked up the current issue of Seed magazine in Chapters. This is the magazine that supports ScienceBlogs, including Pharyngula, so I was currious about the mysterious organisation backing those excellent sites. The Canadian cover price is $5.95, lower than for many other magazines I considered.
I read the whole damn thing on the 'plane flying from Hamilton to Edmonton, which is pretty impressive considering that most magazines contain a large fraction of content utterly boring to me. Every single article in Seed was at least worth the time to read it, so right away I'm going to give this magazine high marks, even before I get into the details.
There are so many details in this magazine that I want to write about that I think I'll break this review up into several parts. Here's the table of contents for upcoming parts, which I'll update with links as things appear (won't that be organised of me!).
Part I Overview
Part II Short Articles
Part III Long Articles
Part IV Mistakes and Weirdness
Part V PZ Myers Reviews The God Delusion
Part I, Overview
Seed Magazine, Volume 2, Number 7, November 2006
The first thing I noticed about this magazine is its size and binding. It's larger than the standard 8.5 x 11 inches of letter paper and many other magazines (e.g., The Economist), and bound without staples, much like a paperback book. The size is not problematic, and the quality of paper is such that the edges don't degrade too quickly. The binding makes it difficult to fold completely back 180 degrees, so some material at the beginning or end of the issue is slightly more cumbersome to get to, especially when holding it with one hand.
There are four large, full-colour photographs of seeds in the issue, taken with a scanning electron microscope and colourized. These are pretty cool, especially since I had no idea what they were until I got to the explanatory page at the end. In hindsight, devoting some serious resources (page space, colour inks) to the thing the magazine is named after makes sense. The range of articles in this magazine is also impressive. There is the multi-page article about E.O. Wilson featured on the cover, a couple of one- and two-page articles, and a great many shorter articles that occupy between 1/3 and 3/4 of a page. There's also a long, very well-presented photojournalism article near the end, and a section of profiles of some people, each on a single page. The background and margin art varies considerably from one article to the next, but the style of the magazine is held consistent with distinctive fonts and title formats. The focus of the magazine is definately American (ie, USA), but they are honest about this - some magazines pretend towards internationalism but fail.
There are several pull-out sections in the magazine, printed on matt-finish heavy card stock rather than the glossy paper of the magazine. Almost all magazines have these - this is where one finds the subscription offers. Seed has pull-out subscription offers, but it also has cool pullouts. One is an overview of biological extinction, with nice figures and graphs of past mass-extinction events, what "sympatric" means, and some other information. The back is just a simple advertisement for Seed, so you lose nothing by pulling this out and sticking it on your 'fridge. Another pull-out is a series of three postcards, designed to be sent as "thank-you" cards to a favourite (science) teacher. Perhaps I'll track down and send one to Mr. Ledderer, my High-School Chemistry teacher, who was also a creationist. He's a topic for another post, sometime.
There are four little factoids scattered through the pages, which are attributed at the end to articles in real scientific journals, such as Current Biology. I think this small gesture really shows the focus of the magazine - the subtitle is "Science is Culture", and is built on the idea that what scientists do, and how science informs culture, are both relevent activities that matter to many people. I think I agree.
Overall, this is a very good magazine. I enjoyed Seed more than other science-themed magazines I've read in the past, such as Scientific American or National Geographic. If other issues are as good, Seed will be worth buying again, and possibly subscribing to, should I find myself with consistent reading time in excess of that needed for my existing reading obligations.