In research for my fiction writing, I use primary sources when available. The internet is a wonderful thing but there are a lot of opinions flashing around, impersonating facts. Because of blatant plagiarism, bias and writers apparently on magic mushrooms, I work to cross-check online information against books, photos, magazines and video from the relevant culture and period.
For my novel-in-process, I purchased on eBay a Scientific American (SA) issue dated March, 1967. Reading, I was struck with the scope and depth of the scientific information that, for many people, was everyday reading. Adults and older children sat down in their living rooms with this magazine to expand their understanding of the world, in their free time.
Here are some of the featured articles in this issue:
“Toxic Substances and Ecological Cycles” Yes, people were concerned about the environment then, even before the current “green” marketing barrage. This article concerned radioactive materials and DDT.
“The Heart’s Pacemaker” focuses on the detailed functions of the atrioventricular node and sinus node in the human heart.
“Ancient Ararat” is an expedition into the civilization of Ararat, or Urartu, via archeological finds in Turkey.
“The Surface of the Moon” begins with the subtitle, “Nine spacecraft have provided thousands of close-up pictures of the moon…” and questions the moon’s origin.
“Behavioral Psychotherapy” considers abnormal behavior and its relationship to “social learning.”
“Salt-water Agriculture” suggests that plants in sandy soil might flourish in even oceanic-strength salt water.
“The Origin of the Automobile Engine” in 1876 and how it had progressed since then.
“Advances in Superconducting Magnets” had wide application in research.
Two other regular features in SA were “Mathematical Games” and “The Amateur Scientist,” which demanded considerable thought and effort from a reader.
While the magazine topics may seem basic and outdated today, several articles were groundbreaking in that year. You can still connect the relevance of that technology to our current research and concerns.
I ordered this sixty-cent edition (I paid more than sixty cents, but it was still a deal) of Scientific American to check facts related to my novel’s plot because there was no website with that relevant information. Of course, the irony of finding the magazine and purchasing it over the internet does not escape me. It’s just one more reason that the internet will always be my friend–my smart, funny, colorful and distracting friend who will eat up all of my time if I let her…my friend who can give me a false sense of intellectual security because she’ll show me almost anything I ask her to, even if it’s not correct. More, the internet says to me, this isn’t enough. You must look for more. Absolutely. I keep other friendships with libraries, archives and good old printed books.
This magazine from 1967 gave me more than my money’s worth. It is a snapshot of a time, information and its context. It reminds me that unbridled access to knowledge does not equal an education and scratching a surface teaches me nothing about depth. I admire the writers and readers of this 1967 publication for their curiosity and focus because it meant calculating, studying, writing and owning information, the hard way.