Scientific American is set Dec. 3 to name its eighth editor in chief and the first female top editor in its 164-year history.
Longtime science journalist Mariette DiChristina had been acting editor in chief since June, when John Rennie left the magazine. Prior to that, she was executive editor there, and before that, spent about 14 years at Popular Science. She also is the current president of the National Association of Science Writers.
Her appointment is unusual in that magazines read by men tend to be edited by men and vice versa. SciAm’s readership is 68 percent male, per the fall MRI.
Top editors at science magazines tend to be male, although there are exceptions. Patti Adcroft was the top editor of Discover until late last year. (She’s now editor at large.) Popular Science had a female chief editor about a decade ago, Cecelia Wessner.
DiChristina said she thought the scarcity of female science magazine editors reflected women’s under-representation in the science fields.
“I’ve had that question, ‘Why don’t we see more women scientists, women science authors?’” she said. “I often thought it was an artifact of the generations. I’ve always felt, as women got older, that would float up and change a little bit.”
DiChristina said while she’s not sure she’ll bring a different perspective to the magazine as a woman, she hopes having more women in science-related fields will inspire girls like her daughters to follow suit.
SciAm is part of the Nature Publishing Group, both of which are part of Macmillan Publishers, a Holtzbrinck company. Like all magazines, it has struggled through the economic downturn. Its circulation stood at 607,751 in the first half of 2009, down just 4.7 percent.
But the high cost of subscription growth and soft ad revenue forced SciAm to trim its rate base to 450,000 from 575,000 effective in January 2010 and scrap its newsstand offshoot Earth 3.0. It continues to publish spinoff Scientific American Mind, which DiChristina also will oversee.
During her time as acting editor, DiChristina sought to make SciAm more of a must-read by varying story length and emphasizing why stories in the magazine matter to readers, efforts she plans to continue.
“I’m trying to speak more directly to the reader,” she said. “I don’t know if that’s more female or male, but I believe in a personal relationship with the reader. In the past it’s possible Scientific American may have taken for granted people’s native interest in science for science’s sake.”