Now That's What I'm Talking About!

By cjohnson | September 26, 2005 5:02 pm

seed magazine Well, I received a FedEx overnight package this morning, and as I had to write a lecture and then teach it, I did not open it immediately, and almost forgot about it until now. I was curious and a bit suspicious, since I’m not important enough to get things sent by FedEx out of the blue like that. Well, I opened it up to a pleasant surprise: Seed. The newly relaunched version. And it looks great!

What is Seed? It is a magazine put out by the Seed Media Group, and their motto is:

Science is Culture


The whole world view expressed by the magazine (and the group, as far as I can tell) seems to be so in line with my fantasy of the way society should be in terms of being science-savvy, which I’ve talked about so many times in other posts on this blog. (See here, here, here, here, and comments of mine in the accompanying discussion threads too.)

Basically, its a glossy, hip, very designer magazine…. about science! There are interviews, articles of various sorts, and even a sort of photo showcase where there’s huge glossy photos, each with a chalkboard equation with a sentence associated to it. (Examples: The quantum mechanical spectrum of a particle in a 1D box; the running coupling constant of QCD -last year’s nobel prize by the way, etc…) There’s an “agenda” section, listing a number of upcoming science events, such as plays and exhibitions, around the country. And there are just lots of lovely huge glossy photos of beautiful things from art and science!

Many of the advertisements are science-ified too! The book reviews are about science books, and the tv shows and movies that are advertised or discussed have strong science themes. This is exactly the sort of thing I want to see more of. I really hope that I’ll see an office worker coming home from downtown reading a copy, instead of or alongside their copy of Los Angeles magazine, or the New Yorker, or (dare I say it) Los Angeleno, or anything….Then I’ll be even more excited. (As it is, I’m almost in tears with joy at this already…..and I have not even read a word of it yet; I hope I don’t have to take back some of those precious exclamation marks I’m using up….)

There’s a little article on science blogs, by the way (this was bookmarked with a post-it note: thanks, whoever, for sending it!). We’re mentioned, along with Pharyngula, Not Even Wrong, String Coffee Table and Quantum Diaries [Update: They mention LuboÅ¡ Motl’s Reference Frame too!]. Contributor Joshua Roebke talked about the aspects of the role of science blogs, quoting Peter Woit, LuboÅ¡ Motl, and our very own Sean Carroll (who is apparently one of the “main contributors” to CosmicVariance, although I note that the discussion they quote from is in fact a post of JoAnne’s …..ahem!).

And it gets better. Not only do they walk the walk, they talk the talk too. Here is an extract from the editorial welcome, which gets it right on the nose, as far as I’m concerned:

We believe that science matters, and will edit this magazine through that lens. We believe that a modern democracy requires a more science-savvy citizenry, and we will strive to be a tool in that transformation.

Yes! Yes! My daily mantra that I whisper reverently at my bedside every morning! To quote Sean and Risa: Someone’s been reading CosmicVariance! :-) (I’m not serious of course, there surely must be others out there with my dream, right?)


We will help you better understand the big topics in science today and how they are affecting our lives. We will showcase the vivid intersection of art and science, and let the images speak for themselves. We will be truly international, mirroring the borderlessness of science, and we will introduce you to the revolutionary minds driving these times.

Welcome to the new Seed.

Oh, Joy.


CATEGORIZED UNDER: Science, Science and the Media
  • Dave Bacon

    Oh that photo showcase is just priceless! No offense, my fellow scientists, but it is the funniest thing I’ve seen in years. Not every scientists is stylistically challenged, but…wow!

  • Joe Bolte

    Someone left a copy of that magazine laying around my house a few months ago. I read it from cover to cover and it was really good. They have an opening for a web design intern on their website, and I guess I should start looking for a job…

  • Sean

    Hey, I was going to write this post. The relaunched “Seed” looks very good — better than the original version, which was more glitter than substance. No reason you can’t be both.

  • LuboÅ¡ Motl

    Just to correct you, Clifford. My blog is also mentioned, which is why they sent me a copy, too. Best, Lubos

  • Clifford

    My mistake Lubos, I thought that they mentioned you, and not your blog. I must have misread through my tears of joy over a new good popular science publication.



  • Clifford

    Hi again….. I guess I was right, but wrong in spirit. They don’t mention your blog by name, I think, which is why I missed it. I was not actually reading the content, just scaning for blog names. But they do mention that you have a blog, so in the spirit of the thing, I guess I should have mentioned that your blog was mentioned.

    Update on its way. [done]



  • Moshe Rozali

    How is the content by the way?

  • Clifford

    Read a bit on the bus home just now…..very, very good so far. I’m really happy about this. (But then, I’m easily pleased… :-) )


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  • Pyracantha

    I love it, I put in money for a subscription more than a year ago and thought it had disappeared. Now let’s hope that SEED doesn’t follow the dismaying path of WIRED which started out way cool and is now a “laddie” magazine advertising video games and status gadgets for young guys, with babes and toys for boys on every other page.

  • Moshe Rozali

    OK, so I’ll look for it on the “newsstands” (or more likely in a bookstore), I guess they got a sophisticated advertizing machine going.

    Incidentally, would be nice to hear about other such publications. I read quite a few of those in high school, but cannot seem to find anything too good anymore (especially good would be non-physics ones). I also remember fondly the brown pages, faded print and dust, so it doesn’t have to be glossy…

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  • Clifford

    Well Moshe, one of the reasons I like this is that it is not really pitched at the high school boy (however advanced). I was serious when I said it can happily sit alongside your copy of your favourite glossy grown-up magazine that Mr or Ms Everyman could carry and not feel that they’ll be mistaken for carrying Popular Mechanics…..(not that there’s anything wrong with that…..)


  • Phil

    I think this is great. I can’t wait till the first issue hits newsstands.

  • Moshe Rozali

    Allright, not having a copy I cannot comment on the precise degree of glossiness, and how it compares with the average glossiness of what I used to read (eg. scientific american), I’ll have to wait and see.

  • Sean

    Moshe, it really is extremely glossy.

  • Clifford

    Glossy, but in a good way. Oooooh yeeeaaaaaah……!


    P.S. More like “New York” instead of “New Yorker”, if you know the two, but in a good way, I hasten to add – again.

  • Moshe Rozali

    So you guys are saying that I can be seen carrying this magazine and mistaken to be a normal person with appreciation of the fine points of life? that may be handy sometimes…

  • Clifford

    P.P.S. Although not as glossy as “Los Angeleno”, which has started arriving on my doorstep for no good reason. I don’t know how I ended up on their subscription list. Some awful case of mistaken identity. It is the. most. glossy. magazine. ever. And pointless. Utterly pointless. Nothing in it. Nothing. Just amazing glossy fashoin shoots will ill-looking models wearing junk, and stupidly overdesigned interiors and the like. You open it, and it yells “you’re way too poor to read this, put me down!”.

    I can’t put it down when it arrives. The shame… 😀


  • Moshe Rozali


    I used to get the publication of some “american christian singles club” for no good reason, I will trade you for yours (no, it was not glossy, not a pretty sight either). At least the “american” part was correct for a while, till I started getting it forwarded to Canada…

  • Fyodor Uckoff

    I guess one easy way to judge the worth of this publication would be to read what they have to say about “Not Even Wrong”. What’s their take?

  • Matt McIrvin

    Hmm… So it’s the magazine that Omni should have been? (While Omni was actually just a variant of Penthouse with the overt porn removed and a sometimes interesting line in science fiction.)

  • Urs

    So what do they say about the Coffee Table?

  • Torben Buch

    As far as their thoughts on “Not Even Wrong” go… remember there’s more to science than string theory :-)

  • janet

    I found the Seed website a while ago, following a link from Chris Mooney’s blog, but was kind of skeptical about the magazine. Now I guess I should check it out.

    Clifford, have you given money to your local public radio or tv station? That’s how I started getting San Francisco Magazine, which is presumably the local equivalent of Los Angeleno. It’s pretty silly, but I do like the food porn, er, scuse me, glossy pix of food and restaurants, over-the-top reviews, and annual chef of the year awards.

  • spyder

    For “friends of clifford” if they are in need. A close burningman friend posted this on our local listserve and it seems to be more properly useful to those around USC and interested in the developing Art community redevelopment of downtown LALA. Tracy is a creative wizard and holds this space for all that is best about art and culture in the LA setting…

    Subject: Looking for 2 roomates
    > Hi Friends, Treehouse Gallery is a 5000 sq. foot live/work warehouse and
    > gallery space.
    > As of November 1st, 2 bedrooms are available. Studio space is included with
    > each room. One room is $600 and & the other is $700/mo, plus utilities.
    > Closest
    > cross streets are Olympic and Santa Fe.
    > If you have questions or want to see the space, call Tracy Powell
    > 310-350-1460.

  • Clifford

    Thanks Spyder….unexpected and unusual….but thanks! I may well try to move there myself!

    Janet: maybe. thanks for suggesting the possible reason.


  • Michael D

    haven’t had a chance to see if Seed is available up here in australia, but found a new mag called “Cosmos” which seems pretty similar:

    Cosmos, Australia’s innovative new popular science magazine, drew a galaxy of stars to its Sydney launch event yesterday.

    Launched by John Bell AM, Australia’s leading Shakespearean actor and director, the magazine made its official bow to 140 guests in the 19th century splendour of The Mint in Sydney’s Macquarie Street.

    Bell said he expected Cosmos to provide inspiration as well as information: “Just as artists of the Renaissance were inspired by scientific advances and the discovery of the new world, so artists of today must be fired by science’s probing into outer space, to the bottom of the ocean, to the origins of our cosmos and the beginning of time.”

    Dr Alan Finkel, Chairman of the Luna Media and founder of Axon Instruments, a Melbourne and California-based scientific equipment manufacturer with a global reputation, said Cosmos communicated the real excitement of science: “It has given science a living face, a vibrant, literary persona such as it has never had before.”

    Editor Wilson da Silva stressed the accessibility and excitement of the new title: “It’s science protrayed in a way we don’t usually see: lush, voluptuous and sexy,” he said. “It’s glossy, it’s intelligent, and it’s a cracking good read.”

    Publisher Kylie Ahern added that Cosmos was an idea whose time had come. “The media tend to regard science as outside the mainstream,” she said. “But science impacts on everything we do: it can be uplifting and inspiring.”

    Cosmos will cover a broad range of topics – from art and design to the body and space – and da Silva said each 112-page issue would aim to tell its readers more about the universe, the world they live in… and themselves.


  • janet

    I bought a copy of this magazine today, and it looks interesting, but I am deeply unimpressed with the way it’s designed. It’s not as ugly as Wired, but has some of the same problems, most of which seem to stem from a desire to look cool rather than to make it readable. For example, as with Wired, it’s not always clear what is an article and what is an ad. And maybe I’m a fuddy duddy, but those stupid little fine lines that criss-cross the page in the apparent attempt to connect a particular image with a particular block of text have got to go! The “contributors” page is especially bad, because the leaders and the lines that demarcate the columns are the same width and color. Plus, the editors of a science magazine ought to be aware of the optical illusions that can make it hard to follow the course of a line that is partially blocked out by an intervening object, especially when there’s an almost parallel line nearby. There are things in life that I am willing to spend a lot of time thinking about, but figuring out which of six pictures is Lisa Randall isn’t one of them. Apparently the designers couldn’t bear to put the text next to the image it goes with — that would be too boring. IMO, the best design is the kind of design that doesn’t distract from content, rather than the kind that screams “look how cool this design is!”

    I think I’m going to put the magazine away until I get over my aggravation with the design. Then maybe I’ll read some of the articles….

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  • Sean

    Janet, I’m with you on the design issues. They could take some lessons from symmetry, which is both gorgeous and user-friendly.

  • Clifford

    Janet, Sean: The lines are a bit confusing at first, but I found them a nice sort of puzzle after a while. It became kind of fun. I hope they keep it. But then, I was not overly rushed to learn what the writers of the various articles looked like so I can see that you might have got a bit frustrated.

    But keep your eyes on the prize here: There’s a lot of pointless design out there bent on creating eye-candy and making stuff look “cool”. But it is usually done on magazines in others fields. I’m very pleased that people are taking the time to play this way with a magazine that is about science. We should support the effort. And no, I don’t mean that we should accept flawed design; just that we keep our eyes on the big picture of what this sort of design endeavour might mean for the goal of getting more people to browse through a magazine about science rather than hollywood stars, or funky-looking table lamps (all worthy subjects, of course)….

    At this point someone will now pipe up that this is all missing the point and we should just teach kids better in schools. Yep. Go for it. Sigh.



  • Clifford

    Hi Janet, I looked again. I think you’re being a bit harsh on them. You said:

    “For example, as with Wired, it’s not always clear what is an article and what is an ad. And maybe I’m a fuddy duddy, but those stupid little fine lines that criss-cross the page in the apparent attempt to connect a particular image with a particular block of text have got to go!”

    Actually, it’s really not that bad at all. I can’t find any ad pages which are not clearly ads…. which one did you have in mind? I don’t think it comes even close to the confusion I’ve seen in several standard magazines.

    And the key to the criss-cross line layout idea (used on pages 8, 10, 41, 90, 91, 92, 93, and 94) is that they connect to the corners of boxes. (Except in one place where a box is round… :-) There’s also a small screw up on a dinosaur picture which introduced no confusion. ) It is overall completely unambiguous, and a nice change from the usual methods. I actually agree with them that it makes for a nice alternative to cluttering the graphics with more text than neccessary. (I agree that on page 8 they could have left out the column delimeter lines for a cleaner look, but overall it is not nearly as big a problem as you seem to suggest, to the extent that you had to put it down to get over being aggravated.)

    (Oh, please don’t yell at me for disagreeing…)



  • Clifford

    Michael D. Thanks for letting us know about Cosmos!


  • janet

    Actually, the main ad/article confusion was an article that I thought was an ad. When I buy a magazine, one of the first things I do is to tear out all the ads that are on stiff paper and toss them out. This makes it easier to flip through the magazine, or to fold it open to a particular page and keep it there — essential to reading a magazine one-handed, or while on a treadmill. I almost tossed out the “stem cell cribsheet,” which is designed to be “tear-outable,” but I realized in time that it wasn’t an ad and kept it. It doesn’t contain anything that was really new to me, so tossing it out wouldn’t have lost me much, but on the other hand if I’d tossed it out without realizing it and then later gone looking for it, I wouldn’t have known what I was or was not missing. There were a few other pieces of content that I thought at first were parts of multipage ads, mainly the “portfolio” pieces and the photo essay.

    The column delimiters bugged me because they appear between the pictures (e.g. on p. 8), and since the leaders also appear between pictures I at first assumed that the column delimiter was also pointing from the picture to something. (My husband looked at my post and said “I could have pointed out Lisa Randall to you — I knew her when she was a post-doc at LBL.” Which of course wasn’t the point.) It’s not that I care that much what people look like, I just think that when I see leaders from text to pictures, there’s some reason for them to be there; otherwise, why have them at all?

    I think my reaction is partly due to having studied user-interface design and worked in publishing, where I have assimilated the unpopular idea that design should be transparent — that good design is design that you don’t have to figure out how to interpret or use, it’s intuitive. This is not so important with magazines as it is with things like BART ticket machines (don’t get me started) and voting machines (ditto). You’re probably right that this magazine may draw in some people who might otherwise not look at a science magazine. I just don’t happen to like this type of magazine design, so it turns me off.

    I am now reading the article on sociobiology. I hope he addresses some of the scientific and theoretical critiques of the field, not just the political ones.

    Clifford, I don’t think I’ve ever yelled at you for disagreeing with me. If it came across that way, I’m sorry. I did throw that self-described hissy fit, but I thought we’d resolved that. I hope you’re not still mad at me; I really didn’t intend to offend you.

    Scuse me — one of the cats is getting between me and the keyboard. I’d better log off before he types something catty and tries to post it under my name.

  • janet

    Um, that smiley should have been “p. 8.”

  • Clifford

    “I’m not angry. You wouldn’t like me when I’m angry” – Bruce Banner.

    Hi Janet,

    Believe me, it takes a bit more than that to get me mad at someone! And if I was mad at you, I would not spend precious time replying to your concerns. You just would not hear from me at all. Zip. Nada. You would not exist.

    No. I reply to, and make jokes with (as time permits) you and others because you seem to give a damn, whether or not we disagree on things a little here and there.

    And now I learn that you’re a cat person. So now it will be even harder to get mad at you…. :-)



  • Clifford

    But Janet… step back from the complaint about the tear-out crib-sheet about Stem Cells, and look at the bigger picture.

    It’s a tear-out crib-sheet about Stem Cells!!!

    Isn’t that a great thing to have in a glossy magazine?!! Do you see my point?


  • janet

    Of course I’m a cat person — the cats wouldn’t have it any other way.


  • http://www.erectlocutioncom Daniel

    On the strength of this entry, I checked it out. It’s decent so far; but I have to say the editorial staff must’ve spent more time goo-gawing at all the blog publicity they were getting than the articles. I found several mechanical errors, including grammar and typos, just on something between a cursory scan and a deep reading. Mind you, if the content’s there it’ll shine past blemishes; but it would be nice if some folks who can keep their significant digits straight to use a spellchecker.

  • janet

    Daniel — I just found a really funny one: “pancreatic eyelet cells.” A good example of the kind of error that a spellchecker won’t catch, since it’s the correct spelling of the wrong word. (For the uninitiated, it should be “pancreatic islet cells,” which happen to be a subject near and dear to my heart.)


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