Putting the public in the know

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Knowable Magazine aims to cover the real-world significance of research in a compelling fashion, write Eva Emerson and Richard Gallagher

Scientific literacy is an increasingly important, but elusive, component of informed citizenship. The internet’s seemingly limitless store of scientific literature, news and blogs does not easily fulfil the public need for reliable, vetted scientific information. Googling a topic more likely leads to a deluge of complex, sometimes conflicting information that can be difficult to navigate. Knowable Magazine (www.knowablemagazine.org), is a new digital publication from Annual Reviews that aims to help.

For the past eight decades, our non-profit company has published science reviews from the world’s leading researchers. This has grown into a vast repository of knowledge that touches on many aspects of our lives. Want to know about the environmental costs and benefits of fracking? New T cell therapies for solid tumours? The role of habit and compulsion in drug addiction? The collapse of bee populations? The evolution of galaxies in the first billion years after the Big Bang? The best diet for health? On these or any of thousands of other topics of wide interest and importance, we offer outstanding scholarly overviews. However, appreciation of this information is too often restricted to those who have specialised training and participate in research.

Knowable Magazine offers entry to Annual Reviews content for professionals, educators, legislators, patients, elected officials, and amateur enthusiasts in two ways. First, by presenting key ideas, solutions, facts, conundrums, and advances from expert reviews in plain English and with compelling images. We strive for engaging reads that cover the science in a sophisticated way—clear enough for an educated nonspecialist to understand but not glossing over the scientific facts. Second, by making Knowable Magazine content freely available to all, and not only on the magazine website. Published under a Creative Commons license, the articles may be republished anywhere (so far, this extends from a beekeepers’ website to the pages of The Atlantic and the Washington Post). Republication can increase readership manyfold and, alongside developing the social media profile of Knowable, our engagement editor is working on developing partners worldwide whose audiences share an appreciation of science presented in a lively, conversational tone.

A further feature of Knowable Magazine is the potential for motivated readers to take a deeper dive into a topic: every item links to full Annual Reviews articles (up to five), which are made freely available to all for a period after publication. For example, the article 'Barista’s burden' connects to two reviews on emotions in the workplace published in the Annual Review of Organizational Psychology and Organization Behavior and one in the Annual Review of Psychology, and 'Beating back peanut allergy, bit by bit' links to the Annual Review of Medicine article titled 'Oral Immunotherapy for Peanut Allergy'. Some of our most popular articles have explored big ideas: 'What makes a tree a tree?' and 'Nudge grows up (and now has a government job)'; others have been more practical, such as 'The science of better beer' and 'An invisible liver disease balloons into view'.

It’s important to note, however, that Annual Reviews articles serve only as a springboard for Knowable pieces – our journalist contributors are tasked with talking to the best sources and providing the context a more general audience will need to appreciate the state of play in any specific area of knowledge. The remit is to focus on the real-world relevance of research, and especially on solutions, new ideas and a clear view of the edges of what is known.

Lastly, a word about funding. We are grateful to the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation and the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, who together provided the seed funding to launch Knowable Magazine. As the publication finds its place, complementing many excellent publications on research, we will seek additional funding sources to maintain output and expand the enterprise to include podcasting and video programs.

We launched in late 2017 so it’s still early days, but the feedback received and usage to date has been beyond our expectations. It’s been enormously enjoyable for everyone involved, too, which is a good indicator of how things are going. As we continue to evolve Knowable Magazine, we are open to your ideas about how to make the online ecosystem of knowledge better, including suggestions for collaboration with other publishers and librarians.

Eva Emerson is editor of Knowable Magazine; Richard Gallagher is president and CEO of Annual Reviews