Parting is sweet sorrow

Time to hand in my captain’s epaulettes.

From 1 September, Cosmos will be under the illustrious stewardship of the Royal Institution of Australia. A not-for-profit organisation dedicated to excellence in science communication, RiAus offers a sparkling future for the magazine.

There will be continuity. The masterful Bill Condie, former publisher at Cosmos, is head of publishing at RiAus. Tess Wardle, our current and highly able publisher, will bed down the new enterprise. You’ll also continue to enjoy the craft and erudition of editor Andrew Masterson as he delivers enthralling stories across the spectrum of science and society. Andrew Patterson will continue looking after subscribers and optimising Cosmos online. 

The magazine will of course continue to showcase our stellar contributors. And I will keep contributing as an ‘editor-at-large’. 

I want to thank all our readers, especially the ones who over my five-year tenure have expressed their appreciation of Cosmos with hand-written letters, emails or words – like Melbourne banker Harrison Young, 12-year-old NSW student Phoebe Coren, and Pedro Agadon, serving time in Hong Kong. 

Their expressions have been a tonic. Not just because it’s nice to know you’re appreciated. But because the secret of good communication is to know your audience. Knowing that our stories resonate for a banker, a student and an inmate is deeply rewarding and confirms my belief that well-told science stories can engage a diverse audience. 

I am proud of the 29 magazine issues we have produced under my watch, of the great stories we’ve covered in words and pictures, and of the writers we’ve helped develop like the stunning Cathal O’Connell. Thanks go to the team of editors past, including Bill Condie, James Mitchell Crow, Belinda Smith, Tim Wallace, and those present, Michael Lucy and Andrew Masterson. And a huge round of applause for the art directors whose artistic visions have won the magazine so much acclaim: Robyn Adderly for the first 23 issues and for the past six, Sahm Keily.

But there’s no resting on laurels.  

I heeded the call to defend journalistic and scientific principles a few weeks back, chairing a session at the Byron Bay Writers Festival. One of my panellists, Carey Gillam, was the author of Whitewash, an exposé of Monsanto’s alleged attempts to cover up the link between the herbicide glyphosate and non-Hodgkin lymphoma. 

Yet this May, a 25-year study of 57,000 American farmers by the National Institutes of Health, the ‘Agricultural Health Study’, found no such link. When I brought up this evidence, a member of the audience actually tried to shout me down.

Rational, evidence-based discourse is under threat everywhere. Our mission as science communicators has never been more poignant.

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