The last similar experiment was a magazine called Seed, which started in 2001 and published 22 print issues until its last in 2009. As Overbye noted, now it “exists only online,” but the site hasn’t actually added any new content in years.

The people at Nautilus undoubtedly hope to avoid the same fate, but they happen to be taking a similar approach. Seed’s motto was “Science Is Culture,” and the press release for Nautilus promised a similar bent, saying that the outlet “weaves leading-edge science, culture and philosophy into a single story told by the world’s leading thinkers and writers.”

That makes sense given that Nautilus launched with a grant from the John Templeton Foundation, whose mission is to catalyze “discoveries relating to the Big Questions of human purpose and ultimate reality,” and which often organizes debates between scientists, philosophers, and theologians.

Each month, Nautilus will choose a new topic for its issue, whose chapters will be published every Thursday. So far, there has been a preview issue, “The Story of Nautilus,” with chapters titled “The Science” and “The Myth,” and an inaugural issue, “What makes you so special; the puzzle of human uniqueness,” with chapters titled, “Less Than You Think,” “More Than You Imagine,” and “Beyond Measure.”

It’s a well-balanced mix of interesting articles, essays, and multimedia reports by journalists and experts of various stripes. The single-topic structure is effective and the production value top-notch. “The online magazine is free,” Overbye noted in his review, “but even if it weren’t, it would be worth the price of admission….” A subscription to the print edition will cost $49 a year.

John Steele, who worked for CBS News and NBC News in the ’70s and ’80s, came up with the idea for Nautilus about a year ago, according to Overbye, and is now its publisher and editorial director. Michael Segal, a former editor at Nature Nanotechnology, is editor-in-chief, and there’s a lot of other journalistic talent on the 14-person masthead, including digital editor Amos Zeeberg, who played a central role in helping Discover move from print to pixels.

Nautilus has received favorable reviews from the Knight Science Journalism Tracker and Folio, and blogger Matt Shipman interviewed Zeeberg. None were as nostalgic as Overbye’s review in the Times, but they didn’t need to be. After a long slide, science writing is flourishing again.


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Curtis Brainard is the editor of The Observatory, CJR's online critique of science and environment reporting. Follow him on Twitter @cbrainard.