Bye-Bye Why Files

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Bye-Bye Why Files: Silence not golden, but first web-science mag to close after two decades online

Dear Reader:

For 20 years, we Why Filers have been asking "What?" And "How?" and of course, "Why?" We were born during the dial-up era in 1996, dedicated to covering the science behind the news.

In 2001 we won the Science Journalism Award from the American Association for the Advancement of Science -- and the Science in Society award from the National Association of Science Writers, both given for the first time for excellence in online science writing.

We covered pedophilia, plant breeding, epidemics, language, cloning and the paramount environmental story of our era, climate change. We found new ways: covering melting glaciers on Mt. Kilimanjaro as mock-Hemingway: "No Snows on Kilimanjaro" or writing the dog that recognized 260 words -- from the dog's point of view.

Timeline Infographic shows: The history of The Why Files from 1996-2016
The Why Files through the years in this timeline infograph (click to enlarge).

We honored pure curiosity -- wondering why evolution works, how bats fly, how birds think and where hurricanes get their power…

Our support came first from the National Science Foundation (NSF) as we were an experiment, part of the National Institute for Science Education. NSF wondered if the web could be effectively harnessed to communicate science to mass audiences.

Within a few years, one of the world's great public universities, the University of Wisconsin-Madison, picked up the tab. We became another manifestation of the century-old "Wisconsin idea," which obliges the state university to distribute its knowledge through its home state and beyond.

As the technological blitzkrieg that spawned The Why Files continued, screens replaced magazines and newspapers. Dial-up faded and the web began to accommodate photos, video and audio, with increasing ease, fidelity and frequency.

Shorter became king as nervous fingers hovered over mice, trackpads and touch screens, waiting to jump to the next site. The vortex tightened with the ascendancy of mobile, and the force-fed brevity of a certain 140-character monster.

One score years after we began, The Why Files succumbs to change. You ask, "Why?" We say, UW-Madison, which has generously supported our project for 17 years, is under new budget constraints, diminishing its ability to support our project and other worthy endeavors.

When we took the plunge, the Web was learning to crawl. Science writing for the web was an experiment, as were we. We -- alongside plenty of our more talented colleagues -- have proven that science can be covered on the web responsibly, engagingly and most important, accurately.

Now, it's 20 years on the dot, and we pass the baton. We will remain on the web, but only as an archive. Thanks for reading!

If you have a favorite Why Files story, moment or anecdote, let us know.