ScienceWriters magazine

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ScienceWriters magazine

Journalists — science writers, especially — are accustomed to reporting on innovation. Now many are living it. Today's tumult is forcing our profession to reexamine what we're really about and realizing our roles in society. Just as musicians were not about LPs or cassette tapes, we are not about printed-on-paper publications, many of which are being undermined by accelerating losses of ad and subscription revenue to often-free Internet alternatives.

Merck paid an undisclosed sum to Elsevier to produce several volumes of a publication that had the look of a peer-reviewed medical journal, but contained only reprinted or summarized articles — most of which presented favorable to Merck products — that appeared to act solely as marketing tools with no disclosure of company sponsorship.

In the very near future, many of you will either write original e-books or have one of your print books' e-rights exploited by a publisher. An e-book is an electronic version of a traditional print book that can be read by using a personal computer, an e-book reader, and, now, even an iPhone. I have mixed emotions about e-books.

Should live tweeting and blogging from scientific meetings be controlled? Back in May, Daniel MacArthur — a researcher and blogger — wrote a number of on-the-spot blogs on the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory (CSHL) Biology of Genomes meeting. By all accounts a number of people were tweeting and blogging from the meeting. But Daniel had the misfortune to come under scrutiny from Genomeweb — a web-based news service — because of his actions.

One day in my new job at Pacific Northwest National Lab, a colleague and I went to one of our climate scientists to grill him. He was going to be interviewed live on a radio webcast, and we wanted to make sure he'd be understandable to people who aren't researchers. Well, he beat us to the punch. He'd already uncovered a short article about talking about climate change in Eos, the American Geophysical Union's weekly newspaper.

Even as American citizens took to the polls in this past fall's historic national presidential election, our own NASW members were casting ballots for our organization's new slate of officers and the members at large of the board of directors. To some people, the U.S. presidential election felt overdue. In NASW's case, the 2008 election really was overdue — and that flawed timing is something that we need your help to rectify in yet another membership vote; you'll be able to cast ballots electronically from mid-May to the end of June.

David Perlman, award-winning science editor of the San Francisco Chronicle, has been reporting on science and technology for more than 50 years. In addition, he's been a colleague, mentor, and personal hero to legions of NASW members, one of whom is Cristine Russell, who recently spoke at length with Perlman about his illustrious career. The following is an edited and condensed version of that conversation. Perlman celebrated his 90th birthday on Dec. 30, 2008.