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Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Anyone Left on the Science Beat in Seattle?

posted by on July 15 at 19:40 PM

After all the buyouts and staff cuts, is there anyone left reporting on science in Seattle?

I’m not asking about a business reporter who covers biotech. Nor someone who reads press releases and RSS feeds of published scientific articles. I’m definitely not asking about wire reports, or reruns of New York Times articles. Is there anyone, at any of the local papers, who actually covers the scientific community in Seattle, who knows the lab managers, the budget officers, the department chairs, the graduate students and fellows? Anyone who is connected enough to know the science that isn’t being done, what crucial questions are going unanswered?

I’m not gloating here. I’m horrified. Seattle is a world class scientific city, right up there with Paris, Boston, San Francisco, Tokyo and Baltimore. The University of Washington is consistently one of the largest federal grant recipients—many years second only to Johns Hopkins in total dollars, typically hovering around a billion dollars—largely due to the high quality of work being done. With all we need right now from science, to have no real press coverage, in one of the primary centers of global scientific research, is terrifying.

I don’t count. I’m far to conflicted to honestly report on the state of science in Seattle. I can say there are fantastic stories to be had. Anyone out there?

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So you do it, Jonathan. Quit slacking (in the WW II sense).

Posted by Tim Appelo | July 15, 2008 7:57 PM

Has there ever been a science reporter with the qualifications you describe at any daily paper? I've never heard of one, but then I don't look to the paper -- or any "mainstream media" -- for science reporting (for a hundred reasons that I'm sure you're all too familiar with). That's what my subscription to Science News is for. For much the same reason, it's a tragedy World Press Review died.

Posted by Hasn't this always been a problem? | July 15, 2008 7:57 PM

I'll do it. It sounds interesting. I mean, I was a fine arts major, and I don't know dick about science really. But I think I believe in the big bang theory, and genetics is really interesting, and most importantly, I'm an atheist. Oh, and my brother was a wildlife sciences major and he's about to get his PhD, so I think that's important too.

Posted by jameyb | July 15, 2008 8:00 PM


I really cannot. It would be like the Seattle Times Aerospace reporter being a fully paid employee at Boeing and an unpaid volunteer at the Times.

Posted by Jonathan Golob | July 15, 2008 8:14 PM

The article about the LHC makes my stomach do flips. The anticipation is too much!

Posted by ps | July 15, 2008 8:15 PM

Do many other US papers outside of the NYT and LAT have dedicated science reporters? The only newspaper science writing I read with any regularity is the stuff in the Times, particularly their once-weekly science section.

To those who suggested that someone simply volunteer to do it -- this is really a full-time job. You're right that it's surprising that none of the papers are really covering science.

Posted by josh | July 15, 2008 8:25 PM

Perhaps you should drop a line to the National Association of Science Writers []; I'm sure there are members in the Seattle area who could help....


Posted by R.Thoryke | July 15, 2008 8:28 PM

I don't know his background but the PI has:

Tom Paulson - Reporter (Science)

His byline appears on a number of science-y articles that I've not read. (Except... I was pleased to see a light piece on UW alum PZ Myers who was in town last month.)

Posted by umvue | July 15, 2008 8:29 PM

Golob, damn you! I can't see! I can't fucking see!!!

Posted by Jubilation T. Cornball | July 15, 2008 8:40 PM

I've liked Tom Paulson's writing over the years. I hope he survived the cutbacks.

Posted by Jonathan Golob | July 15, 2008 8:40 PM

Northwest Science & Technology

Posted by joe | July 15, 2008 8:58 PM

Why bother with a science reporter when you cn just wait until a press release comes in about the latest drug, technological marvel, science related book, etc. and just regurgitate it into a piece. Hardly anybody would know the difference.

Posted by kinaidos | July 15, 2008 9:56 PM

Huh? You sure are neurotic tonight. Crawl back behind the couch again and try to relax.

No, there are no science reporters, and there haven't been any for years. Where have you been?

But if any local scientists do something newsworthy, the Seattle Times and the PI will run the story, and you guys can complain about it the next day.

Posted by I can't feel my face | July 15, 2008 10:56 PM

Silly. If jesus wanted a science writer in Seattle he would have provided one.

Those mars hills churches are multipling like like rats. I need to get in on that cash...I mean I have to get right with the savior.


Posted by wisepunk | July 15, 2008 11:06 PM

Seattle is a world class scientific city, right up there with Paris, Boston, San Francisco, Tokyo and Baltimore.
That's a bloody joke, John. Either that or you're too blinded to see it. I don't know about Tokyo or Paris, but Boston has literally 10x the science jobs as Seattle and even the bay area, software and all, has more than 4x times.

Biotech never actually came here, despite Paul Schell's best designs...

Posted by andrew | July 16, 2008 12:32 AM

Science journalism has been in a decline nation-wide for many years. For one thing, most journalists haven't taken a science course since, like, 10th grade. And so when you do see science covered, it's by journalists who barely understand what they're reporting on, and by people who don't understand that science and technology news CAN be as glamorous as when Anderson Cooper goes to Subsaharan Africa or Christiane Amanpour goes to North Korea to report. (I'd mention a Fox journalist, but they don't really get out of taxi range, as a rule.)

One notable exception to the dearth of science journalism is Miles Brian on CNN, who usually does credible work. But he is instructed to dumb things down a bit too much, and CNN even canceled the tech report on weekends with a cute Canadian reporter (Daniel Sieberg) who has now ended up at CBS.

And when you DO get science reporting, it's fluffed with some weird drive for "balance," so you can't report on global warming without including some scientiophobic Christian.

Journalists overlook moments for science reporting, too. That woman who threw her children off a pier in San Francisco? She's morally depraved, simply. No reporting on the science of bipolar disorder. The Martian landers? It's cool to see Martian rocks on camera, but no reporting on what kind of science the landers (amazingly) can do looking for water. I mean, a lander that can run automated scientific experiments? No coverage of what those are, how they work, what the results say and mean? Sheesh.

I suppose most people who are looking for science and technology information have stopped looking in mainstream journalism for it. They go online to The Register, CNet, PCWorld, Ars Technica, New Scientist, etc., etc. Places where Star Wars and Star Trek are not made fun of but taken sources of inspiration for the next thing.

In the end, we are left with PBS: Nova has some great science shows, and so do some others. Why Seattle can't put together a coherent science journalism presence is beyond me, but it's not just Seattle's problem, I think. It's a national symptom.

Posted by Simac | July 16, 2008 7:21 AM

Please keep looking and asking around. Science is of primary importance in understanding our world and each other. As we discover more of the Universe and how it works, we become a richer people in mind and body. The forces of myth and superstition are relentless in stifling thought.
"Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better"-Albert Einstein

Posted by Vince | July 16, 2008 9:02 AM

Tom Paulson's still there. He's been very good over the years about covering things happening in the UW health sciences school, especially stuff not happening in that 500-ton gorilla we call the School of Medicine.

The Times has been meh over the years, especially with science coming out of UW.

Posted by dw | July 16, 2008 9:20 AM

Ah the sadness... but yes the US of A is squelching all science and math as fast as possible, the only US written media i am trusting are Science News and Scientific American....

Posted by poriferarock | July 16, 2008 9:26 AM

Aren't you guys "Seattle's Only Newspaper"? C'mon, you must have deep pockets - hire your own!

Posted by Spongy | July 16, 2008 10:29 AM

It's just a matter of finding a reporter who's an Alumni of the UW and can access all the scientific papers in their raw glory online for free.

And one who understands that sometimes a paper is more important for what it says that's negative than what it says that's positive.

Posted by Will in Seattle | July 16, 2008 11:11 AM

Seattle Times supported a world-class science writer for many years. He still does occasional pieces in the Sunday mag.

Posted by RonK, Seattle | July 16, 2008 11:17 AM

For many years we've had the Puget Sound Science Writers Association active here in Seattle, and several years ago we changed the name to the Northwest Science Writers Association. We have about 100 dues-paying members, and our board members include Tom Paulson of the Seattle P-I (in the midst of his first term as president) and Sandi Doughton of The Seattle Times. And that's just the tip of the iceberg: As far as I know, NSWA doesn't have any representatives from the television stations, or from The Stranger or The Weekly ... although I'm sure such outlets must have science writers, right?

Just in the past week, NSWA has sponsored a well-received field trip to Olympic National Park and the Elwha Dam, as well as a tour and briefing at the Allen Brain Institute. We also do a monthly calendar of science-related events, in which your humble correspondent plays some small part.

You can check out the calendar, find a science writer and even sign up for membership at:

I agree Seattle is a world-class city for science, and deserves a world-class group of science communicators to match. But this thread makes me wonder ... is anyone paying attention to what we're trying to do?

- Alan Boyle
Science editor, MSNBC
Past president, NSWA

Posted by Alan Boyle | July 16, 2008 12:52 PM

As a non-UW but still locally based international science and policy organization that's doing amazing work in marine conservation, and trying to get our message out -- we'd be more than happy to talk to science writers! Or maybe even supply our own....

Posted by Elizabeth | July 16, 2008 2:09 PM

....which would be >>

Posted by Elizabeth | July 16, 2008 2:11 PM

Hey, what about Sandi Doughton at the Seattle Times? Yesterday she had an article about proposed underground CO2 storage off the coast of Washington. In the past few months she's covered ocean acidification, malaria research, frog die-offs and hospital infections: Maybe nobody's noticed because, while the Times still has a full-time science reporter, the paper doesn't list a "science," "medicine" or "environment" category on its homepage. And although crime stories often allow readers' comments, the article on proposed burial of CO2 doesn't. Are Seattle readers actually interested in anything other than crime, entertainment and business news? Would they care more about science if those articles were featured more prominently? Do the newspapers care enough to find out?

Posted by hph | July 16, 2008 2:19 PM

Dear all -
I applaud Tom Paulson and Sandi Doughton for the science reporting they do, and the volunteering they do at the Northwest Science Writers Association.
You can all help us out by commenting whenever the papers do cover local science. Write to them, phone them, write letters to the editor.
The audience can drive reporting.

As a local science writer, I agree with you that there isn't enough coverage... but I know of good articles in Seattle Metropolitan, Seattle Magazine, Washington CEO, and ParentMap magazine.

Posted by Sally | July 16, 2008 3:04 PM

Hi all. Iím Sandi Doughton, science reporter at The Seattle Times.
The Times has had a full-time science writer for at least 20 years, including Bill Dietrich (mentioned in a post above) who shared in a Pulitzer Prize for coverage of the Exxon Valdez oil spill. Bill still writes for our Sunday magazine, occasionally on science.
We also have two reporters who cover the environment (Lynda Mapes and Warren Cornwall) and one who covers the business side of biotechnology (Angel Gonzalez).
Iíve been writing about the environment, health and science for more than 20 years. Iíve been the Seattle Times science reporter about 3 years - and feel like Iím still learning. Thereís so much going on in Seattle, and I know I miss a lot of good stories.
Itís true staff cuts and attrition have made all of our jobs tougher in the newspaper business, but I believe The Seattle Times remains committed to science.
Iím always looking for story ideas, and Iím happy to chat with anyone about coverage of science. Iíd like to see it improved, too, which is why I serve on the board of the Northwest Science Writers Association.

Posted by Sandi Doughton | July 16, 2008 3:43 PM

Lisa Stiffler and Robert McClure of the P-I cover the environment and quote UW researchers doing cutting-edge research. A quick Google search turns up examples, including these:

Go read the P-I once in awhile and you'll see other examples. Geez, do we Stranger readers really have to do the work for you?!

Posted by Maggie | July 16, 2008 5:33 PM

Hi all, Tom Paulson here. Sorry I missed out on this discussion earlier. Due to staff shortages at the PI, I was taken off science for a few days and assigned to chase an alleged former Nazi around his nursing home. I agree with Jonathan that we should see much more science coverage in Seattle. Some of us are trying to make this happen. As Alan, Sally and Sandi have noted there is an organization in town that aims to improve local science writing ( Come join in the nerd fun!

Posted by tom paulson | July 16, 2008 10:51 PM

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