“There has never been a newspaper science reporter as in love with his craft—or as good at it—as Dave Perlman.”

From a story on scientificamerican.com by Christine Russell headlined “RIP David Perlman, the Dean of American Science Writing”:

The world will sorely miss the wit and wisdom of David Perlman, long admired as the senior statesman of American science writing, who passed away on June 19, 2020, at age 101. He was born during the 1918 flu pandemic and died in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. The former San Francisco Chronicle reporter and science editor emeritus was remarkable not only for his longevity—including more than seven decades in the news business—but for the extraordinary breadth of his coverage, from space shots to fossil remains, women’s reproductive health and nuclear disarmament.

Dave’s enthusiasm for each story was infectious; his curiosity about all things science was limitless. He entertained and informed generations of newspaper readers and inspired a cadre of American journalists to cover the wonders of science, as well as its influential—and sometimes controversial—role in modern society. I was one of the many “kiddos” fortunate enough to know Dave, first as a mentor and then as a lifelong colleague and friend.

I called him regularly, and, in recent months, he always answered with a cheerful, “I’m still alive.” Wheelchair-bound in his longtime San Francisco home, Dave avidly followed newspaper and cable news coverage of the COVID-19 crisis. We reminisced about Tony Fauci, the widely admired government infectious disease guru on the White House Coronavirus Task Force who has often disagreed publicly with President Trump. We had both gotten to know Fauci while reporting on HIV/AIDS in the 1980s. “I hope he can survive under Mr. Trump. We are safer with him there,” he said.

We also talked recently about one of the “greatest problems” facing American science: the rise of public denialism and its impact on all areas of research, from climate change to evolution. Those who distrust scientists and deny scientific findings “are increasing in power, and their voices are growing louder. That worries me a lot,” he said, noting the damaging effect of President Trump’s anti-science stance, particularly on climate science research.

When Dave retired in August 2017, at age 98, he “was thought to be the oldest full-time reporter in the U.S.,” according to the Chronicle. Known in the newsroom as “Dr. Dave,” his retirement party drew colleagues, friends, scientists, the late San Francisco mayor Ed Lee and U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein. Dave began as a copyboy for the paper in 1940, after a starter newspaper job in Bismarck, North Dakota and also had a postwar newspaper stint in Paris before returning to the Chronicle. . . .

Throughout his career, Dave earned the trust of scientists for his fair, insightful reporting. He enjoyed extraordinary firsthand access to research in the lab and the field, with globe-trotting adventures that would be envied by today’s time- and money-starved science journalists. In 1964 he boarded the California Maritime Academy’s training ship Golden Bear with dozens of international scientists for a two-month expedition (two months!) to study the evolution of plants and animals in the Galápagos Islands. He covered countless NASA missions, reporting from Houston on the historic moon walk by American astronauts on July 20, 1969. He spent two weeks in Antarctica with the National Science Foundation in 1972. And at age 87, he camped in Ethiopia with a University of California, Berkeley, team searching for fossils of human ancestors.

Closer to home, Dave covered the tragedy of HIV/AIDS, as the deadly epidemic unfolded in San Francisco in the 1980s and, later, as new lifesaving treatments became available to patients. He wrote about genetic engineering techniques pioneered in laboratories around the Bay Area, as well as companies that capitalized on their findings. Earthquake research was de rigueur on the California science beat. . . .

Dave was a New Yorker, raised on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, who was inspired at a young age to become a newspaper reporter after seeing the play The Front Page. He graduated from Columbia College in 1939, spending much of his time reporting and editing the student newspaper the Columbia Daily Spectator. . . .

Dave got interested in science writing in the late 1950s, after being given a book called The Nature of the Universe, by astrophysicist Fred Hoyle. He was hooked after he met a local astronomer and asked what he did for a living. “He said he studied stars that are born in the Orion Nebula. I thought, ‘My God, what an epiphany. Imagine stars being born—a pregnant nebula.’ I wrote a whole story about that. I didn’t use the word pregnancy either. But that was the start of everything,” Dave recalled. . . .

About now, I can hear Dave’s voice in my ear saying, “Enough already.” Despite the many accolades he received, Dave had limited tolerance for personal praise. There has never been a newspaper science reporter as in love with his craft—or as good at it—as Dave Perlman. I’m among the many who owe him a tremendous debt of gratitude and will miss him greatly. When we last talked, he urged me to come visit on my next trip to the West Coast and ended with a cheerful “goodbye kiddo.”

Goodbye to you too, kiddo. It’s been swell.

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