Glennda Chui received the David Perlman Award at the 2001 Fall Meeting Honors Ceremony on 12 December in San Francisco, California.
“It is a tremendous honor to present AGU’s 2001 David Perlman Award for Excellence in Science Journalism to Glennda Chui, science reporter for the San Jose Mercury News.
“For those of you who don’t know, we have two great newspapers in the San Francisco Bay area: the San Francisco Chronicle, where David Perlman has spent much of his distinguished career as science editor, and the San Jose Mercury News, which is headquartered in San Jose and bills itself as the ‘Newspaper of Silicon Valley.’ Covering Silicon Valley, the center of science and technology innovation in the world, is a tall order for a science writer, and Glennda has ably filled that niche. Through riveting and in-depth articles over the past 15 years, she has kept Bay area readers informed and excited about scientific discoveries, environmental problems, and the beauty and hazards of the natural world around us.
“One of the most difficult tasks for the seven of us who nominated Glennda was selecting only a few articles in the past year as representative of her skill and range. We chose three articles of particular interest to AGU audiences: ‘Acid Mountain Inside an Old Mine: Researchers discover how nature’s chemistry brews a toxic soup and cleanup nightmare’; ‘From Sea to Teeming Sea: Tests are underway on ballast tanks of ships to try to halt invasions by stowaway species’; and ‘Team Says Fossil is Heart of Stone: Images suggest warm-blooded dinosaurs.’
“A hallmark of a committed science writer is to seek out opposing viewpoints rather than consult only the champions of a new finding. Glennda actively tracks down the scientists behind the stories as well as those who are skeptical of announced findings. For example, in her ‘Heart of Stone’ story some of the skepticism she reported on by other scientists has proven to be well-founded. Now nearly a year and a half later the fossil heart remains to be authenticated; in fact, an article earlier this year claimed the ‘fossil’ was actually a lump of minerals. Other news stories on the initial find uncritically heralded it and its implications as beyond dispute.
“Glennda also captures the thrill of scientific discovery. In ‘Acid Mountain,’ she did not dwell solely on the risks from mine pollutants, but also captured the excitement of scientists down a hot 1500′ deep mine shaft in space suits discovering acids with an unheard-of pH of -3.6. She presented her readers with both the importance of the hazard and the new understanding of rock mineralization that those hazards serendipitously revealed. This gives her articles a depth and duality that make them immensely appealing to readers.
“Through her reporting, Glennda makes the point to readers that their tax dollars, by supporting government- and university-funded research, are used to increase our knowledge of the Earth at large, and of our neighborhoods. This is a crucial connection for which AGU members should be very grateful, since the vast majority of the Earth and space science enterprise is federally funded.
“Glennda’s deep love and understanding of the Earth sciences permeates her work, as was obvious in the remarkable series of articles she wrote in 1999 on the devastating Izmit, Turkey, earthquake. These were written from the field in the first days after the disaster and were informed by her understanding of the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake that so many of her readers had experienced, and also by her compassion for the enormous suffering she saw around her in Turkey.
“Because of her solid record of reporting accurately and responsibly on scientific issues, Glennda is trusted by researchers and enjoys unparalleled access to scientists. The fact that many of us have shared home phone numbers with her and carry around her home number is a good indication of value we place in that trust. We thank the committee for their wisdom in selecting Glennda Chui; we cannot think of a more deserving and appropriate recipient of the Perlman award, which was named for another highly revered San Francisco Bay area science writer.”
—MARY LOU ZOBACK and ROSS STEIN, USGS, Menlo Park, Calif.
“It is both a great honor and a pleasure to accept an award named after David Perlman. Many of you know Dave as one of the nation’s leading science journalists, winner of numerous awards during his long and distinguished career. But you may not know how instrumental he has been in nurturing the careers of younger science writers and in fighting for equal rights for women in the newsroom. He has been a friend and mentor to many of us over the years, and has helped to make science journalism the intensely competitive yet warmly collegial field it is today. Thanks, Dave.
“I would also like to thank the AGU and the people who went to considerable time and trouble to nominate me.
“And I’d like to acknowledge the many people who have made my work possible over the years.
“First and foremost is my husband, Bill Parks, who has supported me in every hare-brained thing I have ever tried to do.
“Then there are my editors. Editing is a lot like peer review; when done right, it is a collaborative process that polishes a rough piece of work into a much more refined and useful product. I’ve been fortunate to have a series of highly skilled editors at the Mercury News whose help has not only greatly enhanced my work, but also made it fun.
“Finally, I’d like to thank all of you.
“I’ve never taken a formal class in the Earth sciences. A dozen years ago, while on a journalism fellowship at MIT, I did audit a number of courses taught by the likes of Allan Robinson, Ron Prinn, Michael McElroy, and Marcia McNutt. However, most of them soon veered off into thickets of calculus, where, unfortunately, I could not follow. “But that’s OK, because over the years I have learned from the best of teachers-the hundreds of scientists who have taken time from their work to talk with me.
“They welcomed me into their labs and offices and let me follow them around in the field. They gave me their home phone numbers, and other peoples’ home phone numbers. They sneaked me into places I was not supposed to go, allowing me to get a closer look at the first flyby of Neptune and the workings of the Hubble Space Telescope. They answered my stupid questions and patiently explained the fine points. They also bounced me around in boats until I was violently ill and caused me to spend a stormy, miserable night sleeping on the floor of a public restroom. But all is forgiven.
“To all of you, I would like to say: Thanks for trusting me to interpret your work through the highly imperfect medium of the popular press. I know how scary that can be, and I deeply appreciate it.”
—GLENNDA CHUI, San Jose Mercury News, Calif.