Conspicuously absent from next week's American Association for the Advancement of Science meeting in Boston will be Jerry E. Bishop, the last science editor of The Wall Street Journal, and past president of the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing. Bishop, who died of lung cancer last fall. He joined the WSJ in 1955, and the intrepid Texan reporter covered Antarctic exploration and the rise of the Space Age.
I first met him at the Apollo 11 moon launch, and in 1989 we were on opposite sides of the Cold Fusion controversy, he having scooped the startling claim of two University of Utah chemists, one a Nobelist, to have created a bench top experiment apparatus that generated nuclear fusion reactions without benefit of a giant Tokomak or a hydrogen bomb. The newsletter of the National Association of Science Writers notes :
The claim of so-called "cold fusion" seemed so implausible that many media outlets at first refused to print the story. But Bishop was less inhibited...in the weeks immediately following that announcement he reported frequently on the claims emanating from Utah and from other laboratories. His reports came more often and were generally longer than those of most major newspapers, and he did not always write as a skeptic as did other science reporters covering the story.
Bishop was accused by skeptics in the physics community of compounding the cold fusion hype. "But the job of reporters is to report news," he would later say in an interview. "If some authority, like a scientist in the case of cold fusion, says it's not true, you don't kill the story you report the controversy."
Bishop was selected by the American Institute of Physics (AIP) as the winner of its annual science writing award for the year 1989. The announcement by the AIP... that its annual award for excellence in science writing would be given to Bishop raised more hackles. "Whatever one thinks of this particular series, one must recognize Jerry Bishop as one of the finest science writers in America," said Kenneth W. Ford, AIP executive director...
Bishop's memory for detail and penetrating questions at the briefings were inspiring. He was a role model to generations of reporters.
During his editorial tenure, weekly science coverage by the WSJ grew into a separate eight-page section, Science Journal . After his 1996 retirement, it imploded into a once a week column , as the WSJ dispensed with the office of Science Editor. This dismal example is reflected in The Washington Times, Human Events and virtually the entire constellation of conservative journals of fact and opinion upon which the Republican Beltway depends for its scientific intelligence.
If nowadays the think tank faithful feed less on science
than Intelligent Design, and other dark and dogmatic matter, it is because
nature abhors a news vacuum. A dim constellation of cranks in the
orbit of the Discovery Institute has been sucked into the one left in
The result is one of the scientific wonders of the age- obedient to Murphy's Law, a spin polarized vortex of talking heads , all facing backwards and to the right, has filled the No Spin Zone.