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David Perlman (1918 – 2020)

David Perlman (1918 – 2020)

David Perlman
Dave Perlman at the 1993 Bioastronomy Symposium in Santa Cruz, California.

David Perlman, a long-time science writer for the San Francisco Chronicle, died on June 19 at the age of 101.  He was more than a reporter; he was an institution.

Perlman began his journalism career while still an undergraduate at Columbia University, and joined the Chronicle in 1940.  A broken leg, suffered in a skiing mishap, was the impetus for him to switch to science reporting.  During his convalescence, he read an astronomy book, something that stimulated his interest in research.

Perlman frequently inquired about work at the SETI Institute, and was quick to follow up on the organization’s press releases.  He would also occasionally made a cold call to ask if there was any “nooz” (as he referred to it.)  For him, the Institute became a “go to” organization for research into extraterrestrial life as well as astronomy in general.  Dave also made a point of attending the 1993 Bioastronomy meeting in Santa Cruz so he could listen to talks and collect stories.

Dave’s curiosity and endlessly affable manner made him less a member of the press than a member of the family. His reporting was wonderfully written, and devoid of the factual errors that plague so many science stories.

Although Dave officially retired at the age of 98, his interest in science – and especially astronomy – never waned.  He publicly railed against the decline of science journalism, itself a victim of the retrenchment of traditional media, and bemoaned the public’s distrust of science.  The latter, he said, worried him a lot.

His death is a loss to the public dissemination of science.  But for all who knew Dave, the loss is also personal and profound.

Seth Shostak

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