UW journalism professor Deborah Blum finds herself at a hazardous intersection, that of science and journalism. Journalism, by its nature, intersects with a lot of avenues of interest and always runs the danger of not satisfying the advocates who frequent the pathways being investigated by the reporter. As working journalists come to understand, the backlash is part of the process.
Blum, who had a distinguished career as a working journalist before joining the UW journalism faculty a dozen years ago, specializes in writing about science, and as Jennifer A. Smith points out, this has gotten her into trouble in the past. Smith writes about this and other matters pertaining to Blum and her work in our cover story this week, "Popular Science."
The occasion of our latest visit with Blum - we've written about her before - is the publication of The Poisoner's Handbook: Murder and the Birth of Forensic Medicine in Jazz Age New York. (Okay, all you CSI Miami/Las Vegas/New York fans, this one's for you.)
In the past, Blum has ruffled the feathers of animal activists, aroused the sexual researchers and spooked the scientific community with her books. I'm not sure who could object to this one, though perhaps a pharmacists' group might protest - or maybe chemists may feel they've been demonized.
I don't think Blum really worries about these reactions, though she is aware of the pitfalls. She speaks about her efforts to present an "even-handed portrait" of her subjects. Of course, advocates for the topics she treats always have their own definition of even-handed. Still, that won't stop people like Blum from trying to understand what there is to understand. That's what journalists do.