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ALASTAIR GEE

Alastair Gee has written for newyorker.com, The New York Times, The Guardian, The Economist and other publications. He is the Monocle correspondent in San Francisco, where he is based, and is a board member of the Society of Professional Journalists’ Northern California chapter. After earning undergraduate and graduate degrees at Cambridge he lived in Moscow for four years, and was an editor at The Moscow Times.

 

1.  Why did you choose to become a science journalist?

Writing about science is a way to connect with a place that moves me. I began my journalism career in Moscow, where the natural world seemed embattled. My apartment was on the eighth floor of a concrete tower in the middle of a sprawling concrete city, and nothing seemed to grow for months on end under a blanket of snow. But when I moved to California, one of my first features took me into the immense southern deserts. Recently I did a piece on an isolated and austerely beautiful lake near the Oregon border, and then headed down to the forests of the Sierra Nevada mountain range. Of all my beats, reporting on science, and more particularly the environment, gives me the best excuse to get out into these enrapturing landscapes and tell their story.

 

2. What role do science and science communication play in your country?

It has an opportunity to play a larger role – I think we should be talking about climate change much more than we are, for one.

 

3. In your opinion, which are the walls that will have to fall in science and society within the next five years?

We seem to have walls in our minds when it comes to taking personal responsibility for global problems. I thought about this as I drove around reporting a climate-change story in a gas-powered car. The irony was painful.

 

4. What are the biggest threats/obstacles to good science journalism and how could we tackle them?

I’ll flip this question and say there’s so much science writing that I adore. The AP just did a whole investigation on the merits of flossing! Two of my favorites are Rachel Aviv’s elegiac story about people on the edge of psychosis and Atul Gawande’s feature on the overly aggressive medical treatment of terminal patients. They have remained with me, and haunted me, for years.

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