Deborah Blum

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Deborah Blum
Born (1954-10-19) October 19, 1954 (age 60)
Urbana, Illinois, USA
Nationality American
Occupation Professor, journalist, author
Known for The Poisoner's Handbook: Murder and the Birth of Forensic Medicine in Jazz Age New York.

Deborah Blum (born October 19, 1954) is an American journalist, a columnist for the New York Times, a professor of journalism at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and a blogger for Wired. She is also the author of books including The Poisoner's Handbook (2010).[1]

As science writer for the Sacramento Bee, Blum wrote a series of articles examining the professional, ethical, and emotional conflicts between scientists who use animals in their research and animal rights activists who oppose that research. Titled "The Monkey Wars," the series won the 1992 Pulitzer Prize for Beat Reporting.[2]

Background and early career[edit]

Born in Urbana, Illinois, Blum grew up in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, Bristol, England, and Athens, Georgia. Blum graduated from the University of Georgia where she was editor of the student newspaper, The Red and Black. She worked as a reporter covering police, fires, courts, and other general assignment beats in Georgia, Florida and California before she turned to science writing. She was on the staffs of the Macon Telegraph, the St. Petersburg Times and the Fresno Bee, among other publications.

Environmental journalism[edit]

After earning a master's in environmental journalism from the University of Wisconsin–Madison, Blum returned to the Fresno Bee, where she became an award-winning environmental reporter. She was the first to report on the startling incidence of severely deformed waterfowl at the Kesterson National Wildlife Refuge, where poor management of irrigation runoff had polluted the wetland with toxic levels of the chemical selenium. Her work for the Fresno Bee put the mid-sized paper ahead of much larger regional rivals, including the San Francisco Chronicle and the Los Angeles Times in covering major environmental stories.

Science writing and teaching[edit]

In 1984, Blum joined the staff of the Sacramento Bee, where she broadened her range, covering science subjects as diverse as medical issues, superconductivity, and the physics of weaponry. Her series "California: The Weapons Master" was awarded the 1987 Livingston Award for National Reporting. In 1992 the American Association for the Advancement of Science awarded her its AAAS-Westinghouse Award for Science Journalism, also for the "Monkey Wars" series.

Blum expanded the Pulitzer Prize-winning newspaper series into a book of the same title. Her second book, Sex on the Brain examines the biological differences between men and women. In Love at Goon Park, she explores the life and career of groundbreaking psychology researcher Harry Harlow, and in Ghost Hunters she follows a quest by 19th century psychologist-philosopher William James and colleagues to apply objective scientific methods to the study of paranormal phenomena. In The Poisoner's Handbook she explores the pioneering work of two unheralded scientists who paved the way for modern forensic detectives.[3]

Since 1997 a professor in the School of Journalism and Mass Communication at the [University of Wisconsin–Madison, Blum has continued to write—on topics of science and its interrelationship with American culture—for publications that have included the New York Times, Time, the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, Discover, Psychology Today, Rolling Stone, the Utne Reader, and Mother Jones. In 2013, she began writing "Poison Pen" which appears as a column in the New York Times and as a blog post in the newspaper's online edition. Her blog "Elemental" appears regularly on the Wired website.

In 2005 she was appointed Helen Firstbrook Franklin Professor of Journalism, an endowed faculty position within the University of Wisconsin journalism school.

A past president of the National Association of Science Writers, she has been a member of the governing board of the World Federation of Science Writers and has also served on such panels for the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing, the AAAS Committee on Public Understanding of Science and Technology, the National Research Council’s Board on Agriculture and Natural Resources, and the Society for Science & the Public.

Blum is co-editor (with Mary Knudson and Robin Marantz Henig) of the book A Field Guide for Science Writers.

Personal life[edit]

Blum is the eldest of four daughters born to entomologist Murray S. Blum and his wife Nancy Ann Blum, an educator and writer. Her father, a noted authority on chemical ecology, helped mold Blum's appreciation of nature and a respect for science. Her mother's influence may be seen in the daughter's love of language and writing.

She is descended on her mother's side from old Kentucky stock that traces back to pre-Revolutionary English-Americans as well as to long-settled Irish and German immigrant stock. On her father's side, she is descended from European Jews who arrived in the United States considerably later. Her paternal grandfather was a shopkeeper and window dresser in Philadelphia and Chicago.

Blum and her husband live in Madison, Wisconsin. They have raised two sons.


  • Angel Killer: A True Story of Cannibalism, Crime Fighting, and Insanity in New York City[full citation needed]
  • The Poisoner's Handbook: Murder and the Birth of Forensic Medicine in Jazz Age New York (2010)
  • Ghost Hunters: William James and the search for scientific proof of life after death (2006)
  • Love at Goon Park: Harry Harlow and the science of affection (2002) — named among the best books of 2002 by Publishers Weekly, National Public Radio and Discover magazine, finalist for Los Angeles Times 2002 Book Prize
  • Sex on the Brain: the biological differences between men and women (1997) — a New York Times Notable Book of the Year in 1997
  • The Monkey Wars (1994) — a Library Journal best book of 1994 in Science and Technology
  • A Field Guide for Science Writers: the official guide of the National Association of Science Writers (1997; 2nd ed., 2006), edited by Blum, Mary Knudson, and Robin Marantz Henig


  1. ^ "The Poisoner's Handbook". Publisher's product display. Penguin Group. Retrieved 2013-11-01.
    Quote: "Pulitzer Prize-winning science writer Deborah Blum follows New York City's first forensic scientists to discover a fascinating Jazz Age story of chemistry."
  2. ^ "Beat Reporting". The Pulitzer Prizes. Retrieved 2013-11-01.
  3. ^ "Doug Moe: UW journalism prof's book on forensics gets positive reaction". Wisconsin State Journal, January 18, 2010.

External links[edit]