Deborah Blum

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Deborah L. Blum
Deborah Blum (2012).jpg
Blum in 2012
Born (1954-10-19) October 19, 1954 (age 68)
Alma materUniversity of Georgia
OccupationProfessor, blogger, journalist, author, director, science writer
Known forThe 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 and the director of the Knight Science Journalism program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.[1] She is author of books including The Poisoner's Handbook (2010)[2] and The Poison Squad (2018),[3] and has been a columnist for The New York Times and a blogger for Wired.[4]

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.[5]

Background and early career[edit]

Born in Urbana, Illinois, Blum grew up in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, Bristol, England, and Athens, Georgia. She 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 for newspapers 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 degree 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 element 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 this major environmental story.

Science writing and teaching[edit]

In 1984, Blum joined the staff of the Sacramento Bee, where she broadened her range, covering science subjects. 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.[6] This book was promoted on Point of Inquiry.[7] She received the James T. Grady-James H. Stack Award for Interpreting Chemistry for the Public from the American Chemical Society in 2015 for this book.[8]

Blum has written, most often about science and its interrelationship with American culture, for publications that have included The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Boston Globe, Time, The Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, Discover, Psychology Today, Rolling Stone, the Utne Reader, and Mother Jones.[9][10][11] 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.[12] Her blog "Elemental" appears regularly on the Wired website. After becoming director of the Knight Science Journalism Program, she created and became publisher of a new on-line science magazine, Undark.

From 1997 until 2015, she was a professor in the School of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. In 2005 she was appointed Helen Firstbrook Franklin Professor of Journalism, an endowed faculty position within the University of Wisconsin journalism school. In July 2015, she became director of Knight Science Journalism at MIT.[13]

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, the Society for Science & the Public and a US Congress committee on science.[14][15] Blum is co-editor (with Mary Knudson and Robin Marantz Henig) of the book A Field Guide for Science Writers.

Knight Science Journalism Program at MIT[edit]

Blum became director of the Knight Science Journalism Program, a fellowship program endowed by the James S. and John L. Knight Foundation to encourage "a select breed of journalist",[16] in July 2015. The following year, she expanded on the fellowship program by launching Undark, a digital science magazine. The magazine debuted in March 2016. The magazine's founding editor-in-chief was Tom Zeller, long time environment writer for The New York Times. In July 2016, David Corcoran, former editor of Science Times at The New York Times, joined the program as a senior editor at the magazine and associate director of the program.

Personal life[edit]

Blum is the eldest of four daughters born to entomologist Murray S. Blum and Nancy Ann Blum, an educator and writer.[17][18]

Blum and her husband have raised two sons.

Selected bibliography[edit]


  • Blum, Deborah (1994). The Monkey Wars. New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-509412-1.
  • 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
  • Sex on the Brain: the biological differences between men and women (1997) — a The New York Times Notable Book of the Year in 1997
  • 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
  • Ghost Hunters: William James and the search for scientific proof of life after death (2006)
  • The Poisoner's Handbook: Murder and the Birth of Forensic Medicine in Jazz Age New York (2010)
  • Angel Killer: A True Story of Cannibalism, Crime Fighting, and Insanity in New York City (2012), The Atavist
  • The Poison Squad: One Chemist’s Single-Minded Crusade for Food Safety at the Turn of the Twentieth Century (2018)


  1. ^ "Faculty & Staff | Knight Science Journalism at MIT". Faculty and staff listing for Knight Science Journalism at MIT. Retrieved 2015-07-15.
  2. ^ "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."
  3. ^ [1]. The Poison Squad: One Chemist's Single-Minded Crusade for Food Safety at the Turn of the Twentieth Century. Retrieved 2018-09-24.
  4. ^ "Deborah Blum, author at Wired". Wired. Retrieved 2015-09-04.
  5. ^ "Beat Reporting". The Pulitzer Prizes. Retrieved 2013-11-01.
  6. ^ "Doug Moe: UW journalism prof's book on forensics gets positive reaction". Wisconsin State Journal, January 18, 2010.
  7. ^ Mooney, Chris (2010-04-23). "Deborah Blum — Murder and chemistry in jazz age New York". Point of Inquiry. Archived from the original on 2015-09-11. Retrieved 2015-09-04.
  8. ^ "2015 National Award Recipients". American Chemical Society. Retrieved 2016-03-20.
  9. ^ Blum, Deborah (2010-01-23). "Poison and Progress". The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved 2015-09-04.
  10. ^ Blum, Deborah (2010-01-14). "Civilization on a Fault Line". The New York Times. Retrieved 2015-09-04.
  11. ^ Blum, Deborah (2005-01-23). "Solving for XX". The Boston Globe. Archived from the original on March 12, 2007. Retrieved 2015-09-04.
  12. ^ Blum, Deborah. "Poison Pen column". The New York Times. Retrieved 2015-09-04.
  13. ^ "Pulitzer Prize-winner to head Knight Science Journalism at MIT". MIT press release, July 18, 2014.
  14. ^ "Penguin Books profile". Penguin Group. Retrieved 2015-09-04.
  15. ^ Blum, Deborah (1998-05-14). "Testimony". US House of Representatives. Archived from the original on 2003-04-21. Retrieved 2015-09-04.
  16. ^ "Knight Science Journalism - Who We Are". Knight Science Journalism. 14 September 2018.
  17. ^ Edgar, Kathleen J.; Rooney, Terrie M.; Gariepy, Jennifer, eds. (1996). Contemporary Authors. Vol. 151. Detroit: Gale Research. pp. 55–56. ISBN 0-8103-9351-4.
  18. ^ Golden, Frederic (13 December 1994). "The Right Chemistry : Authors: Deborah Blum parlayed her science background and reporting skills into a book that investigates both sides of the controversy over the use of primates in biomedical research". Los Angeles Times.

External links[edit]