Monday, May 14, 2007

Gail Collins returns to columnist ranks, and a proposal

Non-breaking news, but I haven't seen anyone else really comment: Gail Collins is returning as a columnist to the New York Times this July on Thursdays & Saturdays, replacing John Tierney. In November, Tierney announced that he would return to science writing, and science blogging (TierneyLab) for the Times, which he did in January. Is it possible that Tierney voluntarily ditched his column for a gig on the science page?
The columnist ranks will now include six men--Brooks, Friedman, Herbert, Kristof, Krugman, and Rich--and two women--Dowd, and Collins.
Six men, and two women, not quite balanced, but better than seven men and Dowd. There's the whole Herbert and everyone else difference, too, and with a little effort, I'm sure we could find others. And so I will: all eight are, for lack of a better term, social science-oriented columnists; Rich is also a theater critic, but not on the OP-ED page. To tip the balance in a worthy direction, I think the OP-ED page should hire a science columnist to focus on findings that pertain to health, technology, and environment. By hiring a science writer to pen a twice-a-week column alongside Friedman & Co., the editors would show that they take seriously the policy and social implications of science. It would say, science isn't just the stuff of guest columnists and the excellent weekly science section. The absence of science writers on such prime real estate almost suggests science isn't subject to interpretation, or intriguing controversy in the same vein as the social and political issues covered by the current corps, when that's clearly not true. It is true that columnists, like Kristof or Friedman, occasionally write about health and energy, for instance, but not with the useful background that a star science writer possesses.
Who would write the column? Not sure, but there are plenty of candidates to choose from. Off the top of my head, Robert Wright or Atul Gawande could be up to the task. Perhaps someone like Gawande wouldn't want to take the time to write two columns a week indefinitely, so the Times could hire columnists for 18-month stints, like the public editor positions, and working scientists could view it as a public-service fellowship of sorts. In any event, the details aren't important, nor are they, of course, up to me. I just think the page gets a little dry and predictable at times, and a whole new category of material served twice a week might keep things fresh and exciting.

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