Journalist David Perlman awarded AGU’s 2019 Presidential Citation for Science and Society

Known as the “Dean of Science Journalism,” Perlman covered thousands of stories about Earth and space science during his more than 60 years at the San Francisco Chronicle.

1 November 2019

David Perlman, retired science editor of the San Francisco Chronicle, was awarded AGU’s 2019 Presidential Citation for Science and Society.
Credit: Katy Perlman

WASHINGTON—David Perlman, longtime science editor of the San Francisco Chronicle and the “dean of science journalism,” has been awarded the 2019 AGU Presidential Citation for Science and Society.

Established in 2012, the AGU Presidential Citation recognizes leaders whose work has helped advance Earth and space science and increased the understanding and appreciation of its value to society.

There are few, if any, science journalists who could ever achieve what 100-year-old David Perlman accomplished as a reporter and science editor at the San Francisco Chronicle for nearly 70 years before retiring at the age of 98. The scientific enterprise depends upon honest, independent reporters to describe, assess, critique and share scientific research with the general public. Perlman has served as a leading voice in science journalism by collaborating with his peers on a variety of issues in the Earth and space sciences.

During his decades at the Chronicle, most of them as science editor, Perlman covered thousands of science stories: from the Apollo 11 moon landing to deadly California earthquakes to global warming to the discovery of exoplanets, traveling with scientists to Antarctica, Africa, Alaska and other locations around the world. In 1964, Perlman spent two months with a California Academy of Sciences expedition to the Galapagos, filing dozens of stories by radio on topics including volcanism, paleomagnetism, basalt sampling with Allan Cox, and interactions between geology and biological evolution.

“It is fitting that, in a year when both AGU and David are 100, that we recognize David for helping to promote relevance and importance of the Earth and space sciences throughout his extraordinary career,” said AGU Executive Director/Chief Executive Officer Chris McEntee. “The Presidential Citation for Science and Society celebrates David’s stellar work but also the role he has played in mentoring and inspiring generations of science journalists.”

In 2000, AGU created a science journalism award in recognition of David’s work: The David Perlman Award for Excellence in Science Journalism – News. The award is given annually for outstanding science news reporting produced on a short deadline. Perlman was also the recipient of AGU’s Robert C. Cowen Award for Sustained Achievement in Science Journalism in 1997, which recognizes a journalist who has made significant, lasting, and consistent contributions to accurate reporting or writing on the geophysical sciences for the general public. The award recognized “David Perlman’s daily devotion to his craft, his sturdy sense of responsibility, his devotion to accuracy, his warm regard for human diversity, and his appreciation that science is an uncertain work in progress.”

This year’s Perlman Award recipient, Ann Gibbons, said winning the award is especially meaningful because Perlman inspired her to become a science writer. Gibbons, a contributing correspondent at Science magazine, was recognized for her story, “Eruption made 536 ‘the worst year to be alive’,” published in Science magazine on 15 November 2018.

“I heard him speak at the journalism school at University of California Berkeley and thought his work sounded cool!” Gibbons said. “And while I was as a stringer at the San Francisco Chronicle when I was a student, he was the city editor.”

David Perlman, retired science editor of the San Francisco Chronicle, was awarded AGU’s 2019 Presidential Citation for Science and Society.
Credit: Katy Perlman

Past Presidential Citation for Science and Society recipients have included Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (RI); Senator Barbara Mikulski (MD); historian of science, author, and affiliated professor of Earth and planetary sciences at Harvard University Naomi Oreskes; award-winning journalist and correspondent for National Public Radio Richard Harris; and administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Jane Lubchenco.

Perlman has been a champion of science communication, having served as a mentor to scores of science writers and served as president of the National Association of Sciences Writers and the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing. Perlman is also a fellow of the California Academy of Sciences and the recipient of journalism awards from other scientific societies including AAAS, the Society of Professional Journalists and the American Chemical Society.


Founded in 1919, AGU is a not-for-profit scientific society dedicated to advancing Earth and space science for the benefit of humanity. We support 60,000 members, who reside in 135 countries, as well as our broader community, through high-quality scholarly publications, dynamic meetings, our dedication to science policy and science communications, and our commitment to building a diverse and inclusive workforce, as well as many other innovative programs. AGU is home to the award-winning news publication Eos, the Thriving Earth Exchange, where scientists and community leaders work together to tackle local issues, and a headquarters building that represents Washington, D.C.’s first net zero energy commercial renovation. We are celebrating our Centennial in 2019. #AGU100


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