Science's Loss is Journalism's Gain

By William Bunch '81 / May / June 2005
May 3rd, 2007

Gareth Cook has loved science since childhood (“I was into math and dinosaurs and rocks,” he says), but as a mathematical physics concentrator at Brown, he realized he’d never be happy in the lab. “I’m basically totally impatient,” he says—too curious and restless to confine himself to a single research area.

Basic science’s loss has proved journalism’s gain. Now a science reporter for the Boston Globe, Cook received the 2004 Pulitzer Prize for explanatory journalism for a series of reports he wrote on the moral and ethical dilemmas surrounding embryonic stem-cell research. Cook says his quest grew out of his frustration watching U.S. politicians and religious leaders debate the issue. “On one hand, the story was being constantly covered,” he says, “but the science wasn’t being covered. It was covered as a political story.”

To report the series, Cook traveled from Minnesota to the Ukraine and the Czech Republic to learn what scientists were doing with stem cells and to explore the complex issues the research raises for everyday people. He was particularly drawn to the tale of a woman from the Boston suburbs, an antiabortion Bush supporter, who gave birth to two children through in-vitro fertilization and then decided to donate her leftover frozen embryos to stem-cell research.

It wasn’t the first time Cook has asked questions that other journalists passed over. In 2000 his fascination with a suspension bridge central to Boston’s Big Dig highway project led to a front-page story explaining the engineering behind its architecture.

A double major at Brown, with a second concentration in international relations, Cook got his start in journalism serendipitously. While waiting to enter the Foreign Service, he interned at Foreign Policy magazine and got hooked. Married with a son, the resident of Boston’s Jamaica Plain section has worked at a number of publications, including U.S. News and World Report, where he covered national politics.

But he seems to have found his way back to his first love. “I want to keep doing science reporting,” Cook says. “As to where I’m going and what I’m going to look into, I have no idea.

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May / June 2005