Adventures of a Physics Reporter
Editor, Physics Today
About the Lecture
In my 30 years on the staff of Physics Today, I have had a unique opportunity to report on some of the great discoveries made in physics, and to identify the topics capturing the interest of physicists. At the same time, I covered the changing scene in science policy in the US and abroad. While working as a reporter and editor, my life was punctuated by a number of adventures.
About the Speaker
Gloria Lubkin holds an AB in Physics from Temple University and an MA in nuclear physics from Boston University. She joined Physics Today in 1963 as associate editor, was promoted to senior editor in 1970 and became editor in 1985. During 1974-75, she was a Nieman fellow at Harvard University. She is a co-founder of the Theoretical Physics Institute at the University of Minnesota and the Gloria Becker Lubkin professorship of Theoretical Physics has been named in her honor.
The President, Ms. Enig, called the 2026th meeting to order at 8:19 p.m. on March 18, 1994. A Member-at-Large, on behalf of the Recording Secretary read the minutes of the 2025th meeting and they were approved. The President then read a portion of the minutes from the 418th meeting, March 17, 1894.
The President introduced Ms. Gloria Lubkin, editor of Physics Today, to speak on, “The Adventures of a Physics Reporter”.
Ms. Lubkin explained her objective of presenting what Physics Today does, how it is produced, and at what level. Physics Today is a magazine for physicists with a circulation of 120,000, 20% of which is comprised of foreign distribution. It is free to member societies and 5,000 subscriptions are paid. Forty percent of Physics Today features articles are comprised of reviews by experts and the history of science and public policy.
Ms. Lubkin embraced physics because of its unity. In the recent history of physics, advancement occurs through specialization. Physics Today helps specialists keep abreast of what other specialists are accomplishing. As such it recognizes and fosters a community aspect for physicists.
Physics Today strives for accuracy and fairness and relies on the physics community to achieve this. It is recognized that proper credit must always be achieved when reporting the work of physicists. Physics Today looks to sources of information such as meetings, discussions in hallways, cocktail parties, and the like. Because it is not possible to attend all meetings, talk is initiated with physicists and other journals are read to find out what is new and important.
Whereas in the past Physics Today could be leisurely about the news, now there is competition through newspapers, TV, and e-mail. The editors believe Physics Today is special in that it is prepared with great care.
Ms. Lubkin related a number of rewarding personal experiences as editor of Physics Today. An example of a highlight of Ms. Lubkin's career was her invitation to China in 1979. She visited laboratories in Shanghi and Bejing. At a meeting of physicists in the Great Hall of the People she realized that the meeting was being carried on TV — a remarkable treatment of journalists.
Another experience was related to the announced discoveries of high temperature superconductivity. The substance TTFTCNQ was proposed as the “poor man's high temperature superconductor”. Allan Heeger in 1973 claimed that the transition temperature was 60K and this turned out to be not right. In 1978 the Russians claimed that CuCl was a high temperature superconductor. The New York Times carried the story. Physics Today also carried the story and reported that there was not good evidence for the Russian claim. President Carter was briefed by the CIA on her article. When he later visited the Oak Ridge National Laboratory he was being briefed on their work on superconductivity when he asked: “What about CuCl?"!
An interesting feature of the work of Physics Today is attempting to predict to whom the Nobel Prize will be awarded. Occasionally the staff has guessed correctly. An example is the electroweak theory. Physics Today first reported and popularized the Weinberg model, now known as the Weinberg-Salaam-Glashow model. During the period of investigation Ms. Lubkin's position often gave her more information than Weinberg knew.
Physics Today has published special editions in the past. One such edition was published in February of 1989 honoring the memory Richard Feynman and was comprised of nine articles.
Physics Today has to deal often with difficult authors. Ms. Lubkin offered a story about Louis Alvarez (deceased for several years, now) who authored the extinction hypothesis that a large asteroid striking the earth caused the demise of the dinosaurs. Although he would normally submit an article to Science he agreed to submit a 5,000 word manuscript to Physics Today. When it arrived as a 12,000 word manuscript, Ms. Lubkin extracted permission from him for the editors to cut it to 5,000 words. Three weeks later when it was sent back to him he said that he had also submitted it to Science and EOS and they both said it was too long. Now that he had recieved this short version he wanted to give it to Science. Ms. Lubkin reminded him that Physics Today was read by members of the Geophysical Union, and on this basis was able to obtain his agreement to publish his work.
Ms. Lubkin also related her meetings with Sakharov and Zeldovich, the treatment of the magnetic monopole story, her editing of the article on the intermediate vector boson, the article on superstrings by Schoenfeld and her invitation to the 90th anniversary of the Nobel prize. At the conclusion of her talk Ms. Lubkin agreed to answer questions from the audience.
The President thanked the speaker on behalf of the society welcomed her as a full- fledged member of the society. The membership chairman was not present and so there was no report on new members. The President announced the speaker for the next meeting, the usual parking admonition, and the new tradition that board members would wear name tags during the meeting, and adjourned the 2026th meeting at 9:33 p.m.
Weather: broken overcast, occasional light rain
Edward T. Toton
Member-at-Large, for the Recording Secretary