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Science & Technology

A Newspaperman Looks Back On A 77-Year Career

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

The newspaperman decided to take early retirement - that's what David Perlman calls his departure from work at age 98. Mr. Perlman was born just after World War I. My mother, he says, was a suffragette. That's how long he's been around. Before World War II, Perlman was working as a copy boy for the San Francisco Chronicle, an early stop in his newspaper career.

DAVID PERLMAN: It seemed to me to be the most glamorous thing you could possibly do, to be a reporter with a press card in your hat and interviewing people and chasing cops and all that sort of thing. So I - that's what I did.

INSKEEP: What we want to focus on is the subject that ultimately captivated him. Around 1957, the time of the Sputnik satellite launch, Perlman became a science writer for the Chronicle. He says he had no science background, just a few Mickey Mouse classes in school. But he spent the next 60 years learning and says the public still has much to learn.

PERLMAN: I hate to sound pompous about this. But I'm concerned, really, that the general public still is not aware of the impact of developments in what I'll call the world of science has on our daily lives. Just as an example, the political debate right now over climate change, global warming - large segments of the public don't really understand the nature of the scientific inevitability of a changing climate under the impact of greenhouse gases emitted from our carbon-burning fossil fuels.

INSKEEP: I guess we should mention, according to surveys, most people accept climate science today. But large minorities, powerful minorities do not. And when I think about that skepticism and try to think about why and how it might have changed over time, I suppose it's possible that people have lost faith in scientists. But I suppose it's also possible that people never had much faith in it to begin with, never thought about it one way or the other. And we're being forced to think about science more deeply than ever before.

PERLMAN: I would say you're absolutely right. And I also would say, from what I understand of today's educational processes, kids are not required to understand some of the basic science that should be taught from kindergarten on.

INSKEEP: Do you wish you could stick around for another 60 years of scientific developments?

PERLMAN: I'm just as happy not to live another 60 years because I couldn't begin to predict whether it's going to make people happier, better, live longer, understand the world around them. One thing I would like to see 60 years from now is us making contact with other civilizations on exoplanets, planets orbiting other stars.

INSKEEP: That might conceivably have some kind of life on them?

PERLMAN: Sure, the idea that we are not alone, as Carl Sagan once said. We live on our planet amidst an enormous number of countless other solar systems. That's a very exciting thing. And I would love to spend the next 60 years covering that. But no, I'm not going to do it (laughter).

INSKEEP: Well, David Perlman, thanks very much. I've enjoyed talking with you. And congratulations.

PERLMAN: OK. Thanks a lot for calling. Bye-bye.

INSKEEP: He's a science writer for the San Francisco Chronicle and retires next month at age 98.

(SOUNDBITE OF YPPAH AND JOSEF PETERS' "LOOK AT THE STARS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.