Broad, William J.
Broad, William J.
Born in Milwaukee, WI. Education: Attended University of Wisconsin.
Journalist and writer. New York Times, New York, NY, science reporter, 1983—.
Pulitzer Prize for explanatory journalism (with fellow New York Times reporters), 1986, for six-part series on the Strategic Defense Initiative ("Star Wars"), and 1987 for national reporting (with fellow New York Times reporters), for coverage of the Challenger space shuttle disaster.
(With Nicholas Wade) Betrayers of the Truth: Fraud and Deceit in the Halls of Science, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1983.
Star Warriors: A Penetrating Look into the Lives of the Young Scientists behind Our Space-Age Weaponry, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1985.
(With others) Claiming the Heavens: The "New York Times" Complete Guide to the Star Wars Debate, Times Books (New York, NY), 1988.
Teller's War: The Top-Secret Story behind the Star Wars Deception, Simon & Schuster, (New York, NY), 1992.
The Universe Below: Discovering the Secrets of the Deep Sea, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1997.
(With Judith Miller and Stephen Engelberg) Germs: Biological Weapons and America's Secret War, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 2001.
The Oracle: The Lost Secrets and Hidden Message of Ancient Delphi, Penguin Press (New York, NY), 2006.
With a degree in the history of science, William J. Broad has enjoyed a long career as a science reporter for the New York Times. He has been honored with two shared Pulitzer prizes and, in addition to his reportage, has written several well-received books.
His first book, coauthored with Nicholas Wade, is Betrayers of the Truth: Fraud and Deceit in the Halls of Science. In this work, the authors expose several cases of scientists who, for one reason or another, lose their purely scientific pursuit of the truth in favor of the more compelling drive to in some way prove a favorite theory of theirs (despite empirical evidence) or to make a name for themselves. As P.B. Medawar wrote in the London Review of Books, "I do not suppose that personal advancement is a principal motive for cheating in science: rather it is the hunger for scientific reputation and the esteem of colleagues." Whatever the reason for the fraud, Betrayers of the Truth details some of the more famous cases. "It is not the authors' intention to shock," wrote Medawar, "though in fact they do so: no, the purpose is rather to show that research is not a wholly rational and explicitly logical procedure but subject to the confinements and constraints that afflict other professional men trying to make their way in the world."
Two years later, Star Warriors: A Penetrating Look into the Lives of the Young Scientists behind Our Space-Age Weaponry was published. Michael Riordan, writing for the Technology Review, referred to Star Warriors as "a remarkable, riveting book." The book relates the story of a small team of young scientists working at Lawrence Livermore Laboratories in California. These scientists had, at that time, developed many of the designs and conceptions employed by the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI, popularly known as "Star Wars"), a program involved in, according to Riordan, "a ‘third generation’ of nuclear weaponry—the ‘directed-energy’ weapons based on X-ray lasers that their creators expect will render offensive missiles obsolete."
The title of Broad's book comes from President Ronald Reagan's promotion of the Star Wars technology that would supposedly save the United States from nuclear attack. Broad challenges this assumption as he exposes the philosophies of the young scientists, who in general believed, as stated by Riordan, that the world is "without complexity, of black and white, of good and evil, with absolutely no middle ground." Riordan also added that these young scientists could not "imagine that their inventions might make nuclear warfare more likely, not less."
Broad spent a week at Livermore, a huge laboratory created by Edward Teller, a principal developer of the hydrogen bomb; Broad's book is an attempt to explain what the scientists do there. Broad "paints with rough, impressionistic strokes," wrote Washington Monthly contributor Paul M. Barrett. He "succeeds in combining a comprehensible explanation of SDI with a lively diary of a week-long visit to the Livermore lab, one of the government's two main nuclear weapons design facilities." Barrett praised Broad for his "considerable insight into the origins and purposes of strategic defense." However, Barrett concluded that Broad's work "also poses the troubling question of whether we ought to view advances in nuclear technology as necessary or inevitable simply because people at places like Livermore may have the brainpower and bravado to accomplish them."
Continuing along the same theme, Broad, together with several colleagues from the New York Times, wrote Claiming the Heavens: The "New York Times" Complete Guide to the Star Wars Debate. This 1988 book is an expanded version of a Pulitzer Prize-winning series of articles that ran in the New York Times in March 1985. The book, as stated by a contributor to Publishers Weekly, answers very critical questions about President Reagan's Star Wars plan and provides "an objective survey of Star Wars, in which basic questions are asked and either answered or intelligently speculated upon."
In a review for Business Week, Dave Griffiths related a quote from the book as stated by Teller, whom Griffiths referred to as "father of the hydrogen bomb" and "SDI cheerleader." Teller reportedly said that without a nuclear missile defense plan, such as Star Wars, "a billion lives could be lost in a global war." Teller then added: "Defense might reduce that to ‘only’ 100 million." Griffiths pointed out that as "grotesque and appalling" as that statement might be, at least some lives might be saved with such a plan. Griffiths then concluded: "Such are the extraordinary stakes in the Star Wars game." Griffiths added: "So far, nobody has set forth the dimensions and rules of that game with more clarity than the team behind Claiming the Heavens."
In Teller's War: The Top-Secret Story behind the Star Wars Deception, Broad turns his full focus on the Hungarian-born Teller, whom a Chicago Tribune Books contributor described as a scientist who continually went "over the heads of scientific colleagues and into the corridors of Washington to lobby for some pet scheme: the hydrogen bomb in 1950, a weapons laboratory of his own in 1952, the so-called ‘clean bomb’ in 1957." Each time he did so, Teller "frightened his auditors by telling them" that the Soviets were ahead in the arms race. "And nearly every time he got what he was campaigning for."
It is through this book about Teller that Broad relates the story behind the Star Wars program. In the Chicago Tribune Books review, the critic described Broad's book as "a story that must surely spell the end of the Teller saga." It does not read as a diatribe against the aging scientist, however, but rather as "a carefully researched and documented account." Because of Broad's careful research and objective reporting, the reviewer held, Teller's War "is a devastating indictment of Teller—and of Ronald Reagan, the president he seduced."
Although G. Allen Greb, writing for Science, also praised Broad's book, Greb wrote that Broad may have overemphasized Teller's influence. "Certainly, this is a good book to learn more about the secret and largely closed world of the national laboratories and their relationship to Washington, D.C.," Greb stated. However, "Broad's ultimate fascination with Teller—key figure to be sure—really prevents us from getting a clear picture about the true dynamics of the arms race, arms development, and arms control." A Publishers Weekly contributor, on the contrary, found Broad's work to be "investigative journalism at its finest."
In 1997, Broad turned to a less controversial topic with his book The Universe Below: Discovering the Secrets of the Deep Sea. In it, Broad reports that new discoveries have shown that life is much more abundant in the ocean than previously thought. The number of species found in the depths of the ocean might actually constitute more than all the creatures found on land, scientists are now surmising. Broad's book explores these new developments, as well as the political debates that occurred during the Cold War surrounding the military's involvement in developing submersibles that were capable of searching the bottom of the ocean. At the end of the Cold War, the technology the U.S. Navy produced was declassified and put to use by private and scientific industries.
"Broad tells absorbing stories of the investigators who unravel secrets of the deep ocean," wrote Laurence A. Marschall in Sciences. Booklist contributor Gilbert Taylor reported that "Broad gives readers a transfixing and creepy glimpse into the perpetual darkness of inner space."
Broad collaborated with Judith Miller and Stephen Engelberg to write Germs: Biological Weapons and America's Secret War, which was published in 2001. It is a joint effort by the New York Times staff members who made a study of bio-terrorism. One of the members of the writing team, Miller, was a victim of bio-terrorism, having received a letter laced with anthrax following the attack on the World Trade Center. Germs made the New York Times best-seller list, eventually hitting the number-one position.
In the book, the three reporters cover the history of bio-terrorism, such as a detailed account "of bioweapons programs, including the United States' largely secret experiments during and after World War II, the former Soviet Union's massive buildup after signing a ban on such weapons in 1972 and Saddam Hussein's push to develop a smorgasbord of deadly pathogens in Iraq," wrote Michael Massing for the Nation. Although the book fascinated the public, critics provided mixed reviews. Thomas R. Eddlem, writing for New American, stated: "For the critical reader capable of discounting the terrible policy recommendations at the end of the book, Germs serves as a helpful and well-written primer on the 20th-century history of biological weapons." An Economist reviewer did not find fault with the author's proposals and instead concluded that the book contained "well informed reporting."
In The Oracle: The Lost Secrets and Hidden Message of Ancient Delphi, Broad examines the Oracle of Delphi, an influential post held by a female oracle who consulted the god Apollo on various matters pertaining to Greek politics and society. The Oracles had tremendous influence in both areas of Greek life. Broad writes of the history of the Oracle and later investigations conducted by both religious and scientific scholars. The author also reveals that recent studies have shone that ethylene was the source of the vapors that supposedly increased the Oracles' divining powers, and he recounts testing the intoxicating effects of ethylene on himself. "With all the drama of a science thriller, Broad masterfully weaves … a remarkable account of the search for the secrets of the Oracle," wrote Vanessa Bush in Booklist. A Kirkus Reviews contributor noted that the author "follows the story with care and diligence, melding complex science and ancient history into a riveting account bolstered by a helpful glossary and chronology."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Atlantic Monthly, December, 2001, Bruce Hoffman, "One-Alarm Fire," p. 137.
Booklist, April 15, 1997, Gilbert Taylor, review of The Universe Below: Discovering the Secrets of the Deep Sea, p. 1370; January 1, 2006, Vanessa Bush, review of The Oracle: The Lost Secrets and Hidden Message of Ancient Delphi, p. 27.
Business Week, March 21, 1988, Dave Griffiths, "Star Wars: Is the Force with Us?" pp. 10-11.
Economist, October 20, 2001, "Topical Treatment: Germ Warfare."
Entertainment Weekly, February 17, 2006, Tina Jordan, review of The Oracle, p. 83.
Harper's, March, 2002, Howard Market, review of Germs: Biological Weapons and America's Secret War, pp. 65-70.
Kirkus Reviews, January 1, 2006, review of The Oracle, p. 24.
London Review of Books, November 17, 1983, P.B. Medawar, "Scientific Fraud," pp. 5-7.
Nation, December 21, 1985, Peter Pringle, review of Star Warriors: A Penetrating Look into the Lives of the Young Scientists behind Our Space-Age Weaponry, pp. 686-688; December 17, 2001, Michael Massing, "Where Germs Rule," p. 7.
Natural History, June, 2006, Laurence A. Marschall, review of The Oracle, p. 56.
New American, January 14, 2002, Thomas R. Eddlem, review of Germs, pp. 25-26.
New Scientist, March 18, 2006, Maggie McDonald, review of The Oracle, p. 52.
Publishers Weekly, December 18, 1987, review of Claiming the Heavens: The "New York Times" Complete Guide to the Star Wars Debate, p. 48; January 13, 1992, review of Teller's War: The Top-Secret Story behind the Star Wars Deception, p. 44; February 24, 1997, review of The Universe Below, pp. 776-777; December 5, 2005, review of The Oracle, p. 46.
Science, March 25, 1983, review of Betrayers of the Truth: Fraud and Deceit in the Halls of Science, pp. 1417-1418; May 15, 1992, G. Allen Greb, review of Teller's War, pp. 1043-1044.
Science News, February 25, 2006, review of The Oracle, p. 127.
Sciences, May, 1997, Laurence A. Marschall, review of The Universe Below, p. 43.
Sierra, January, 2000, Jennifer Hattam, review of The Universe Below, p. 115.
Skeptical Inquirer, May-June, 2006, review of The Oracle, p. 64.
Technology Review, July, 1986, Michael Riordan, review of Star Warriors, pp. 76-77.
Tribune Books (Chicago, IL), March 1, 1992, "Cold War Science," pp. 5, 9.
Washington Monthly, January, 1986, Paul M. Barrett, review of Star Warriors, pp. 50-52; April, 1992, James Fallows, review of Teller's War, pp. 44-48.