PERSONAL: Born in Detroit, MI; married Elizabeth DeVita-Raeburn (a writer); children: Matt, Alex, Alicia, Henry. Education: Massachusetts Institute of Technology, B.A.; attended Berklee College of Music, Boston, MA.
CAREER: Journalist, editor, writer, and radio broadcaster. Has worked for the Boston Phoenix, Boston, MA, and the Lowell Sun, Lowell, MA; Associated Press, science editor and chief science correspondent, 1981–96; Business Week, senior editor and science editor, 1996–2003. Also commentator for Morning Edition, National Public Radio (NPR), and occasional guest host of NPR's Talk of the Nation: Science Friday; has served as Stanford University journalism fellow and science-writer-in-residence at the University of Wisconsin and the University of California, Santa Cruz.
MEMBER: National Association of Science Writers (former president), Sigma XI (honorary member).
AWARDS, HONORS: Science-in-Society Award, National Association of Science Writers; John P. McGovern Award for Excellence in Medical Communications, American Medical Writers Association; Managing Editors Award for excellence, Associated Press; two Dead Club awards; two Computer Press Association awards.
The Last Harvest: The Genetic Gamble that Threatens to Destroy American Agriculture, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1995, published with a new preface by the author, University of Nebraska Press (Lincoln, NE), 1996.
Mars: Uncovering the Secrets of the Red Planet, National Geographic Society (Washington, DC), 1998.
Acquainted with the Night: A Parent's Quest to Understand Depression and Bipolar Disorder in His Children (memoir), Broadway Books (New York, NY), 2004.
Contributor to periodicals, including Popular Science, New York Times, Vogue, Allure, American Health, and Technology Review.
SIDELIGHTS: As a longtime science editor, Paul Rae-burn has vast experience in making complex technical ideas comprehensible to the layperson. Raeburn has used these skills to advantage in producing interesting books on timely topics.
The Last Harvest: The Genetic Gamble that Threatens to Destroy American Agriculture explores the little-addressed issue of the long-term ecological impact of industrial farming, especially as it relates to plant variety. New York Review of Books contributor Daniel J. Kevles wrote: "It is perhaps surprising that the relation of agriculture to environmentalism is so sparsely discussed, since a huge fraction of arable land is given over to plant and animal husbandry. Raeburn … has produced one of the rare informative surveys of the ecodynamics of farming."
One of the ecological issues that Raeburn explores in depth in The Last Harvest has to do with the current and future availability of wild stocks of plant life. "Plant breeders draw steadily on wild stocks in their continuing efforts to develop pest-resistant plant varieties," noted Kevles. "About half the increase in the superabundant productivity of American agriculture is owing to improvements in crop varieties made possible by wild germ plasm." However, with the worldwide increase in industrialized farming, and the adoption throughout the world of a relatively few high-yield varieties, plant variety is increasingly threatened. As more and more acres are put under cultivation to fewer and fewer plant varieties, and as more and more biologically diverse forests (including huge portions of the rain forest) are sacrificed to agriculture and other human developments, humans become increasingly dependent on a limited number of plants, creating enormous vulnerability to fungi and pest destruction.
Scientists have worked to develop greater variety through genetic engineering, but Raeburn notes that more effort is going into designing plants that can survive the herbicides and pesticides that are part and parcel of industrial farming than to designing plants that naturally ward off pests. Raeburn also points out that the few well-developed seed banks that store upwards to half a million seed varieties (many of which are extinct in the wild) are "in jeopardy, the victim[s] of budgetary parsimony and administrative neglect. The state of affairs has prompted one analyst to call the germ plasm installations 'seed morgues,'" stated Kevles.
Reviewers were impressed both by Raeburn's topic and his writing. John Tallmadge reviewed The Last Harvest for the New York Times, and presented its findings with great interest, especially noting the "fascinating detail [with which Raeburn recounts] how science and government have tried to protect our endowment of germ plasm through seed banks, breeding programs, botanical gardens and biosphere reserves." Tallmadge agreed with Raeburn that farming needs to become more local in order to preserve life-preserving biodiversity. Booklist contributor Gilbert Taylor wrote that "Raeburn certainly furnishes information useful to readers concerned with the biological vulnerabilities in America's complicated food production complex."
In 1998, a year after the successful Pathfinder mission to Mars, Raeburn published Mars: Uncovering the Secrets of the Red Planet, which contains 135 glossy photos from the Pathfinder as well as a pair of 3-D glasses with which to view a fold-out "Marscape." Rae-burn offers a history of Earthlings fascination with Mars, and details the history of Mars exploration. Booklist contributor Gilbert Taylor commented: "Designed for maximum interest, this book's look should create waiting lists to check it out."
In Acquainted with the Night: A Parent's Quest to Understand Depression and Bipolar Disorder in His Children Raeburn writes about his struggles with his son Alex, who is bipolar, and his daughter, Alicia, who suffers from chronic depression. In the process, he probes his troubled marriage and the difficulty in finding effective help for his children. He also examines the field of psychiatry and the medical insurance industry. "Blame is a central theme of Acquainted with the Night," wrote Evan Gillespie on the Pop Matters Book Review Web site, adding: "Raeburn is intent on tracking down the individuals or institutions responsible for the turmoil his children face." Lynne F. Maxwell, writing in the Library Journal, called the book an "arrestingly candid memoir," while a Publishers Weekly contributor commented: "Raeburn's greatest gift is his brave Honesty. He challenges all parents to take responsibility and claim their part in their children's pain."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Raeburn, Paul, Acquainted with the Night: A Parent's Quest to Understand Depression and Bipolar Disorder in His Children, Broadway Books (New York, NY), 2004.
Booklist, May 15, 1995, Gilbert Taylor, review of The Last Harvest: The Genetic Gamble that Threatens to Destroy American Agriculture, p. 1618; December 1, 1999, Gilbert Taylor, review of Mars: Uncovering the Secrets of the Red Planet, p. 677.
Clinical Psychiatry News, May, 2005, Rodrigo A. Munoz, review of Acquainted with the Night, p. 52.
Entertainment Weekly, September 11, 1998, Daneet Steffens, review of Mars, p. 128.
Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, July, 2005, review of Acquainted with the Night, p. 718.
Library Journal, November 1, 1998, Thomas J. Frieling, review of Mars, p. 121; April 15, 2004, Lynne F. Maxwell, review of Acquainted with the Night, p. 105.
Nature, September 28, 1995, J.R.S. Fincham, review of The Last Harvest, p. 297.
New York Review of Books, February 20, 1997, Daniel J. Kevles, review of The Last Harvest, pp. 30-31.
New York Times, August 13, 1995, John Tallmadge, review of The Last Harvest, p. 18.
Psychology Today, May-June, 2004, review of Acquainted with the Night, p. 82.
Publishers Weekly, March 22, 2004, review of Acquainted with the Night, p. 72.
School Library Journal, April, 1999, John Kiefman, review of Mars, p. 165.
Washington Monthly, June, 1995, Gregg Easterbrook, review of The Last Harvest, p. 55.
Pop Matters, http://www.popmatters.com/books/ (May 4, 2004), Evan Gillespie, review of Acquainted with the Night.
Paul Raeburn Home Page, http://www.paulraeburn.com (September 10, 2006).
Sigma Xi Web site, http://www.sigmaxi.org/ (September 10, 2006), brief profile of Paul Raeburn.