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Shulman, Seth 1960–

Shulman, Seth 1960–

PERSONAL:

Born January 4, 1960, in New York, NY; married Laura Reed, June, 1988; children: Elise, Benjamin. Education: Harvard University, B.A., 1982; attended Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 1985-86.

ADDRESSES:

Agent—Brockman, Inc., 123 E. 54th St., Ste. 8-D, New York, NY 10022.

CAREER:

Writer and editor. Consultant on science and technology.

MEMBER:

National Press Club, National Writers Union, PEN New England.

AWARDS, HONORS:

Vannevar Bush fellow (now Knight Science Journalism fellowship), 1985-86; work cited among "ten best underreported stories" of the year, Project Censored, 1987; National Magazine Award nomination, public interest category, 2001; grants from John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, Center for Public Integrity, Fund for Constitutional Government, Fund for Investigative Reporting, Goldensohn Fund, and New America Foundation.

WRITINGS:

Biohazard, Rowman & Littlefield (Lanham, MD), 1991.

The Threat at Home: Confronting the Toxic Legacy of the U.S. Military, Beacon Press (Boston, MA), 1992.

Owning the Future: Staking Claims on the Knowledge Frontier, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 1999.

Unlocking the Sky: Glenn Hammond Curtiss and the Race to Invent the Airplane, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2002.

Trouble on "the Endless Frontier": Science, Invention, and the Erosion of the Technological Commons, New America Foundation (Washington, DC), 2002.

Undermining Science: Suppression and Distortion in the Bush Administration, University of California Press (Berkeley, CA), 2006.

The Telephone Gambit: Chasing Alexander Graham Bell's Secret, W.W. Norton & Co. (New York, NY), 2008.

Nature, Boston correspondent, 1988-91; author of a monthly column for Technology Review; contributor to books and to magazines and newspapers, including Atlantic, Discover, Parade, Progressive, Rolling Stone, Smithsonian, Time, and Boston Globe.

SIDELIGHTS:

Science writer Seth Shulman is the author of a number of books, including The Threat at Home: Confronting the Toxic Legacy of the U.S. Military. Robert F. Durant wrote in Public Administration Review that Shulman's book incorporates a "sprightly writing style, impressive documentary and interview material, and comprehensive appendix."

In his book Shulman calls attention to the Jefferson Proving Ground in southeast Indiana, which contains more than a million unexploded mines, bombs, and shells, some buried thirty feet deep. He notes the radioactive wastes that have seeped into the ground at the Hanford, Washington, nuclear production site, as well as the millions of gallons of toxic chemicals in Colorado that are the by-products of nerve and mustard gas that have left toxic chemical pollution at the twenty-seven square mile facility; the pollution has migrated northwest and contaminated groundwater on the edge of Denver. Shulman points out that the U.S. Navy dumped two million gallons of aviation fuel directly above the shallow aquifer that serves a large part of New Jersey, and discusses the contamination of the drinking water near McClellan Air Force Base in California. He concludes with the Watertown Arsenal in Massachusetts.

Shulman documents that while some environmental restoration is under way, the military continues to use and stockpile many of the substances that caused the problems in the first place. Emilia L. Govan wrote in the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists that the author proposes an important question: "Can this well-oiled military machine … clean up its own mess?"

Owning the Future: Staking Claims on the Knowledge Frontier is Shulman's examination of what he sees as the threat emanating from the privatization of knowledge and information. He notes that rather than fostering a free sharing of technology, some have tried to put a lock on ideas and concepts with broad patents and copyrights. Readers "learn quite a bit about science, law, and politics," commented a Publishers Weekly reviewer. Ecologist contributor Caspar Henderson wrote of Owning the Future that the primary contribution of this "valuable book is a series of highly informative accounts of recent developments in the control of intellectual property in key areas of the modern economy."

In Unlocking the Sky: Glenn Hammond Curtiss and the Race to Invent the Airplane, Shulman notes that Curtiss (1878-1930) was a true aviation pioneer. Curtiss, who is credited with 500 inventions that contributed to the evolution of aircraft, was approached by both Henry Ford and Alexander Graham Bell. The former was looking for a collaborator, and the latter, then targeted by patent attorneys, was looking for a shoulder to cry on. Curtiss could certainly empathize, since the Wright brothers, after their Kitty Hawk flight in 1903, were more involved with litigation to suppress the advancement of flight than they were in continuing with their own experiments. According to Shulman, Orville and Wilbur's actions slowed investment in the industry and advancements that could have been achieved before the start of World War I.

The feats of the Wright brothers pale in comparison to those of Curtiss. He made the first public flight, was the first to fly from one city to another, received the first pilot's license, sold the first commercial airplane, set speed and air records, delivered the first airmail letter, and was the first to design and build a plane that could fly across the Atlantic. A Kirkus Reviews contributor called Unlocking the Sky an "effective tribute to an innovator unjustly overshadowed by his litigious peers."

Shulman's 2006 book, Undermining Science: Suppression and Distortion in the Bush Administration, examines U.S. president George W. Bush's actions in relation to science. Drawing on research by the leftist Union of Concerned Scientists, Shulman argues that the president placed unqualified persons in supervisory scientist positions and altered lab findings to fit his administration's directives. Especially impacted have been environmental issues, including mercury pollution, global warming, and lead poisoning, as well as stem-cell research. Undermining Science is "accessible to the average (nonscientific) reader," noted one E contributor. Other critics lauded Shulman for the persuasiveness of his case. The author has written a "convincing and frightening demonstration," wrote Jack W. Weigel in a review for the Library Journal.

In 2008, Shulman published The Telephone Gambit: Chasing Alexander Graham Bell's Secret. In this work, the author sets out to determine if Alexander Graham Bell actually invented the telephone, as history contends. Shulman spent a year researching Bell's life and work while at MIT's Dibner Institute. While Bell did obtain a patent for the technology known as the telephone, the author uses the scientist's transcripts and laboratory notebooks to demonstrate how Bell and his coworkers may have copied the ideas of another inventor, Elisha Gray, and integrated them into Bell's work. Again, critics saw much merit in Shulman's work, in particular the author's strong, journalistic style of writing and his dogged research of the subject. The Telephone Gambit has many "engrossing descriptions of historical detective work," stated Michael Dashkin in a review for the Library Journal. Shulman provides readers with "skillful, polished writing," noted one Publishers Weekly contributor.

BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:

PERIODICALS

American History, February, 2003, Mark Wolverton, review of Unlocking the Sky: Glenn Hammond Curtiss and the Race to Invent the Airplane, p. 58.

American Scientist, November-December, 2002, David A. Schneider, review of Unlocking the Sky, p. 560.

Antioch Review, winter, 1993, Tom Holyoke, review of The Threat at Home: Confronting the Toxic Legacy of the U.S. Military, p. 145.

Booklist, April 15, 1992, Steve Weingartner, review of The Threat at Home, p. 1490; February 1, 1999, Mary Carroll, review of Owning the Future: Staking Claims on the Knowledge Frontier, p. 952; August, 2002, Gilbert Taylor, review of Unlocking the Sky, p. 1903; December 1, 2007, Gilbert Taylor, review of The Telephone Gambit: Chasing Alexander Graham Bell's Secret, p. 17.

Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, January-February, 1993, Emilia L. Govan, review of The Threat at Home, p. 49.

Chemical and Engineering News, March 8, 1993, William E. Kastenberg, review of The Threat at Home, p. 45.

Choice, January, 1993, D.W. Larson, review of The Threat at Home, p. 829.

Discover, March, 2007, Stephen Ornes, review of Undermining Science: Suppression and Distortion in the Bush Administration, p. 67.

E, January 1, 2007, review of Undermining Science, p. 60.

Ecologist, December, 1999, Caspar Henderson, review of Owning the Future, p. 471.

Entertainment Weekly, January 11, 2008, Jeff Labrecque, review of The Telephone Gambit, p. 73.

Futurist, March, 2000, "New Intellectual Monopolies," p. 11.

Inc., September 15, 1999, review of Owning the Future, p. 22.

Journal of Chemical Education, June, 2001, Jeff Kovac, review of Owning the Future, p. 706.

Kirkus Reviews, August 1, 2002, review of Unlocking the Sky, p. 1110.

Legal Times, July 21, 2003, Reynold Aust, review of Unlocking the Sky, p. 8.

Library Journal, July, 1992, Jennifer Scarlott, review of The Threat at Home, p. 117; August, 2002, John Carver Edwards, review of Unlocking the Sky, p. 118; December 1, 2006, Jack W. Weigel, review of Undermining Science, p. 161; January 1, 2008, Michael Dashkin, review of The Telephone Gambit, p. 129.

Los Angeles Times, January 6, 2008, Mark Coleman, review of The Telephone Gambit, p. 8.

Mother Jones, May-June, 1992, review of The Threat at Home, p. 18.

Nature, July 8, 1999, A.P. Simonds, review of Owning the Future, p. 130.

New York Times Book Review, October 6, 2002, Matthew L. Wald, review of Unlocking the Sky, p. 33.

Progressive, June, 1992, review of The Threat at Home, p. 43.

Public Administration Review, March-April, 1996, Robert F. Durant, review of The Threat at Home, p. 213.

Publishers Weekly, March 2, 1992, review of The Threat at Home, p. 55; December 7, 1998, review of Owning the Future, p. 41; October 23, 2006, review of Undermining Science, p. 46; October 1, 2007, review of The Telephone Gambit, p. 45.

Sierra, November-December, 1992, Kathleen Courrier, review of The Threat at Home, p. 114.

Technology Review, May-June, 1999, Wade Roush, review of Owning the Future, p. 95.

Whole Earth Review, fall, 1992, Richard Nilsen, review of The Threat at Home, p. 56.

World Watch, January-February, 1993, Michael Renner, review of The Threat at Home, p. 39.

ONLINE

Counterbalance Meta Library, http://www.counterbalance.net/ (August 3, 2004), biography of Seth Shulman.

Seth Shulman Home Page, http://www.sethshulman.com (April 10, 2008).

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