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Thu September 6, 2012
Meet Heather Goldstone and Living Lab
WGBH science editor Heather Goldstone, best known as the brains behind the Climatide blog, has launched a new show and blog. Climatide focused on how climate change is affecting Cape Cod. Living Lab expands on that theme and takes a broader look at the role that science and scientists play in our daily lives. We asked her to explain.
What's Living Lab about?
For many people, science is just a bunch of numbers — dry and removed from daily life. That's not at all how I experience science. For me, science is an incredible web of knowledge and discovery that pervades virtually everything. And right now is a particularly exciting time to be doing or following science because people are questioning a lot of the fundamental aspects of how scientific research has been conducted for at least the past 100 years. The citizen science and open science movements are chipping away at the so-called ivory tower, bringing a wider, more diverse swath of society into the process of scientific research. There's also a growing recognition that scientists and artists can work together to create works that neither could achieve independently. Living Lab is about all of that, about sharing the passion of scientists, science enthusiasts and those inspired by science with a broader audience.
How did you become interested in science?
When I was 12 years old, I attended a summer program run by the Chesapeake Bay Foundation. We explored the Bay in a former crabbing boat, camping onshore each evening. I had a number of eye-opening experiences — like measuring the pH of Baltimore inner harbor and realizing it was comparable to vinegar or Coke — and went home totally charged up. I told my parents I was going to become a marine biologist so I could save the ocean. Being the wonderfully supportive parents they are, they promptly bought me subscriptions to a handful of ocean and SCUBA diving magazines. And, as a family, we spent most of our summer weekends either sailing or at Assateague National Seashore, so I was a bit of an ocean junkie ... still am. I also fell pretty hard for evolutionary and molecular biology when I first encountered those fields in college. And, over time, I've come to appreciate the process and wonder of science, regardless of the subject. But ocean science was my first love and has always been at the heart of my interest in science.
... and interested in media?
For all that I love science, graduate school was hard for me. Of course, graduate school is hard for everyone. But I eventually came to the realization that I enjoyed thinking and writing and talking about science far more than actually doing it. The fact that my experiments never worked out as well as my advisors and I hoped probably had a lot to do with that. There are people who love being in the lab, and hate writing grants or papers. I'm the exact opposite; I actually enjoyed writing my thesis dissertation, all 384 pages of it.
Anyway, I'd grown up with NPR (my dad was a public radio station manager) and WCAI sits just up the hill from the building where I was doing my graduate work. So, a few weeks after I finished my dissertation, I walked up to WCAI and asked if they wanted a science reporter. And the rest is history.
I remember friends and family being a bit surprised. After all, I'd been talking about marine biology for 15 years at that point. I was also a bit reluctant to make the switch because I felt like a statistic — one more woman dropping out of science. But I think I'm in the right place now. Before I announced that I wanted to be a marine biologist, I remember my parents saying I should be a lawyer because I was such a talker. I guess science writing plays to both of my strengths.
Why do you live on the Cape?
Where else would an ocean science writer want to live besides Woods Hole? Seriously, thought, my husband and I met here when we were both in graduate school and this is where we've both found satisfying jobs. It's also a fabulous place to raise our kids. The lifestyle is laid back, with a big emphasis on outdoor activities. There's also a vibrant arts community.
What are some of your interests outside work?
I have three boys (ages 5, 3, and 5 months), a big garden, and — as of this spring — a beehive. So if I'm not in front of my computer, I'm probably in my backyard tending to one of those. I also love to sail, and am sad to admit that our sailboat has been in our yard for going on 3 years. But my parents recently returned from sailing around the world and we often spend time on their boat.
Of course, those are all summer hobbies (well, not the kids). On a cold winter evening, I like to curl up with a knitting or crocheting project.
What do you think of all the excitement over Cape Cod sharks?
On one hand, I think it's really exciting that great whites are returning to our area. I have yet to see one myself, but would love to (from shore, mind you). Sharks are such amazing, beautiful creatures. And the return of the sharks is an extension of what is essentially a success story for the Marine Mammal Protection Act: the recovery of local seal populations. On the other hand, having great white sharks just off the beach is scary. Responsible media coverage of the issue needs to address both the positive and the negative aspects of the story. I just hope we can put a cap on the excitement before it becomes hysteria.