ubell earlEarl Ubell

Class of 1948

Inducted 2000

Earl Ubell reported on science, medicine and health in print and on television for almost half a century. From the 1950s, when his columns started appearing in The New York Herald Tribune through his years with WCBS-TV and WNBC-TV as one of the first science reporters on television, Ubell delivered news from the scientific community to generations of New Yorkers until retiring in 1995. He also wrote books on science for children and adults, did radio commentary, contributed freelance articles to magazines and was instrumental in promoting the profession of science writing. And when he wasn’t doing that, he was actively promoting the arts, especially modern dance. In 1962, he and his wife, Shirley, a former dancer, founded the Center for Modern Dance Education in Hackensack, N.J., where they lived at the time.

In 1958, he won a Lasker Award for a series in The Herald Tribune on heart attacks. Eleanor Roosevelt was on hand to present the award. Two years later, he was honored by the American Association for the Advancement of Science for an article on the steady-state theory of the universe. In 1965, he received an award for distinguished science writing from the American Psychological Foundation. He was president of the National Association of Science Writers in 1960 and 1961, and he was a founder and first president of the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing. CCNY honored him with a Townsend Harris Medal in 2000.

Ubell was born in Brooklyn on June 21, 1926 and spoke only Yiddish until it was time to enter school. He graduated from Samuel J. Tilden High School and was editor-in-chief of the school paper. When he was 16, he got a messenger job at The Herald Tribune and was promoted to night secretary to the managing editor. After serving a hitch in the Naval Air Corps during World War II, he majored in physics at CCNY and made Phi Beta Kappa, while working at the Trib at night. Upon graduation, he became a full-time staffer as a reporter. Because of what he’d studied at the College, he soon was reporting on science. He became science editor in 1953, covering everything from the Kinsey Report on female sexual behavior to the early days of the space race. When the Russians launched Sputnik, his column led with the words: “Our planet has a new moon tonight.” He spent summers working in science labs to expand his knowledge and gained the respect of many prominent scientists for his ability to translate scientific jargon into words the lay person could readily understand. He prized a letter from Albert Einstein in 1953 complimenting him for the article he wrote based on their interview.

ubell earl lasker award

Receiving a Lasker Award from Mary Lasker (left) and Eleanor Roosevelt, 1958.

In 1966, Ubell joined WCBS as health and science editor, and sometimes as the weather man. In 1972, he became news director of WNBC, revamping its programming in instituting the first “beat” system at any local TV news operation. The science and health beat now has its own discrete reporter. He added a 5 p.m. newscast and called it NewsCenter 4. Under his direction, the newscast went from third in the ratings to first and won two New York Emmys for best local broadcast. Ubell returned to WCBS in 1978 as science editor and remained there until his retirement.

His radio work started in 1961, during a long newspaper strike in New York that included The Herald Tribune. Ubell and a colleague, Stuart Loory, formed Ubell-Loory Science Features and did reporting and commentary for WNEW radio in New York and other Metromedia stations throughout the country. When the strike ended, they remained on the air while resuming their jobs at the Trib. Later on, Ubell wrote columns for Parade magazine and The Village Voice as well as a yearlong series on medicine and health for The New York Times.

He died on May 30, 2007, a month before his 81st birthday.