Earl Ubell, Who Enlightened Public on Science, Dies at 80
By STUART LAVIETES
Published: May 31, 2007
Earl Ubell, a science reporter and editor familiar to generations of New Yorkers for his wide-ranging reports in newspapers and on television, died on Tuesday in a nursing home in Englewood, N.J. He was 80 and had lived in Hackensack, N.J.
Earl Ubell covered science for newspapers and for WCBS-TV.
The cause was Parkinson’s disease, his wife, Shirley, said yesterday.
Starting in the mid-1950s, when his columns began appearing in The New York Herald Tribune, through 1995, when he retired from WCBS-TV after more than 25 years on the air, Mr. Ubell was a fixture in New York. He brought readers and viewers the latest news about science, medicine and health.
Mr. Ubell had a background in science, with a bachelor’s degree in physics from the City College of New York. He educated himself on many topics, developing a particular interest in X-ray crystallography, a method of determining the structure of molecules. He worked in laboratories each summer for a number of years to gain experience in the technique.
His independent study led to a solid understanding of varied fields, which helped him gain the trust of scientists and doctors and served him well in his reporting. He was noted for making complex issues understandable to readers and viewers.
One of his most prized possessions was a letter he received from Albert Einstein in 1953 congratulating him on an article he had written based on their interview.
Earl Ubell was born in Brooklyn on June 21, 1926, and served in the Navy during World War II. In addition to his wife, he is survived by two children, Lori Ubell, of Portland, Ore., and Michael, of Oakland, Calif.; his brothers, Seymour, of Manhattan; Alvin, of Brooklyn; and Robert, of Manhattan; his stepsisters, Annie Leiner and Estelle Silverman, both of Manhattan, and Evelyn Bravo, who lives in Cuba; three grandchildren; and four great-grandchildren.
Mr. Ubell won numerous awards. In 1958, he received a Lasker Award for outstanding reporting on medical research and public health, given to him for a Herald Tribune series on heart attacks as well as for his day-to-day medical reporting. He also was honored by the American Association for the Advancement of Science for a 1960 article on the steady-state theory of the universe developed by the astrophysicist Thomas Gold. He was president of the National Association of Science Writers in 1960 and ’61.
Mr. Ubell also wrote for other publications. In 1972, he did a yearlong series of columns on medicine and health in The New York Times.
He joined WCBS in 1966 after The Herald Tribune folded, becoming one of the first science and medicine reporters on television. He worked at the station until 1972, then rejoined it in 1978.
Mr. Ubell’s hiatus from WCBS, Channel 2, was spent at a rival station, WNBC, Channel 4. Hired there as news director at a time when its evening newscast was struggling in the ratings, he helped reformat the program. In the process, he added more awards to his trophy case: two New York Emmys for best local broadcast.