Short swarthy, smiling Leon Svirsky, a Nieman Fellow, on leave of absence from Time Magazine where he edited the Science department, fondly thinks that the traditional Time Jargon is one the way out. "I don't make any effort to write in the so-called Time style," he says. "We just try to make the news clear to everybody."
Before coming to Cambridge as a student, Svirsky last year clarified University news for his readers by reporting a mob beating, with race implications, inflicted on two undergraduates. His hiterpretation was hotly contested by the Dean's office, and a fierce battle was subsequently waged in Time's Letters department.
Svirsky was apparently forgiven, because last summer his application for a Nieman Fellowship, sent two days late, was gracefully accepted.
Physics Review Needed
"When the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, I thought I'd better review my elementary physics in justice to the readers," he says. He entered the University with the special yearly group of Nieman Fellows, and has become, he thinks, the oldest Math Aa student in the College.
Svirsky became Science Editor of Time in 1943 purely by accident. He points out that a similar situation exists on almost every periodical: men reporting scientific news never received any actual training for the job. And in the light of recent events, he feels that science reporting is a subject too long neglected by American universities.
"Neither editors nor readers," he says, "are prepared to understand recent developments. A survey course in science, on the lines of the General Education proposal, is genuinely needed.
"Harvard has first rate science teachers," he continues, "but too many of the elementary courses here are taught only for the benefit of men preparing to concentrate in that department. Everybody should have a minimum understanding of the basic scientific principles underlying our civilization; to that and I think many more general courses should be offered.
"Students should be encouraged to become excited about science courses; a touch of showmanship should be used; and faculties ought to be staffed with inspiring teachers. Perhaps the Faculty could take a hint from the vast crop of Science Fiction, which doesn't seem to be as far off the track as we once suspected."
Boston Papers Lousy"
Svirsky has been disappointed with the coverage given recent atomic developments by the Boston press, but he is even more dismayed by its indifference toward shady local politics. "Boston newspapers are lousy," he says bluntly.
"Lincoln Steffens gave me some idea of what to expect of Boston when he told me that the Hub City is the most corrupt community in the country, but I didn't quite expect this. Either Boston papers reflect a degraded level of civic life or they are a direct cause of it."
Svirsky's journalistic aspirations received their first jolt when he "failed badly" as a heeler for the Yale Daily News. With a successful newspaper career behind him in spite of that rejection, he now recalls that the News was chiefly a haven for big men on the Eli campus. "Journalism didn't count for much with them."
Inasmuch as his education was undertaken at Yale and consequently rather shaky, Svirsky had to start here on the ground floor. He began with Math C this fall and progressed so rapidly that he was able to earn a 97 this term in an unofficial Math Aa hour exam, and take and master a course in Atomic Physics at the same time.
Nieman Fellows are not required to take examinations, and most of them don't preferring to sample liberally University facilities in a year of rare academic freedom.