Writing For The New York Times Isn’t Rocket Science

He made a mean lasagna
And was quite a dad indeed,
But what really made him stand apart
Was how he wrote a lede—

Now, there’s some that lede with puzzles,
And there’s me, that ledes with rhymes
But cheap clichés won’t work
At the respected New York Times

His devotion to his family
Was really quite exciting—
It certainly deserved a place
Ahead of, say, his writing.

He might have written brilliance
In agreement or defiance—
His cooking gets the lede, cos writing
Isn’t rocket science.


She changed the world; she truly lived
A pioneering life…
A rocket engineer, but first—
A mother and a wife.

This afternoon, my twitter feed blew up. The obituary of Yvonne Brill, pioneering rocket scientist, a woman who accomplished astonishing things while overcoming the prejudices of her time… led with this:

She made a mean beef stroganoff, followed her husband from job to job and took eight years off from work to raise three children. “The world’s best mom,” her son Matthew said.

Not with her engineering accomplishments, which won her the National Medal of Technology and Innovation (presented to her by president Obama). Not with the propulsion system she invented, which became the industry standard.

Mrs. Brill’s development of a more efficient rocket thruster to keep orbiting satellites in place allowed satellites to carry less fuel and more equipment and to stay in space longer. The thrusters have the delicate task of maneuvering a weightless satellite that can tip the scales at up to 5,000 pounds on Earth.

Mrs. Brill contributed to the propulsion systems of Tiros, the first weather satellite; Nova, a series of rocket designs that were used in American moon missions; the Atmosphere Explorer, the first upper-atmosphere satellite; and the Mars Observer, which in 1992 almost entered a Mars orbit before losing communication with Earth.

From 1981 to 1983, Mrs. Brill worked for NASA developing the rocket motor for the space shuttle. In a statement after Mrs. Brill’s death, Michael Griffin, president of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, praised her as “a pioneering spirit” who coupled “a clear vision of what the future of an entire area of systems should be with the ingenuity and genius necessary to make that vision a reality.”

Beef Stroganoff came first.

All the discrimination she overcame? Yeah, I’d have said she was just the exception to the rule… except that maybe she isn’t excepted after all.


Update! It seems even the New York Times cares about social media. The first paragraph has mysteriously changed… now, it reads:

She was a brilliant rocket scientist who followed her husband from job to job and took eight years off from work to raise three children. “The world’s best mom,” her son Matthew said.

So, when twitter explodes, the NYTimes listens.


  1. Randomfactor says

    I’m honestly surprised they didn’t lead with what she usually wore.

    Every time I see a description of what a female scientist is working on, they set the scene with her wardrobe.

  2. Cioran says

    Yeah, and when Chris Clark accuses the Times of supporting rape culture, and when P.Z. Meyers accuses it of supporting creationism, it listens … and laughs it ass off.

  3. Pierce R. Butler says

    C’mon, how many of you guys could cook a mean beef stroganoff with a home-made rocket thruster engine?

  4. rq says

    I’m sad that I am still surprised about how much women have done for progress and science without acknowledgement. I wish I didn’t have to be, that they could be as celebrated and openly acknowledged as their male counterparts, that it wouldn’t be surprising to hear that a woman made a significant contribution to space technologies.
    Oh, and I also wish that their cooking skills or mothering skills or fashion sense weren’t scrutinized to the same standard – because somehow making a bad beef stroganoff would reduce her value as a person and scientist? Please. Might as well say that Einstein was a bad physicist because he couldn’t boil himself a decent bowl of pasta (unsubstantiated claim, by the way, used for illustrative purposes).

  5. keithb says

    I am reminded of the Mom in _A Wrinkle in Time_ making dinner on a bunsen burner in the home lab. Everyone has a home lab, right?

  6. Fred says

    What an amazing woman.

    I’m glad the article was changed; it’s encouraging that some puplications ARE listening.

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