Science Journalism in the Public Interest

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Scott Huler ‘15

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Behind the garage of his family’s home near Cleveland Ohio, a four year old Scott Huler, pencil in hand, scrawled song lyrics on paper with extra wide training lines.

Almost two decades later, freshly graduated from Washington University, Huler was preparing to go to law school when a friend asked him a fateful question. “In college, you were always Scott the writer,” the friend said. “So why don’t you just do that for a living?”

Since then, Huler has written six books and countless articles for an impressive array of publications, including The New York Times, The Washington Post, Fortune Magazine, The L.A. Times and The Philadelphia Inquirer. His radio work has been featured on the likes of National Public Radio and American Public Media.

Huler has what he calls a “generalist approach” to the craft, leaving no subject untouched by his curious mind. He’s written about anything from the New Year’s time balls to bikini waxing to North Carolina making sea level rise illegal. He still revels in the fact that, he can earn his keep “by asking people about interesting stuff and writing it down for thousands of people to read. This is heaven for a nosey, gossipy person like me.”

Huler learns Val Green, a South Carolina sewer engineer, and a fellow Lawson scholar. Photo Credit: Rob Waters.
Huler interviews Val Green, a South Carolina sewer engineer and widely-respected Lawson scholar. Photo Credit: Rob Waters.

While writing his most recent book, On the Grid, Huler stumbled across a tantalizing trail of historical breadcrumbs. At the turn of the 18th century, a young John Lawson made a grand trek through Carolina backcountry and his documentation of the journey had since been forgotten. Huler suspected he had found the character for his next book.

As the 2014-15 KSJ Project Fellow, he retraced Lawson’s journey, recreating the experience both from ancient documents and the knowledge of locals along the route. He stopped only to make the occasional trip to MIT, where he learned to develop the website by which he shared his experience of the historic trek.

Though the physical journey occupied most of his waking hours, Huler treasured the time he got to spend with the other KSJ fellows. “I felt lucky to be around that gang of heavy hitters and to share the complexity and thrill of this poorly paying work that we’ve all chosen,” he said. “I found that incredibly nourishing.”

Huler’s upcoming book— A Delicious Country—borrows its title from a phrase in Lawson’s 1709 book. “The word ‘delicious’ means to me exactly what it meant to Lawson,” said Huler. “It means that your whole body is experiencing its environment the way we experience food, that it delights all the senses.”

Huler writes from his home in Raleigh, North Carolina, alongside his wife, the writer June Spence. They have two “very hungry and very adorable” sons.