Remembering Jim Scanlon
While preparing this installment of The Citizen Scientist, an e-mail arrived from Don Deane, editor of the Coastal Post, reporting the death of Jim Scanlon, my close friend and fellow citizen scientist. "I know his association with you was important and that you would want to be informed," Deane wrote. "He was a great friend and compatriot both personally and professionally and will be sorely missed."
Jim was 71 when he died, but I always thought of him as a much younger man. He left his morning yoga class early, explaining that he wasn't feeling well. Only a few blocks from his apartment in San Rafael, California, his car left the road and struck a tree. He apparently died of a heart attack, which may have led to the accident.
Members and friends of the Society for Amateur Scientists were about to learn more about Jim Scanlon, for he was planning various articles for The Citizen Scientist about his trips to Punta Arenas, Chile, at the southernmost tip of South America to measure the ozone layer and solar ultraviolet during the time of the annual ozone hole (Fig. 1).
Although Jim was not a professional scientist, he was incredibly well read. He was intimately familiar with details about the ozone layer, solar ultraviolet and various other topics that he read about in various professional journals, including Nature, Geophysical Research Letters and Journal of Geophysical Research. When I published papers in these and other journals, he was among the very view nonscientists who actually read them. Even more interesting was the fact that Jim attended many scientific conferences.
Although we corresponded and spoke with one another on many occasions since 1994, the only time we actually met was at a meeting of the Inttroduced himself and gave me his card, which included the Spanish version of his name. His intelligent eyes seemed to bore into my very soul, and he started asking me questions about the network and UV-B. So began a remarkable relationship. At the time my program was struggling for its life, and Jim offered to weigh in: writing articles, to newsgroups, letters to Senator Dianne Feinstein [Figs. 2 and 3 or click here for a PDF version] who sat on the all important Agricultural Appropriations Subcommittee. I told my USDA manager about this reporter from Marin County who was writing favorable press about us, “but might be a loose cannon”. “Hey”, he replied, “in your situation you need any loose cannon you can find!” Step by step my program strove to win our current modest yet stable level of Congressional funding. Jim encouraged me at every step.
Jim and I corresponded for the remainder of his life. I feel honored to have received (and saved) about 100 emails full of scientific conjecture, humorous reflections on life and politics, travel logs from Argentina or Chile or Alaska or Norway or New York City. I co-chaired four UV-B SPIE conferences and he attended every one. Once I told him about a conference in Mar del Plata in Argentina. My wife, sister-in-law, and I were having breakfast at the Hotel Dora when in walks an unshaven Jim Scanlon, who had been on the train all night coming in from Buenos Aries. Later he could be seen on the beach with his Microtops measuring column ozone. That afternoon he gave his ticket to the now infamous Tango Banquet away to a pretty French female post-doc. Last summer he came to the SPIE conference held in nearby Denver and, along with some NASA ozone scientists, visited my lab at Colorado State University. He observed the intense interaction between my staff and the NASA scientists, asked revealing questions, and later wrote an overly favorable letter of his impressions of the visit to Senator Feinstein.
As the result of Jim's suggestion, I am happy to host Andres Hernandez from the "Laboratory for Monitoring Ozone and Ultraviolet Radiation" in the University of Magellan in Punta Arenas, Chile, for a two month internship this summer at my lab. Jim had a special affection for the South American people, especially from the southern "cone."
Jim was an example of a gentleman and a scholar, a rare and precious human being. We can only aspire to emulate his life of love.
James Slusser, Ph.D.
Senior Research Scientist
Director, USDA UVB Monitoring and Research Network
Natural Resource Ecology Laboratory
Colorado State University
Ft. Collins, CO 80523
Jim Scanlon's Friends and Colleagues
Jim worked as a probation officer for many years. He was also a senior writer and reporter for the Coastal Post for thirty years. He wrote about such topics as Marin County, California's Municipal Water District, AIDS , the ozone layer, contrails, global warming, family law and the Marin Courts.
When Jim passed away, he was hard at work compiling old weather records from Punta Arenas with the help of Jory K. Prum. Recently Prum wrote, "Jim will surely be missed, but his work will go on. I was recently working with Jim on his ozone research and would like to keep in touch
with anyone receiving this email who was also involved."
Barbara Kauffman, a California attorney who knew Jim, sent a letter of tribute to his friends:.
"Jim Scanlon was a brave, caring and remarkable gentleman.
"Jim befriended me a little over a year ago, after I wrote a letter to the editor of the Pacific Sun urging voters to vote against Judge Michael Dufficy. Thereafter, he stopped by my office on a regular basis to enthusiastically share chocolate (not too much!), his belief in the great benefits of his exercise class, and, of course, his invaluable stories.
"As a family law attorney here in Marin, I can say that many here (myself included) felt much better knowing Jim was tirelessly observing, investigating and writing about the Marin Courts. He wrote the truth with genuine empathy and concern, and without a trace of fear.
"It is a great shock that this vital friend and ally is gone so suddenly and unexpectedly."
Victorian Gentleman and Citizen Scientist
Various newspaper tributes to Jim Scanlon can be found on the web. Larken Bradley of the Point Reyes Light wrote an obituary about Jim Scanlon that nicely captured his long time role as a youth probation worker with the court system and his scientific pursuits.
"Gregarious and passionate, Mr. Scanlon gave his all to both people and projects. As an amateur scientist, he devoted himself to the study of the ozone layer, traveling to [Chile] and Alaska and using personal funds to sponsor research.
"A contributor to The Coastal Post for 30 years, he tackled controversial issues including AIDS, the ozone layer, and Marin County's family court system....
"Mr. Scanlon's curiosity about the ozone layer led him to know more about the field than some experts, friends said. One of the first people to explore the consequences of ozone loss, starting in 1990 he traveled to the tip of Chile each year to make measurements using sophisticated equipment.
"'I consider him to be the penultimate citizen scientist,' noted colleague Forrest M. Mims III, with the Texas Academy of Science. Because of his fluency in Spanish, 'he was bridging the gap with the scientific community in Argentina and Chile,' Sloan added.
"Commenting on Mr. Scanlon's persona, 'Jim was the Victorian-style gentleman,' added Mims. 'He'd stand up when a woman arrived at the table, help you with your coat, help you sit down, and open the door.'
The full article by Larken Bradley can be found at "Coastal Post writer Jim Scanlon dead at 71," Point Reyes Light, 21 April 2005.
From Probation Officer to Ozone Specialist
Con Garretson wrote about Jim Scanlon's passing in United for Justice. The full article is at, "County officer, writer had zeal for issues, kids." Here are a few paragraphs from Garretson's story:
"'During his career with the county, Scanlon filled nearly every role in the juvenile probation system, from working in Juvenile Hall to overseeing probationers,' said Nicky Kuhn, who will soon become director of the department. 'He was a real renaissance man,' Kuhn said. 'He had all kinds of interests and was very gentlemanly. He was very warm with people and had empathy when people got in trouble.'
"At one point, he was the only Spanish-language speaker in the department, a language he practiced on annual trips to [Chile] as part of his research on ozone issues.
"'He wrote many articles about the ozone layer and was very concerned about that,' Boggs said. 'When he became interested in something, he really became involved in it.' Don Deane, publisher of the Coastal Post, said Scanlon's death is an 'enormous loss.' 'He's not replaceable,' Deane said. 'He had an incredible interest in the courts, family law and divorce cases. He did a lot of work on the deterioration of the ozone level and did a lot of early writing about AIDS and other issues that became big national stories. He was a huge part of the Coastal Post and is going to be missed by a lot of people.'"
Citizen Scientist and Compassionate Gentleman
Another fine tribute was published by Virginia McCullough in News Making News under "Jim Scanlon Dies: Coastal Post Reporter, Citizen Scientist, Compassionate Gentleman" (15 April 2005). The conclusion to her copyrighted article is an appropriate way to end this news story about the passing of Jim Scanlon:
"Jim Scanlon always treated others with kindness and courtesy and he wrote about how much he appreciated those qualities in others. In December of 2001, he wrote a Letter from Chile for the Coastal Post. He said:
"'I like Chile. The people are sort of old fashioned, very polite, honest and courteous and always well dressed. When someone walks into the breakfast room at a hotel, they say "buenos dias" and everyone says "buenos dias", everyone acknowledging each other's presence. On leaving a person says, "buen provecho" to those still eating and they nod and say thanks. Passengers sayernational Society for Optical Engineering (SPIE) in San Diego in August 2002. Jim was there to attend the ultraviolet session chaired by Dr. James Slusser, and I was there to give a paper on my comparisons of UV measured at my observatory with UV inferred from ozone measurements made by NASA's EarthProbe TOMS (Total Ozone Mapping Spectrometer). While I did not tell him at the time, when my turn to speak arrived, I was more concerned about Jim's reaction to the presentation than the reaction of the distinguished UV scientists from around the world.
All through the meeting Jim sat quietly in his chair while listening carefully and scribbling notes. Dr. Slusser treated occasional questions from Jim and me exactly the same way he did those of the professional scientists in the room. Rather than explain why Jim commanded Dr. Slusser's respect, let's hear from the man himself. Here is a remarkable letter that Dr. Slusser sent to a mailing list of Jim's friends that came together after his passing:
Dr. James Slusser on Jim Scanlon
I have been truly moved by the emails of all the people whose life and heart Jim Scanlon touched. I first met Jim in 1997 at a conference in San Francisco where I was standing in front of my poster in a cavernous hall of some several thousand people. My poster described a method of calibration that uses the Sun instead of an expensive lamp to calibrate the ultraviolet (UV) radiometers that the USDA UV-B Monitoring and Research Program has scattered across North America. He came up and in "gracious" to the driver of a "collective" for stopping, and she or he will say "gracious" for the 200 peso fare, and so forth.
"'I always pick up the courtesy when I am here and I seem to be come less moody, to behave a little better, and become a little more friendly and open. And I know my mother would approve.'
"Now that Jim Scanlon is no longer with us, perhaps the best tribute we can give him is to look at our fellow citizens through his eyes and emulate the way he treated others. It would make our world a better place."
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