Yvonne Brill was a brilliant rocket scientist who invented a propulsion system for satellites in the early 1970s and received a National Medal of Technology and Innovation in 2011. Yet her New York Times obituary, published in the newspaper on Sunday, begins like 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.
But Yvonne Brill, who died on Wednesday at 88 in Princeton, N.J., was also a brilliant rocket scientist, who in the early 1970s invented a propulsion system to help keep communications satellites from slipping out of their orbits.
Many readers criticized the Times and obit writer Douglas Martin for leading with Brill's contributions at home rather than, you know, to the field of rocket science.
"If you were tasked with writing Brill's obituary ... you'd probably want to start with her litany of scientific innovations, wouldn't you? Wrong!" Doug Barry wrote on Jezebel.com. "You'd rhapsodize about her beef stroganoff because even rocket scientist wives and mothers are still only as important as their best culinary accomplishments."
Engineer instrumental in developing propulsion systems but hey she was a woman so look her beef stroganoff was her real achievement.
— Sabine Wolff (@sabinewolff) March 30, 2013
Dear NYT, just in case you're prewriting obits of obscure book critics, everybody says I make delicious chocolate chip cookies. — Ron Charles (@RonCharles) March 30, 2013
You're kidding, right? She significantly advanced the final frontier, and you lead with stroganoff?!? Shameful. nytimes.com/2013/03/31/sci…
— Bradley Grzesiak (@listrophy) March 30, 2013
New York Times public editor Margaret Sullivan was among those critics.
"To the many who've tweeted at me about the Yvonne Brill obituary," Sullivan wrote on Twitter, "I sure agree."
The Times, for its part, changed the online version of the article, stripping the reference to Brill's beef stroganoff:
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.