Mr. Greenberg was best known as the editor and publisher of the newsletter Science & Government Report, which he founded in 1971 and produced for nearly three decades. He had no background in scientific research when he began his journalistic career in the 1950s, including a brief stint as a police reporter for The Washington Post, but found his calling in 1961 when he was hired to write for the news pages of the prestigious academic journal Science.
At Science and later with his newsletter, Mr. Greenberg distinguished himself with the critical — some detractors said cynical — approach that he brought to the beat, offering what the magazine the Nation once described as “a square meal for those woozy from the puffery and piety served up by most science journalists.”
While some reporters used their allotted newsprint for the sensational trumpeting of breakthroughs, real or otherwise, Mr. Greenberg sought to pierce the aura surrounding the figures he dubbed “the mandarins of American science” by covering their infighting, rank competition for grants and “crybaby tactics” for government funding.
“What ticks me off the most is the scientific community presenting itself to the public as doing God’s work and then resisting any kind of public or government scrutiny,” he told The Post in 1986. “A little higher standard is to be expected from people who accept canonization as pursuers of the pure truth.”
His newsletter subscribers never numbered more than 2,000, according to his wife, but they included top scientists and science policymakers in the United States and around the world. Critics considered him a gossipy gadfly, but even for many of them, his writings were a must-read.
“Over the years, Mr. Greenberg has been an often lonely voice championing the public’s right to know how wisely scientists were spending its hard-earned money,” a reporter for the Economist wrote in 2002. “It is probably fair to say that, through the medium of his newsletter . . . Mr. Greenberg pretty well invented a new way to cover big science — as a form of government spending no different, in budgetary terms, from defense procurement or agricultural support.”
He rolled his eyes at the colossal sums dedicated to projects such as the International Space Station, which he came to see as having “fading justifications for its existence,” and the atom-smashing Superconducting Super Collider in Texas, which the New York Times described as “the largest pure science project ever attempted.” Congress terminated funding for the project in 1993 as cost estimates crept toward $13 billion.
A recurring feature of Mr. Greenberg’s writings, both in Science and his newsletter, was the fictional character, Dr. Grant Swinger, chief of the Center for the Absorption of Federal Funds and formerly a top researcher at NASA — the National Animal Speech Administration. He also established the University Program for the Comprehensive Handling and Utilization of Knowledge, better known as Project UPCHUK.
At the Center for the Absorption of Federal Funds, a reporter for the Christian Science Monitor once noted, researchers busied themselves with studies on such matters as “how little you can feed kids before malnutrition sets in” — a shot at politicians who sought to reduce federal spending on school lunch programs — and the engineering of a chicken the size of a pony for no purpose other than to outdo Japanese researchers.
“What’s next in line for the center?” a reporter asked Swinger in an imaginary interview published in Science in 2002.
“We’re always looking,” Swinger replied. “For a time, there seemed to be some promise in what they call outcomes research: What do you get for money spent on R & D? But we find that the funding agencies would rather not know. Another possibility is gene therapy. We might take a fling at it if they don’t kill too many more patients in clinical trials. Could be bad PR. And there’s bioethics; don’t forget bioethics. Always good for getting funding for a conference, with plenty of top-line speakers ready to give their papers from previous conferences. Fortunately, no one reads the proceedings volumes.”
Daniel Sheldon Greenberg was born in New York City on May 5, 1931. His father, an accountant, and his mother, a homemaker, raised their family in the Bronx. His brother was Jack Greenberg, a lawyer who led the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund after Thurgood Marshall and helped argue the landmark 1954 school desegregation case Brown v. Board of Education.
Daniel Greenberg received a bachelor’s degree in English from Columbia University in 1953 and served in the Navy before beginning his journalistic career. His work at the journal Science fueled his fascination — sometimes a morbid fascination — with the machinations of the research world.
“It was amazing,” he told The Post. “Here you had this vast scientific community that was having great sums of money bestowed on it, treated with great reverence and being taken at face value.
“Even back then, it was apparent the scientific community was not the product of an Immaculate Conception. There was a lot of greedy grubbing for grants. What it came down to was that science was no different from highway building or fast food franchising.”
Mr. Greenberg wrote for the New England Journal of Medicine and New Scientist, as well as producing a syndicated column that appeared in newspapers including The Post. He sold his newsletter in 1997 to the publisher John Wiley & Sons, according to his wife. It was later discontinued.
Mr. Greenberg’s books included the nonfiction volumes “The Politics of Pure Science” (1967), “Science, Money, and Politics: Political Triumph and Ethical Erosion” (2001) and “Science for Sale: The Perils, Rewards, and Delusions of Campus Capitalism” (2007). He also wrote a satirical novel, “Tech Transfer” (2010). Set in the fictional Kershaw University — described in a Times review as “only 200 years younger than Harvard” — the novel skewered the academic world, its denizens and their perquisites.
“These included annual pay increases, lax to near-non-existent conflict-of-interest and conflict-of-commitment regulations, and ample pools of powerless grad students, postdocs and adjuncts to minimize professorial workloads,” Mr. Greenberg wrote. “As a safety net, the faculty favored disciplinary procedures that virtually assured acquittal of members accused of abusing subordinates, seducing students, committing plagiarism, fabricating data, or violating the one-day-a-week limit on moneymaking outside dealings.’’
Mr. Greenberg’s first marriage, to Polly Hoben, ended in divorce. Survivors include his wife of 40 years, Wanda Reif of Washington; four children from his first marriage, Julie Greenberg of Philadelphia, Miggie Greenberg of New York City, Cathryn Greenberg of Arden, N.C., and Liza Greenberg of Bethesda, Md.; a stepdaughter, Gwendolyn Bradley of Washington; and 18 grandchildren.
Mr. Greenberg said he was often asked if Grant Swinger was based on a real person.
“Grant Swinger lives,” he told The Post. “He’s actually a dear friend but he doesn’t know he’s the model. He loves the bit, laughs and says, ‘I don’t know where you get this stuff.’ ”
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