The Times science, medical, health and environment coverage, lauded for its overall excellence, has not, however, been free of criticism. For example, a front-page August 10, 2010 article on an Alzheimer’s disease screening test—part of the “Vanishing Mind” series cited by Keller—came under scrutiny from science journalism critics (including HealthNewsReview.org and the MIT Knight Science Journalism Tracker) as well as advocacy groups for its claim of “100 percent accuracy” in finding early predictive signs of the devastating memory-loss disease. The Times ultimately issued a three-paragraph correction on September 15, 2010.

Keller’s memo did not name a new health editor. Strauch said that she would “probably” hire one, but that there is some flexibility in terms of how the department will be structured.

Also unknown is who will fill the environment editor position left open by the recent departure of veteran Times journalist Erica Goode. Two years ago, Goode, a former Times health editor, became founding editor of a novel “environment pod” to promote more comprehensive coverage of global environmental issues, encompassing not only science, but politics, economics, and culture.

The pod pulled together a highly regarded team of about seven reporters from other desks throughout the paper, including science, business, national, international, and metro, but a year later, it lost two environment veterans, Andrew Revkin and Cornelia Dean, who took buyouts offered as part of a cost-cutting move. Dean continues to work part-time for the paper and teach, and Revkin, who took an academic post, still writes his popular Dot Earth blog, which has moved to the opinion department. Last spring, Justin Gillis left the Business desk to become the national environment reporter. Goode has once again moved back to reporting, as a national correspondent covering criminal justice. Her replacement is expected to be named soon.

Strauch said the science department works closely with the environment pod, and that regardless of who replaces Goode, there’s going to be even more “cross pollination” between the two. There is also an energy team under the business desk. Resources will be the biggest challenge for her going forward, Strauch added. “With the web and the paper, there’s a lot of places for us to be,” she said. “It’s always a balancing act.”

Curtis Brainard and Cristine Russell are CJR contributors. Brainard is the editor of The Observatory, our online critique of science and environment reporting. Russell, a CJR contributing editor, is the president of the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing and a senior fellow at Harvard's Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs. She is a former Shorenstein Center fellow and Washington Post reporter.