The story of the millennia

Nothing could be more important than the long-term survival of the peoples and ecosystems of planet earth, yet both are under threat as never before. Public support for environmental protection has dropped rapidly since the 1990s, when environment was once recognized as a bipartisan issue.  Today, in the cacophony of endless amusement and popular culture, the majority of Americans are asleep to the reasonable and often urgent calls to action by environmental scientists.

The sleep of reason produces monsters, as Francisco Goya once said.  A country built on science, technology and engineering cannot suddenly abandon the foundations of its existence without severe consequences.   Similarly, a country built on political dialogue cannot abandon its past if it is inconvenient or politically threatening to a few business interests.

The sleep of history produces monstrous myths. Among these myths we find the idea that environmental controversy is new and that it is loaded with unfair political prejudices.  Another myth is that people who abandon science will still be able to leave a legacy of freedom for their children.

Resources

Highly recommended ….

How to write, what to avoid

  • The seven warning signs of Voodoo Science By Robert L. Park (2002) Seven distinct warning signs … were identified: 1. A discovery is pitched directly to the media… 2. A powerful establishment is said to be suppressing the discovery … 3. An effect is always at the very limit of detection…
  • Soft soap sells fracking: How things go wrong on the green beat, Dec. 2014, Bill Kovarik.
  • Environmental journalism is boring  says  Grist Magazine’s David Roberts.   “’Creature/area threatened by pollutant/industry’ is a story everyone’s seen before a million times. They know what it says before they read it and so, with the exception of the small class of people who care intensely about nature/creatures as such, they don’t read it.”   Aug. 21, 2013.
  • Creepy critters in sensitive places: What science writers will do to get your attention.  Robert Krulwich, National Public Radio, March 28, 2013.
  • This is a news website article about a scientific paper, Sept. 2010 — In this paragraph I will state the main claim that the research makes, making appropriate use of “scare quotes” to ensure that it’s clear that I have no opinion about this research whatsoever… by Martin Robins
  • Five inconvenient Truths By David Downs, Colombia Journalism Review (July 2008) — 1) It Ain’t Sports Writing: A reporter covering, say, baseball doesn’t have to define a home run in every article, but a reporter covering climate almost always has to remind readers what greenhouse gases are…
  • Writing narratives  — The best discussion about the details of story writing comes from Pulitzer-Prize winning author  Jon Franklin, whose “Mrs. Kelly’s Monster” is available in various places with and without Franklin’s annotations.
  • Conservation Writing by Luke Wallin; See esp. Five Kinds of Environmental Writing
  • Also see SEJ textbook list 
  • Kurt Vonnegut talks about writing, from an ancient video.

Careers in science & environment writing

  • I blame a rattlesnake for my science writing career says Michelle Nijhuis as she blogs about writing for the New York Times “Draft” series. Dec. 9, 2013).   
  • Science Journalism in Crisis By The Euroscience Newsletter – The downward trend (of coverage in the US and UK) was not reflected by Nadia El-Awady who had gathered data on science reporting in the Arab World and Africa. Seemingly in these regions the appetite for science stories is increasing. (Also linked to 6th Conf Sci Journ).
  • Science journalism: Too close for comfort — By Boyce Rensberger (Nature, June 25, 2009)– Science journalism has undergone profound changes since its origin more than a century ago … If science journalists are to regain relevance to society, not only must they master the new media, they must learn enough science to analyse and interpret the findings…
  • Science Journalism: Toppling the Priesthood by Toby Murcott (Nature, June 25, 2009) — (Political journalists) “are active participants in the process of knowledge creation in a way that science journalists cannot be, given the qualifications needed to act as an equal in scientific debate.”
  • Science Journalism in Decline; Science Blogging Growing Fast — By Geoff Brumfiel — (Nature, Mar 18 2009) John Timmer’s slide into journalism was so gradual even he can’t put his finger on the point at which he stopped being a researcher. He started reading Internet websites and message boards a decade ago, while he was working as a postdoc …
  • Are Environmental Journalists an Endangered Species? By Joel Mackower (Huffington Post, Dec. 18, 2008)– “… Mainstream business writers still seem ill-informed and overly cynical about company efforts to be greener. Like the preponderance of their readers, editors and reporters seem to start with the assumption that most environmental activities undertaken by companies, especially large companies, are done primarily for P.R. reasons. True, healthy skepticism is the currency of a good journalist, but undying cynicism is more the norm when it comes to environmental business reporting.
  • Science and journalism fail to connect By Dan Fagin (2005) How can we expect Americans to know anything beyond what they happen to remember from science class? Journalists certainly don’t tell them.
  • The Disconnect of News Reporting From Scientific Evidence by Max Boykoff (2005) — By adhering to the notion of balance, (the news media) greatly amplified the views of a small group of contrarians who contest the notion that humans are contributing to changes in the climate.
  • Weight-of-Evidence Reporting: What Is It? Why Use It? by Sharon Dunwoody (2005) — If a reporter cannot determine what’s true, what is she to do? The “objectivity norm” responds that, if you cannot tell what’s true, then at least capture truth claims accurately. Objective journalism effectively reproduces the views of its sources… A journalist can work to meet the high standards of accuracy set by the objectivity norm but might still mislead readers into thinking that a source’s position on an issue is important and potentially true… I suggest another strategy that would permit journalists to retain their emphasis on objectivity and balance but still share with their audiences a sense of where “truth” might lie, at least at that moment. I call this strategy “weight-of-evidence” reporting.
  • The end of science writing By Jon Franklin (1997) If science was ever a thing apart, a special way of living and of seeing things, that time is past. Today, science is the vital principle of our civilization. To do science is critical, to defend it the kernel of political realism. To define it in words is to be, quite simply, a writer, working the historical mainstream of literature.
  • Nature writing is over – Jim Hinch, July 28, Salon, 2013. Cheryl Strayed’s “Eat, Pray, Love”-style autobiography “Wild” may have rung the genre’s death knell
  • The health of science journalism By Peter Osnos (The Century Foundation, 2007) Mass media of the sort that reaches the largest and most uncritical audiences is spending vastly more energy on what sells than on what matters in a deeper sense.

Scientists as writers

International environment writing

  • Environmental Journalism Viewed from Canada, by Shane Gunster, Media Development 2:56, Spring 2009 (On reserve or to be distributed with permission) — (By 2008 we could be optimistic about) … the sheer volume of stories (and) a noticeable shift in the tone and content of the coverage away from controversies over the legitimacy of climate science towards an acceptance of its anthropogenic basis, the likely severity of its effects and the pressing need to substantially reduce greenhouse gases…. (But by 2009) … Eight months into the meltdown of financial markets and in the midst of a deepening global economic recession, the prospects for environmental journalism today in Canada appear much bleaker. Given the widespread and often catastrophic impact of the economic crisis, the rapid displacement of the environment by the economy in the headlines is entirely understandable. More troublesome, though, is the complete failure of the media to reflect upon the possibility that ‘fixing’ the crisis might involve something more creative than simply stimulating a return to unsustainable levels of consumption and economic growth. What about exploring a fundamentally different vision of what constitutes a healthy economy based upon criteria such as sustainability or the capacity to satisfy real human needs?
  • Environmental Journalism flourishing in China — Nieman Reports   — In 1984, China Environment News was launched in Beijing. It is said that it was the only national newspaper specializing in environmental reporting in the world. At that time, environmental reporting was in its infancy and, in China, no other media outlets were reporting environmental news.

Covering specific issues

New media and environmental reporting

  • A 2013 MSNBC  Climate Change report used Google Hangout.   One environmental journalist asked:  why spend all that money on equipment to air a show that makes everyone look like the Shroud of  Turin?