Changes in science and the public

It is important to keep changes in perspective, this includes the overall influence of and public interest in science. In a session at the National Association of Science Writers’ (NASW) 2010 meeting last weekend, panelists and audience members discussed public interest in science and ways to increase this interest during a time of change.

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Science communication: from the field to the press

The reasons for sharing research with the media are relatively widely known: If a certain research topic is going to be highlighted as an important issue, then it needs to be shared with the public. And reporters are one of the best ways to give research exposure. The question, then, is what makes research newsworthy?

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From the Community: A week of ecology in mixed media

Video describing the challenges of male pregnancy, photo gallery of the oldest trees in the world, podcast outlining Earth’s environmental tipping points and an article on adapting to the anthropocene. Here is ecological news from the third week in March.

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From the Community: Colonizing the oceans, fact-checking nursery rhymes and urbanizing mollusks

Aquanaut describes plans to colonize the sea for education and conservation, a pitcher plant previously thought to be carnivorous has been wildly reclassified and the first condor egg in 100 years discovered in California. Here are news stories and studies on ecological science from the second week in March.

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Scientists and filmmakers are making “Waves” together

Even though most of my face was covered by neoprene, acrylic glass and rubber, I could still feel the whiskers of the harbor seal rub against my skin as he repeatedly kissed my face. Believe it or not, the harbor seal wasn’t the only marine organism that was showing me the love during a morning of scientific diving in a marine reserve off the coast of Catalina Island, California.

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Ecologists go online, the world benefits?

Science can take a page out of the World Health Organization’s book when it comes to tracking and aiding in global health. Its online database, the Global Public Health Intelligence Network (GPHIN), is an early disease detection system developed by Health Canada; it collects data on unusual disease events by monitoring news wires, websites and online newspapers in eight languages. But what can ecologists take away from this?

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The art of communicating climate change

This post was contributed by Piper Corp, ESA Science Policy Analyst   London-based writer and philosopher Alain de Botton recently shared his thoughts on the environment. In a UN Chronicle essay, de Botton says that climate change is different from threats we’ve faced in the past—whether natural disasters or nuclear warfare—in that it is neither outside our control nor a result of deliberate action. The product of the day-to-day activities of billions of people, it can only be ameliorated through collective effort. “So we are guilty,” he says, “but also unusually powerless.”  Submitted photo to 350.org from the Czech Republic Moreover, the global scale of climate change has produced a fundamental shift in how we view the environment. We have, according to de Botton, been forced to abandon our long-held view of nature as something lasting and larger than ourselves—a sentiment captured in a quote from the 17th Century philosopher Sir Thomas Browne: “Generations passe while some trees stand, and old Families last not three Oaks.”   “How mindsets have changed,” says de Botton,   The equation has been reversed. Men are no longer temporary and oak trees eternal. Nature no longer endures. Nature doesn’t remind us that we are small, but rather provides chilling, awesome evidence of our size and strength. We glance up to the snows of Kilimanjaro and think of how quickly our coal generators have heated the earth. We fly over the denuded stretches of the Amazon and see how easily we have gashed the earth. Nature used to terrify us, now we terrify ourselves.  And the result? Hysterical sentimentality, he says. We treat nature “like a wounded panda.” But when it comes to enacting change, many of the greatest threats of global change are spatially and temporarily removed from those being asked to act—“our empathetic powers have been stretched to the breaking point.” So in spite of our sentimental regard for nature—and the awareness that this sentimentality suggests—we remain reluctant to make sacrifices.   Granted, Americans are increasingly skeptical of climate change, as evidenced by a recent Pew study, and the hacked Climate Research Unit emails have done their part to exacerbate skepticism around the world.  But skeptics aside, you may recall another Pew study, wherein global warming ranked last on Americans’ list of policy priorities for 2009. When considered alongside the proportion of Americans who think that global warming is a very or somewhat serious problem (73% in 2008, 65% in 2009), the disconnect is clear. We have the facts and we’re voting no.   The scientific community finds itself at an interesting juncture then, having traditionally focused communication efforts on identifying and characterizing the problem of climate change....

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A Conference about Water and Ecology

Nancy Grimm welcomes attendees to the first ESA Millennium Conference. ESA’s first Millennium Conference kicked off today in Athens, GA. The meeting is bringing together ecologists and social scientists to engage in conversations about one of the most dramatic emerging challenges in ecology: that of clean water and water scarcity.  While ecologists’ main expertise is in providing and maintaining adequate water for healthy ecosystems, social scientists are expert in and concerned about scarce water and allocation across diverse communities. The discussion this morning focused on several key issues associated with water conservation. Nancy Grimm was the president of ESA when the Millennium series was suggested, and she welcomed the group to the conference. In her opening remarks, she was the first to bring up the fact that for water reform and management to really take hold, it needs to occur at a regional level.  All-encompassing water legislation, even at state levels, can pit differing priorities against one another; since ecosystem services are largely delivered at regional scales, their legislation should be regional as well. Ann Bartuska addresses a question during her talk about urban ecosystem services. But Carol Couch, formerly chief of environmental protection in Georgia, made the point that a difficult challenge is to learn how to legislate water and water rights among political boundaries.  Since ecosystems know no political boundaries, local politicians must learn to work together. “We need to explore systematically and synthetically how different societies throughout time have dealt with a common pool of resources, so it doesn’t devolve into the tragedy of the commons,” she said. “We need to start thinking about ecological services as a common pool.” A major challenge, she also mentioned, will be considering water as a common-pool resource in areas, like Georgia, where most (96 percent!) of the land is privately owned. Bob Naiman of Washington University made the great comment that it would be nice to have an “opinions map” – one that showed which people over the landscape have what opinions about water and how it should be used. This could inform management strategies and ground-up community initiatives. “We don’t need to convince people, we just need to speak in words they understand,” she said.”We could then spend less time advocating for a public campaign – but instead recruit people to work with us.” A final theme of the first several talks was interdisciplinarity.  As co-chair Ted Gragson of UGA pointed out, we’re ready to practice what we’ve often preached about interdisciplinarity. No water problem will be solved by an ecologist or a social scientist alone, which is the whole reason for the conference. Later this afternoon: Roger...

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