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HOT TOPICS IN SCIENTIFIC AND ENVIRONMENTAL COMMUNICATION

Debate over The Skeptical Environmentalist

Background: When the English-language version of The Skeptical Environmentalist by Bjorn Lomborg was published in September 2001, the book received glowing reviews from prestigious publications such as The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and The Economist. What’s the problem? The book -- based upon false premises and unscientific interpretations of data, and written by a veritable stranger to the environmental field -- dismisses environmental crises, such as global warming, deforestration, pollution and resource shortages, as exaggerated “phantom problems.” (Perhaps the book should have been subtitled, Don’t Worry, Be Happy.)

Analysis: How did The Skeptical Environmentalist snow the media and eclipse scientifically-sound books written by environmental experts? The Columbia Journalism Review pegged the book’s popularity as a primary example of Winston Churchill’s observation that, "A lie gets halfway around the world before the truth has a chance to get its pants on." For additional analyses of the secrets of Lomborg’s success, check out these insightful articles:

An “All Science, All The Time” Cable Channel

A group of world-class scientists is currently working to establish the Cable Science Network (CSN). Building upon the C-SPAN model of a 24/7 nonprofit network, CSN’s founders hope that their channel will free the public from "the tyranny of the sound bite" by broadcasting lectures, hearings, book presentations, round-table discussions and documentary series on scientific topics.  Click here to read more about CSN.

Read Any Outrageous Book Reviews Lately?

In a fascinating article describing the job of the book reviewer, David Sexton, literary editor of the London Evening Standard, asserts that many book reviewers do not even read the books that they review. (Although Sexton does not specifically address reviews of scientific or environmental books, his observations certainly apply to them.) Click here to read his article.

The universe is the most authentic reality show running. It's all science all the time -- and it ought to be on television

A Watershed in Scientific Publishing

The Public Library of Science (PLoS) is publishing on the web ground-breaking research articles that are accessible for free.  Founded by a Nobel Prize winner and two colleagues, PLoS is designed to break the stranglehold on the scientific literature held by pricey publications, and enable lay and scientific readers to download, print, distribute and read this literature without charges or other restrictions.

Although some journals already publish articles on the web for free, they are have not always attracted the best science. The respected founders of PloS aim to woo elite articles to their open-access journal.

Treetop Barbie Doll

In a September 23, 2003 article, The New York Times identified "what may be science's blondest and most curvaceous attempt yet to reach the public, Treetop Barbie." Treetop Barbie sports clothing worn by canopy researchers in the field as well as a safety helmet, crossbow for shooting ropes up into trees, a field notebook and measuring tape. Treetop Barbie is the brainchild of Dr. Nalini Nadkarni, a respected treetop ecologist at Evergreen State College who works to bridge the chasm between science and everyday life.

Dr. Nadkarni is currently attempting to introduce Treetop Barbie to as well as a line of botanically correct clothing whose textiles look like actual species of mosses and liverworts, baseball cards and other products to mass markets. These activities are part of her efforts to raise public awareness of forest canopy biology.

Click here to see pictures of Treetop Barbie and other botanically correct products, and to hear the Canopy Rap Song.

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