Science and Environment Writing

Reading notes

Textbooks for this class

Academic Links

About the practice of Environmental Journalism

Links to Canadian and Great Lakes resources

Books about environmental journalism and science literacy

Science and Society

  1. The Two Cultures by CP Snow -- Snow is not merely concerned with the cultural canyons between scientists and writers (or nerds and hippies in today's cultural shorthand). He was gravely concerned about the consequences, the fact that science and technology was not being used to address problems of poverty, environmental deterioration and human suffering.
    1. The Two Cultures (wikipedia article)
    2. 50th anniversary reviews -- New York Times, London Telegraph and Physics World
  2. Science and Technology for Sustainable Well-Beings By John P. Holdren (2008) Science and technology have particularly important roles to play [in] meeting the basic needs of the poor; managing the competition for the land, water, and terrestrial biota of the planet; maintaining the integrity of the oceans; mastering the energy-economy-environment dilemma; and moving toward a nuclear weapon-free world.
  3. Politics and the English language By George Orwell (1946) Orthodoxy, of whatever color, seems to demand a lifeless, imitative style.
  4. 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 discovdery ... 3. An effect is always at the very limit of detection...
  5. Top Ten Tips (to scientists) for Telling Your Story (to reporters) By Mark Schleifstein Make sure your message is clear before the reporter leaves. Don’t exclude facts or take short-cuts in your explanations, because they’ll lead to errors in the story.
  6. The revolution that didn't happen By Stephen Weinberg (1998) Kuhn did not deny that there is progress in science, but he denied that it is progress toward anything. He often used the metaphor of biological evolution: scientific progress for him was like evolution as described by Darwin, a process driven from behind, rather than pulled toward some fixed goal to which it grows ever closer.
  7. The Media as a Tool for Communication on the Environment and Sustainability By Michael Nitz Since the media are the primary source for citizens' information about environmental issues, the paper first examines how the media cover the environment. Second, the chapter proposes a dualistic framework of framing and involvement theories as a way to explain the process of organizations' public communication in the environmental arena.
  8. Environmentalists Narrative ByStuart Schoenfeld (2004) Like any other social group, environmentalists have a shared story about who they are and how they came to be ...
  9. Rental Trucks and Brain Surgeons: Why do humanities students need to study science? (PDF) By Bruce Margon (2000) I see at least four major reasons: 1. Qualification as a citizen... 2. Detection of nonsense ... 3. Understanding certain absolutes... 4. Beauty ...
  10. Science and technology policymaking: A primer (PDF) (Congressional Research Service) Science and engineering research and innovations are intricately linked to societal needs and the nation’s economy in areas such as transportation, communication, agriculture, education, environment, health, defense, and jobs. As a result, policymakers are interested in almost every aspect of science and technology

And three more from your professor

  1. Empathy Upgrades: New media strikes a deep chord (for environmental advocates), By Bill Kovarik,-- Teri Blanton typed her five digit zip code into the web site. Then it hit her. “I was shocked,” she said. The page showed that her own electricity was coming from the very mountaintop removal site that she had fighting for years. As an environmental leader in Berea, Kentucky, Blanton was among the first this fall to try out a new web feature showing the link between home electrical use and mountaintop removal mining called “MyConnection.”
  2. Ten tips for Covering Biofuels By Bill Kovarik (2007) 1. Seek the truth. In biofuels as in many other scientific controversies, charges and counter-charges are often made by partisans.  As a journalist, your job is to get beyond the sound bites and to define and analyze the issues. 
  3. The radium girls By Bill Kovarik (1997) When the judge continued the case ... [New York World editor Walter] Lippmann stepped out of his normally cool and sober editorial pulpit. This ... was a "damnable travesty of justice... There is no possible excuse for such a delay. The women are dying. If ever a case called for prompt adjudication, it is the case of five crippled women who are fighting for a few miserable dollars to ease their last days on earth..."



Climate Change as a Special Case for Environmental Journalists

click here for The Independent's climate change cartoon series. Note provisional US Title 17 Section 107 educational fair use claim.

  1. Can better communication of climate science cut climate risks? -- Andy Revkin, New York Times "The challenge, of course, is that a science-based definition of the “climate crisis” is not the kind of message that will get people rushing to the ramparts.
  2. Climate scientists e-mail hacked, posted ... by Bud Ward, Yale ClimateForum -- A veritable flood of hundreds of emails surreptitiously released by a computer hacker from a famous climate change research facility has climate skeptics seeing, or hoping, for blood...
  3. Warming to hit roads pipelines in Canadian North (Reuters) - Roads, buildings and pipelines in Canada's north are at risk from global warming ... Also see CANWEST version
  4. Communicating on Climate Change: An Essential Resource for Journalists, Scientists, and Educators, by Bud Ward -- (7 MB pdf download). The time has come for a sea change in the national approach to one of the world’s most urgent scientific, public policy, environmental, and public health issues: anthropogenic climate change. This new approach will require more than political will, though; it will require a huge leap in the American public’s understanding of climate change.
  5. Opposing views draw scientists scorn, by Jonathan Manthorpe for CANWEST and Vancouver Sun Aug. 5 2009 -- "Where I feel more comfortable with Ian Pilmer (author of Heaven and Earth) is his assertion that changing our habbits now will not reverse global warming." (Please also note the comments).
  6. Climate Security Forecast Darkens by Mike Blanchfield, CANWEST News Service -- Some of Canada's European allies ... have fully embraced climate change as a security issue, not an environmental one.
  7. CLIMATE CHANGE: Science vs Politics at the Edge of the North Pole, By Stephen Leahy (IPS) --June 14, 2009 -- "Here we are at the edge of the North Pole where climate change is easier to see...How do we communicate the urgency of our situation?" Tora Aasland, Norway's minister of research and higher education asked several dozen attendees at a recent high-level symposium...
  8. The carbon capture conundrum by Nathan VanderKlippe and Shawn McCarthy (Globe & Mail) -- In their struggle to soften Canada's reputation as a source of “dirty oil,” federal and provincial governments have placed a big bet on carbon capture and storage (CCS), with plans to pump more than $3-billion into the technology.
  9. Dark Green Doomsayers by George F. Will -- . An unstated premise of eco-pessimism is that environmental conditions are, or recently were, optimal... Real calamities take our minds off hypothetical ones. Besides, according to the U.N. World Meteorological Organization, there has been no recorded global warming for more than a decade, or one-third of the span since the global cooling scare.
  10. Climate Science in a Tornado by George F. Will -- Few phenomena generate as much heat as disputes about current orthodoxies concerning global warming...
  11. Climate Change Myths and Facts by Chris Mooney, Washington Post / in response to Will's columns: Can we ever know, on any contentious or politicized topic, how to recognize the real conclusions of science and how to distinguish them from scientific-sounding spin or misinformation? (Mooney is the author of "Unscientific America: How Scientific Illiteracy Threatens Our Future." )
  12. Duck and Cover: Climate News Reporting Draws Big, Loud Pushback by: John Wihbey, 1 Dec. 2008 (Yale Forum) -- Publish a climate change-related news story, and be ready for pointed attacks, long knives, and brutal dismissals. And expect accusations of political bias and conspiracy.
  13. Climate Change: Now What? A big beat grows more challenging and complex, By Cristine Russell, CJR Observatory — July / August 2008 Media coverage of climate change is at a crossroads, as it moves beyond the science of global warming into the broader arena of what governments, entrepreneurs, and ordinary citizens are doing about it. Please note the vehemence of the comments at the bottom of page 1. Also note Ron Rosenbaum's response in Slate magazine. Also Columbia Journalism Review Climate Change Links
  14. Snowed: Though global climate change is breaking out all around us, the U.S. news media has remained silent. By Ross Gelbspan (2005) Journalistic balance comes into play when a story involves opinion: Should gay marriage be legal? Should we invade Iraq? Should we promote bilingual education or English immersion? For such stories an ethical journalist is obligated to give each competing view its most articulate presentation and roughly equivalent space. But when the subject is a matter of fact, the concept of balance is irrelevant.
  15. Climate change reporting is psychologically taxing By John Whitby (2008) Media veterans experienced in covering war zones and science are finding the climate change beat as difficult and mentally taxing a reporting job as they have ever had. That was an overarching theme from a panel of journalists gathered at Harvard University April 30 to discuss "Covering a Changing Climate."
  16. Rescuing reporting in the global South By James Fahn (June 2008) Climate change is a complex subject by any standard, but viewers in Indonesia watching TransTV during the UN conference on climate change in Bali last December must have been especially perplexed by one report on the national network's news broadcast.
  17. Global-Warming Deniers: A Well-Funded Machine by: Sharon Begley 6 August 2007 (Newsweek) -- Sen. Barbara Boxer had been chair of the Senate's Environment Committee for less than a month when the verdict landed last February. "Warming of the climate system is unequivocal," concluded a report by 600 scientists from governments, academia, green groups and businesses in 40 countries. Worse, there was now at least a 90 percent likelihood that the release of greenhouse gases from the burning of fossil fuels is causing longer droughts, more flood-causing downpours and worse heat waves, way up from earlier studies. Those who doubt the reality of human-caused climate change have spent decades disputing that. But Boxer figured that with "the overwhelming science out there, the deniers' days were numbered." As she left a meeting with the head of the international climate panel, however, a staffer had some news for her. A conservative think tank long funded by ExxonMobil, she told Boxer, had offered scientists $10,000 to write articles undercutting the new report and the computer-based climate models it is based on. "I realized," says Boxer, "there was a movement behind this that just wasn't giving up."

Government and Scientific Climate Change Documents:

Some examples of climate change coverage


Theoretical and Social Science approaches

The Association of Knowledge With Concern about Global Warming -- By Jon Krosnick, communications professor at Stanford. Two links -- 1) A May 26 tele-seminar at the California Air Resources Board, And 2) a written summary of his findings in this paper (pdf download). The relation between self-reported knowledge and concern about GW is more complex than previous research has suggested. Among people who trust scientists to provide reliable information about the environment and among Democrats and Independents, increased knowledge has been associated with increased concern. But among people who are skeptical about scientists and among Republicans, more knowledge was generally not associated with greater concern.

Habermas and Green Political Thought -- By Robert J Bruelle -- ... The development of an ecologically sustainable society is one of the most sweeping and crucial challenges our social institutions will ever face. So far, however, the efforts undertaken make this imperative seem only a Utopian fantasy, fast receding from our grasp. The social learning capacity of our society must be expanded to generate new ways to respond to the process of ecological degradation. One key component in fostering social learning to address ecological degradation is through the development and instantiation of binding ecological norms. To enable large-scale, multicultural action among numerous human communities, an ecological ethics must work within the pluralist, postmodern world. This requires an ethics that can accommodate a wide range of cultural viewpoints, including conflicting notions of what is sacred and profane, what constitutes truth and heresy, and even basic notions regarding what it means to be human [Cooper, 1996: 257]. One important approach to this problem has been developed by the intellectual project that is defined by Critical Theory. This perspective holds the possibility of defining a means through which such an ecological ethics can be developed. As noted by Dobson: ‘Critical Theory might provide a historical and material analysis of the relationship between human beings and the natural world, together, perhaps with a non-utopian resolution of the contemporary difficulties with this relationship’ [Dobson, 1996: 298]. However, Critical Theory has been criticised extensively as unable to meet this task. In this article, I defend the use of Critical Theory in the creation of environmental ethics.

Climate change, Risk, Frame, Global Warming, Science Journalism, Environmental reporting, newspaper -- By David Weintraub, MA University of South Carolina, 2007 This quantitative content analysis addresses three general questions: how is the risk of global climate change portrayed, what frames are used, and what sources are quoted or paraphrased? The 432 newspaper articles on global climate change examined were retrieved between Sept. 1, 2006, and May 31, 2007, from the Society of Environmental Journalists (SEJ) daily online news digest, which provides links to articles about environmental topics drawn from a wide variety of publications. A total of 91 different newspapers were used for this thesis: 77 from the United States; six from Canada; five from the UK; two from Australia; and one from France. This thesis uses as its theoretical basis the nine dimensions of risk established by Paul Slovic and others, along with frame analysis, as defined primarily by William A. Gamson, Andre Modigliani and Robert M Entman. The most frequently found risk categories were no risk (45%), severe (35%), future (33%), immediate (21%), catastrophic (15%) and nonhuman life (14%). The most frequently used frames were political (44%), consequences (22%), and scientific (10%). The most frequently used sources were government (38%), scientist (27%) and official, non profit group/institution (13%). Two findings stand out as having the most important implications for journalists. The first is that sources appear to have substantial influence over how newspaper articles about global climate change are framed. The second is that politicians and government officials are big winners when it comes to the competition for public attention through the mass media, at least in terms of newspapers. [Retrieved from AEJMC web site)

Seeing Red in Green News: Credibility and perceived Bias in Enviornmental News Articles -- By Erin Marlowe, MA, University of Missouri, 2005 This study demonstrates significant evidence that political ideology and partianship are very important factors in credibility assessments and perceived bias in environmental news. Environmental news articles about global warming, mercury emission regulation from coal-burning power plants or endangered salmon were read by 359 undergraduate and graduate students at the University of Missouri. These students then completed a questionnaire, the draft from which showed that as one's intensity or affinity with being a conservative or a liberal or with being a Republican or Democrat increased, perceived bias against one's affiliated party increased and overall credibility of an environmental news article decreased. This effect was shown to be stronger for Republicans and conservatives, who also did not favor environmnetal protection as greatly as Democrats and liberals. This study also showed that articles written using moderate sources and suggestions of compromise were rated as lower in bias and higher in credibility than articles using confrontational language and sources with intense viewpoints. The results of this study support the hostile media phenomenon, which states that highly partisan individuals judge media to be biased against their side and favorable to their opponent's. However, the mediating effect of article style lends some support for their own views in new information. This study concludes that while levels of political ideology and partisianship are vitally important to how an environmental article is perceived, reporters and editors can ensure wider acceptance of a message by writing moderately and including suggestions of solutions to environmental problems. [Retrieved from AEJMC web site)

THE EVOLUTION OF A BEAT: A CASE STUDY OF CHANGES IN ENVIRONMENTAL REPORTING FROM THE 1970'S TO TODAY AS EVIDENT IN COVERAGE OF THREE DISASTROUS OIL SPILLS -- TAMSYN JONES, MA, University of Missouri, 2006 -- The field of environmental journalism has significantly advanced since environmental issues emerged as topics of social and journalistic importance in the early 1970's. Environmental reporters have become essential investigators of the human environment relationship at a time when global environmental problems have become acutely complex, and their solutions elusive but indiputably more urgent. Despite noticeable improvements in reporting quality, however, environmental reporters continue to wrestle with some of the same reporting challenges afflicting the beat since the beginning -- especially i the area of environmental disaster reporting. Society is now approaching a critical juncture when the decisions and actions of people on the planet today will determine the quality of life for generations to come. Conveying the importance of these problems requires highly competent reporting capable of dealing with the unique issue complexities. To assess how environmental reporters have adapted to the changing rigors of environmental news, this thesis analyzes how environmental reporting has changed over three decades. Three disastrous oil spills throughout eh beat's history are qualitatively analyzed via comprehensive textual analysis in two quality newspapers, the Seattle Times and the UK Guardian. The chosen spills include the 1978 Amoco Cadiz; the 1989 Exxon Valdez; and the 2002 Prestige. Oil spills are inherently complex, and thus are ideal as models of how environmental reporters reported on a complex problem - enviornmental problem. The study found that a significant improvement in quality of coverage occurred between 1978 and 1989 in both newspapers, including a shift to focusing on systematic causes and local perspectives. In both papers, easy journalistic disaster templates were abandoned in favor of probing independent reporting that examined issues of maritime safety and the role of business and governments. The relationship between cultivation of regional identities and quality spill reporting emerged as an interesting result of this study. Stories cultivating regional identity tended to focus on systemic causes and developed richeer conceptual frameworks for the spills. Quality reporting persisted through 2002, including additional efforts to improve, suggesting that newspapers can markedly increase environmental reporting quality if attentive to reporting practices. [#829]


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