3b. Science and environmental journalism

History of science writing

  1. History of science and environmental writing before 1970 (slideshow) by Bill Kovarik
  2. Twenty tips for interpreting scientific claims. Nature, Nov. 2013.
  3. Reporting the environment 1970s – Philadelphia Inquirer. 
  4. 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…
  5. Science writing, as a specialty, is dead  says 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.
  6. Science writing is important – Deborah Blum talks about writing for the Sacramento Bee in her 1998 Congressional testimony.
  7. Science media centers in the UK  — Columbia Journalism Review, June 17, 2013
  8. In 1887 Henry Watterson wrote an editorial for The Courier-Journal detailing Louisville’s need to create a system of public parks.

Writing about science

  1. The unwritten rules of science journalism, by Adam Rubin, Science, May 25. 2012. ” Start your article with a personal anecdote, even if it’s narcissistic or tangential to the rest of the piece.”
  2. This is a news website article about a scientific paper, by by Martin Robins, The Guardian, Sept. 27, 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… 
  3. Five inconvenient Truths about science writing,  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…
  4. World Federation of Science Writers Online Couse in Science Journalism  
  5. 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.
  6. Science writer struggles to understand CAFO impacts, Oct., 2010 — I once heard someone say that the definition of a good story is: “Main character falls into a hole and struggles to get out… ”


  1. How I found Livingstone by Henry Morton Stanley
  2. Building the “Knowosphere,” MIT video with Andrew C. Revkin.  (Introduced by then-Prof. Ernest Moniz, who became US  Secretary of Energy in 2013).

Analyzing science coverage

  1. Fox News botches climate coverage, Washington Post, April 2014.
  2. How the Murdoch papers cover climate change – April 2012.
  3. How reporters mangle science on Gulf oil, August, 2010 — When researchers present what the media perceive as “big” findings — as my colleagues and I did last week in reporting a plume of oil from the Deepwater Horizon oil well in the Gulf of Mexico — it is incumbent on scientists and journalists to keep the results in perspective and refrain from veering into misleading waters. Unfortunately, in this case, both parties failed. By Christopher Reddy,
  4. Coverage of the World Conference of Science Journalists, July 2009, especially “There’s Life in the Old Dog Yet,” by Fiona Fox, and “Some Optimism for the Future of Science Journalism” by Christine Russell
  5. 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).
  6. 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.”
  7. 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 …
  8. 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 substantiallyreduce 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?
  9. Are Environmental Journalists and 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.
  10. Hurrican Gustav and Mark Schleifstein By Brian Stelter, New York Times, Aug 31, 2008 The Times-Picayune in New Orleans is promoting the work of Mark Schleifstein, a 24-year veteran of the newspaper, with a forceful claim this week: He is, the paper asserts, “the man who predicted the flood.”
  11. 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.
  12. (Framing for religious readers) How do we cover penguins and politics of denial? By Bill Moyers (2005 SEJ talk) — Here’s an important statistic to ponder: Forty-five percent of Americans hold a creational view of the world, discounting Darwin’s theory of evolution. I don’t think it is a coincidence then that in a nation where nearly half our people believe in creationism, much of the populace also doubts the certainty of climate-change science. Contrast that to other industrial nations where climate-change science is overwhelmingly accepted as truth: in Britain, for example, where 81 percent of the populace wants the government to implement the Kyoto treaty. What’s going on here? Simply that millions of American Christians accept the literal story of Genesis, and they either dismiss or distrust a lot of science;not only evolution, but paleontology, archeology, geology, genetics, even biology and botany. To those Christians who believe that our history began with Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden and that it will end soon on the plains of Armageddon, environmental science, with its urgent warnings of planetary peril, must look at the best irrelevant. At worst the environmental woes we report may be stoically viewed as the inevitable playing out of the end of time as presented in the book of Revelation. For Christian dominionists who believe the Lord will provide for all human needs and never leave us short of oil or other resources, no matter how we overpopulate the earth, our reporting may be viewed as a direct attack on Biblical teachings …
  13. 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.
  14. 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.
  15. World Wildlife Foundation views about Environmental Jouralism and WWF Recommendations on EJ 
  16. Why we need science writers by Peter Christie Hamilton Spectator March 26, 2014.   Art, wrote the late Canadian scholar Northrop Frye, needs explainers as much as it needs artists. Critics, as they’re called, offer a bigger picture, and that lends meaning to art. Actually, they’re not critics at all, but explainers. In any event: “A public that tries to do without criticism,” he said, “brutalizes the arts and loses its cultural memory.” Science needs explainers, too, and for much the same reasons.

Great science and environmental writing

  1. The Monumental Copper Disconnect Billions to mine, refine and assemble into products that last maybe a year or so? Follow reporter Christopher Pollon as he tracks B.C. copper across the Pacific and back, from mine to recycler. Click each chapter to learn about each stop on the journey. Click markers on the map for even more detail. The Tyee, Vancouver, March 2014.
  2. Snowfall, New York Times, 2012, by John Branch, tells the harrowing story of skiers caught in an avalanche. Along with great storytelling, Snowfall is notable for the new way it combines video and text.
  3. 70 Degrees West  — Imagine a line from Qaanaaq, Greenland, through Maine, and on through Bermuda.  That’s where   Justin Lewis and Michelle Stauffer are taking us.