As parents, we have the responsibility and moral obligation to protect our children from serious threats to their health and safety. This includes keeping their environment clean – you can’t raise a free-range kid if their air and water aren’t safe to breathe, drink, and enjoy.
That is why I’m joining the fight to ban the dangerous practice of hydraulic fracturing, “fracking,” in my home state of Maryland and around the country. Fracking is a destructive practice that fossil fuel corporations use to extract oil and natural gas from deep below the surface of the Earth, polluting air, drinking water, and local waterways in the process.
Fracking involves drilling well almost two miles deep and shooting millions of gallons of water mixed with nearly 600 chemicals – including known carcinogens and endocrine disruptors – into the hole at high enough pressure to crack or “fracture” the bedrock and release the fuel. The pressure and fracturing can be strong enough to cause serious earthquakes!
The toxic fracking mixture used in this process releases toxins into the air and gets into the groundwater. Pollution from fracking has been shown to cause respiratory problems, heart problems, blood disorders, immunological problems, cancer, and nervous system impacts in drill workers and people living near drilling wells. Fracking endangers kids even before they’re born – babies born to women who live near fracking wells are more likely to have congenital heart defects and and be born prematurely and underweight. Housing prices drop in regions with fracking and businesses suffer – who wants to live next door to a dangerous, dirty well?? Fracking also releases methane into the atmosphere, a greenhouse gas that is almost 100x more powerful than carbon dioxide in warming the planet. In terms of climate change, fracking for natural gas is worse than burning coal.
Over the past decade, almost two MILLION fracking wells have been drilled across the U.S., including nearly 150,000 in neighboring Pennsylvania and 110,000 in West Virginia. Tens of thousands of people, including many children, have been poisoned by these chemicals – and the companies are not liable! Thanks to a loophole put into the 2005 Energy Bill by Dick Cheney and his Halliburton cronies, fracking wells are EXEMPT from the environmental laws that we depend on to keep us safe, including, the Safe Drinking Water Act, the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, the Toxic Release Inventory (requires companies to tell the public what they’re dumping into the ground water and air) the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (makes polluters clean up their messes), the “Superfund” Act, the National Environmental Policy Act (gives the public the right to know about and comment on projects that could impact public health, safety of the environment). The ONLY reason fracking is an economically viable industry is because the fossil fuel companies don’t have to follow the rules – instead, they pass the terrible costs onto us!
We have a responsible to keep our children safe from this dangerous practice, to fight back against the corporations that endanger their heath and their future. The State of New York has already banned this dangerous practice and there are movements in many other affected states. Maryland has a moratorium on fracking, but it expires in 2017. Sadly, Governor Hogan is on record supporting fracking, so we must ACT NOW to make sure that this terror never comes to our state.
Join me – and help keep MD frack-free! Subscribe to this blog and like my Facebook page to learn how your can support the fight to protect our kids’ health & future.
I used to talk to plants. Some of my dearest friends were trees. I held long conversations with the grass in my backyard; dug deep with the pines trees that dominated the forests of my overnight camp. I listened for hours to the intricate patterns of moss and lichens that clung to the nooks and crevices of the rock-face behind my cabin. Looking closely, I could understand the contours of their miniature hills and valleys, and trace their pathways with my eyes. I dreamed of being small enough to wander those tiny byways myself. I loved the rock, too, and caressed the sparkling texture of its multi-colored veins, marveling at the changes it had lived through during its many millions of years.
I exchanged greetings with with wild herbs, brushing against them to release the response of their sweet scent, communicating their rightness with the world. I had a close friend who was a mulberry tree; we shared secrets and sweet berries while I spent hours high up in her branches. We visited together long after her berry season was over. Multi-colored mushrooms poked their funny heads above the soil to say hello, hinting mischievously of their massive presence entangled with the plant roots and soil beneath my feet. I admit my eyes and ears were too coarse to befriend the most numerous beings of all: the microbes, bacteria and fungi. But I appreciated their efforts nonetheless, and marveled at their beautiful forms in photos and on microscope slides.
I talked to the insects, too. I asked the ants where they were going, so focused and intent. Down on my knees, my schoolbag forgotten on the sidewalk, I would follow them and learn their secrets. About the dead beetle feast they had discovered in the grass, or the sticky bonanza of piece of candy dropped by the curb. Earthworms were my friends too, along with the pill bugs, or roly-polys, who curled up when I lifted the rock roof off their home. With patience, I could coax them out of hiding to wander across my palm. Millipedes did the same. (Not centipedes, however. They disappeared quickly when the light appeared, and their impressivepincers demanded deference and respect). I kept company with bumblebees, sharing the joy of their gathering, as they conversed with the heart of a flower in a low, steady hum. I had other animal buddies. Frogs were close companions; I eavesdropped on the full-throated debates of big bulls and the sharp trilling repartee of spring peepers and leopards. Choruses of cicadas and crickets shared their passion with me every summer night. Deer were my friends, from a respectful distance, as were the mice and rabbits, raccoons and opossum who shared the forests with me summer after summer. The fish in the lakes flashed their silver sides in greeting. Turtles lifted their heads to nod a lazy greeting; snakes left their s-shaped calligraphy in the dust where I passed.
I still talk to the plants and the bugs. Sometimes. I walk barefoot in the grass, and sit in the garden. I run my bare hands through the soil, reveling in its moist richness. I stand on the porch watching the honeybees go about their work. Just standing among them as they fly to and fro, coming and going from myriad errands. Some tasks are obvious from the bulging pollen pouches on their legs; others deeply mysterious but not doubt equally important to their sisters. I can’t understand them as well as I did when I was younger, but I still enjoy their presence. I hope they like mine. I am grateful that they at least tolerate it.
We’ve lost touch – the moss and bees, frogs, mice, and flowers I knew so well. Occasionally, I try to reach out to them. But there are so many distractions in the human world. So many thing, so many ideas, so much to do. The world of my earliest companions is more focused on being. Sure they get a lot done in a day – far more than a human could imagine. Relative to her size, a honeybee covers more ground in her short lifetime than even the most dedicated frequent flyer. A simple dandelion or milkweed is the very definition of productive, performing the fundamental task of converting the raw energy of the sun. With patience and might, plants create the food and structure that supports nearly every other living thing on Earth. And they do it so beautifully! Not content to just get the job done, they entice and attract, interacting with their neighbors through form, scent, taste, and a riot of color. I try to read their messages. When I have time. When I can slow down enough to shape my thoughts into our common language. The universal tongue. It’s not the voice of advertisements or TV, cars or computers. The babble of social media has nothing in common with your average brook.
Like a half-forgotten lullaby, words come to me, but it takes more effort these days. I touch the lavender and thyme when I walk, and tune in their replies, delivered in richly scented voices. The grass communicates in sign with the soles of my feet and the soil takes my hand with its coolness. But my comprehension has declined. The bees still chatter while they work and sometimes I get a glimpse of their intricate informative dances, but I have no clue of what they’re saying. The mulberries trees in my adult life grew from saplings to majestic trees before my eyes. But when they failed to produce much fruit this year, and their leaves were spotted with yellow, I could only watch with growing dismay, unable to interpret their suffering. The Eastern swallowtails I nurtured through the winter just a few years ago have not left their progeny among the dill and fennel I planted for them, nor have the monarchs returned to their milkweed patch. Why? They aren’t saying. A wood mouse popped out of my garden for a quick hello while I was sowing sweet potatoes, and I waved to him or his cousin who foraged for drops of honey among my empty bee boxes. But the one I found limping across my walkway this morning couldn’t tell me where the pain was or what I could do to offer comfort.
I have forgotten that language, the words that helped me feel at one with the world. Although their sounds are all around me, the meanings of the rustles and the chirps and the hums are lost. The beeps I respond to these days are electric and insistent. The rumblings speak of trains and trucks, not distant storms. I walk down the sidewalk and feel the concrete distance between me and the Earth, but I don’t stop to check for ant trails or bugs. Injured birds and mammals used to find succor in my home – now I look away, ashamed of my ignorance of their needs and unwilling to risk the pain of watching them die because of my incompetence.
My distance. My disconnect. So much of it comes down to fear. Instead of awe, reverence, and respect, I relate to the world through a deep sense of inadequacy. Shame. Fear. Fear of injury. Fear of disease. Fear of losing myself in the wilderness. (As if losing oneself wasn’t the goal of 99% of human busyness and addiction). Fear of loneliness and disconnect from the billions of living and non-living beings who are around me at every moment. And fear of pain. Not the pain of injury or a sting, although I’d gotten plenty of those. A deeper pain. A more existential pain.
Years ago, at a construction site in Northwest Washington DC, I saw a metal behemoth grab a mature tree around the trunk and yank – I can still hear the terrible crack when its hundred year old back was broken. How many cracks can appear before you tune them out? How many fields can you see torn up for luxury housing? How many skies darkened with pollution? How many rivers clogged with poison and beaches washed away by rising seas before you wall off your heart to keep from crying every time you read of another dying species, or step out your front door and confront the scores of injuries that one clever but not-so-bright animal has inflicted on all the others?
I want to go back. To the woods, to the wilds, to the rivers, and the streams. Not only to the ones of my youth, but those in the here and now, that are part of the intertwined ecosystem I live in today. I need to go back. Because of my fear. In spite of my pain. Maybe my old friends will help me deal with my confusion. Maybe they can teach me to embrace my pain and heal, the way a mighty tree does after a lightning strike. For a have been struck – dumb, blind – and I need to learn how to go on, proud and strong. I pray it’s not too late. I pray that they will welcome me back, this wayward, destructive, ignorant ape who has brought so much harm. I miss my home among the trees. I miss all my friends and wish desperately to catch up. To chat once again with the insects, to learn ridiculous, truths from the frogs, garner the essential knowledge of the rocks and leaves.
I just need to learn the words again. Not a secret code – not at all – but the common tongue of all things who share this brilliant beautiful green and blue world. The world that speaks to us all in so many ways. Every. Single. Moment. If we can only remember how to listen again.
You’ve reached the online home of Danielle Meitiv, the “Free-Range Mom” from Maryland
I’m a scientist, writer, and parent of kids who roam. (You might have heard about that last part…) I have a Master’s degree in oceanography and a lifelong love of science and the sea. When I’m not penning or parenting, I work as a science consultant to government agencies and non-profit organizations.
I’m an opinionated parents who thinks a lot about how to raise kids who thrive – and I’m willing to stand up for my beliefs. Come say Hi on Twitter (@daniellemeitiv) and join the conversation about parenting and freedom on my Community Facebook Page. I’m represented by Louise Fury of the Bent Agency.
Thanks for stopping by!
UPDATE: As of June 2015, ALL of the CPS charges against us have been dropped. Now we are gearing up to bring the fight to them, to stand up for the freedom of all parents to raise their children independent and responsibly, as they see fit. If you would like to help, please donate and/or spread the word about this fundraising campaign.
ScienceDaily (2011-08-13) — A thriving undersea wildlife park tucked away near the southern tip of Mexico’s Baja peninsula has proven to be the most robust marine reserve in the world, according to a new study. The most striking finding is that fish communities at a depleted site can recover up to a level comparable to remote, pristine sites that have never been fished by humans.
Beachcombing is one my all-time favorite activities. And why not? It happens outdoors, by the ocean and it’s best done barefoot! There’s a certain mystery about it: I can never anticipate what I’ll find and I’m sure never to find the same thing twice. (This is also why I love shopping at secondhand stores).
Beachcombing takes patience, curiosity, and a love of discovery. One time you may happen upon the perfect snail shell; a smooth piece of glass the next. Look carefully and you’ll find a dozen treasures to take home, things you want to remember and show to your friends.
Surfing the web is a lot like this (minus the sandy toes). A lot of stuff gets tossed onto the shores of the Internet – it’s easy to get overwhelmed by the sheer volume. But if you look carefully, there will some clear gems, people and ideas you want to remember and share with your friends. Here are a few of the special bits and pieces I came across this week.
Oceans & the Environment – Much of my personal and professional passion is dedicated to learning and writing about the environment and working to protect it for the future. Here are just two of the dozens of wonderful resources I turn to on a regular basis.
Speak Up For the Blue features the best of the ocean blogoshere, brought to you by Ocean Leaders from around the world. is the brainchild and passion of Andrew Lewin, a marine scientist dedicating his time to encouraging people to speak up for our endangered seas. I am honored to be included as one of Andrew’s Ocean Leaders, alongside such great advocates and personal heroes as Sylvia Earle and the Cousteau family.
Arkive: With my two-and-a-half year old daughter poking her head under my arm as I try to avoid typos write this post, I have to toss in one of our favorite nature sites. Arkive is a collaborative collection of images and information about endangered animals and plants from all over the globe. With photos and videos of everything from elephants to octopus, frogs to eagles, my daughter and I are entertained for hours.
Gardening & Health – Gardening is something else I like to do barefoot. OK, not the serious digging, but I’m often out there shoeless, picking weeds and harvesting greens – or just admiring what’s come up. Being outside toes in the grass is good for you, as are all the yummy things I plant, so I’ll toss some health stuff in here, too.
When I was getting started with my new veggie garden, Kenny Point’s Veggie Gardening Tips was the first gardening blog I read and still one of my all-time favorites. Kenny introduced me to the joys and ease of growing garlic and fall and winter veggie gardening, which is A LOT easier than you think. This year he’s inspired me to plant goji berries – I’ll keep you posted on how they do! Subscribe to his blog for a free intro to veggie gardening.
Mark’s Daily Apple is one of the web’s best intros to the ‘paleo’ or ‘primal’ type diet. After 27 years as a vegetarian, and 3 years as a reluctant meat eater, I’ve recently become convinced of the superiority of eating those foods that our bodies evolved to consume: meat, veggies and healthy fats – and eliminating those that are products of recent agricultural history: all grains and grain products.
The result: I feel better than ever, and although I was not overweight to begin with, I’ve lost 5 lbs in two weeks with only minimal exercise (so it wasn’t just ‘water weight’). Check it out. Another good intro to the primal lifestyle is Whole9Life.
Writing & Creativity
Time Management for Writers – Getting More Done in Less Time, by author and blogger Kristen Lamb. As a fellow ENFP, I can relate to her struggle to learn the organizational skills that come naturally to her more detail-oriented husband (mine is the same), and REALLY appreciate the insights and suggestions she shares. I’ve learned a whole lot about writing, online media from Kristen’s blog and even more from her online classes, so don’t be surprised if she shows up on my list in the future. You can find her on Twitter as @KristenLambTX
Writing is an art and the well that all artists draw from is called creativity. Patrick Ross, creativity explorer extraordinaire and the blogger behind The Artist’s Road, tweets as @on_creativity and sends out some really great stuff. If you’ve missed his gems, you can catch his weekly round up: Creativity Tweets of the Week.
Round of Words: Week Four Check-in
I’ve set three types of goals for this 80-day challenge. You can read the details about them here. Some of those goals are right on track:
Blogging: Twice weekly check-ins (Sunday & Wednesday) as part of a weekly Wednesday post, and now a regular Sunday mash-up.
Morning pages (an exercise from the Artist’s Way): and EVERYday, so far. Nnot always first thing, but more often than not in the morning, so that’s something,
Daily/Weekly words: Over the past four weeks my writing goals have flip-flopped from revising to writing and back again. After attending a weekend retreat called “In the Company of Writers,” I’ve come back to my original goal of revising the current WIP (work-in-progress): the first draft of a fantasy novel focused on the sea. Since I’m back in revisions I’m going to drop the daily wordcount, and instead give myself a target of doing some revising everyday. I may make that more specific as I get further along – or not.
Learning: I didn’t even look at the Artist’s Way last week and skipped the artist’s date as well. Will jump back in at Lesson/Week Four in the upcoming week. Since I’m not creating but revising, my coursework will shift from Holly’s How to Think Sideways course to How to Revise Your Novel. But the goal to do some revising via Holly’s method everyday.
Check out all the other wonderful writers taking the 80-day challenge here.
How are your writing, revising, blogging or other goals coming along? How does your garden grow? I’m always looking for new resources and new online friends, so stop by and say hi below!
Welcome to Wonderful Waterful Thursday! WWT as I like to call it is the extra special blog post that follows what would otherwise have been Wonderful Waterful Wednesday, if I hadn’t spent an extra five hours waiting in Baltimore-Washington Airport for a flight to California…
What is a “Sometimes Ocean”?
If you’ve ever visited the shore and poked among the rocks, you’ve seen them: shallow puddles on the edge of the sea, cut off from the great Mother Ocean for hours, even days at a time. They’re tidepools of course, and a whole host of organisms have become adapted to living in them.
Some of the marine creatures common to tidepools in North America are sea stars and urchins, snails, barnacles, and crabs. And of course various kinds of seaweed or algae thrive in tidepools, providing all important cover and shade for the creatures who live there.
Living on the Edge
Life in a tidepool is a study in extremes. Temperatures rise and fall over the course of the day. Salinity too. A water evaporates the pool itself can shrink and at times disappear. Considering that conditions are relatively constant in the open ocean, these kinds of conditions are pretty unusual for marine creatures.
And while they may seem idyllic, dangers lurk in those placid little ponds. In the sea, there’s lots of space to flee and find food. Not so in a tidepool, where you’re trapped until the next high tide, which can be hours or days away. Some parts of the intertidal zone (the area between the high and low tide levels) are only submerged at the highest of high tides, while other areas are only uncovered during the lowest of the low.
The Whys of Tides
The rise and fall of the tides is caused by the gravitational pull of the sun and the moon on the oceans. When all three celestial bodies are arranged in a line (called syzygy), we get spring tides, which are higher and lower than usual. Quadrature is when the sun, Earth and moon form a right angle. This occurs during the quarter phases/half moons. The tidal range is smallest at this time – the highs are lower than
Every shoreline has its typical tidal range determined by the shape of the basin and where on Earth it’s located. In some areas the range can be as little as a few inches a day; in others many feet. The Bay of Fundy in Nova Scotia holds the record for the largest range: more than 53 feet during a spring tide!
Most coasts have semi-diurnal (twice daily) tides, but a few shores experience only a single cycle.
Tidepooling at its Best
Rocky shores like those found in New England and the Pacific Northwest are my favorite places to explore. I have a very clear memory of holding a sea cucumber given to me by a park ranger in Acadia National Park in Maine. My dream of becoming a marine biologist was cemented that day.
I also saved a couple of sea urchins from a grim fate as souvenirs, but that’s another story.
Marine Mammals Poster Giveaway
This month’s giveaway is an out-of-print NOAA poster of Marine Mammals of the Western Hemisphere. Every comment left in the month of May equals one entry. Every link or reference to this blog on your site equals two entries. The drawing will be held on the 1st of May, so start your entries now!
Have you ever held a prickly sea star, caught sight of a crab scuttling through a tidepool forest, discovered a sea star clinging to the underside of a wet rock? Share your tidepool discoveries – and any other fond seaside memories – in the comments section below!
Week Two of a Round of Words in 80 Days, or #ROW80 for those of us who spend waaay too much time on Twitter. It’s been a good week.
Among my goals for ROW80 is to work through Julia Cameron’s creativity rediscovery program as detailed in the The Artist’s Way. Each week there are specific assignments as well as tools that carry over from week to week.
One such tool is the artist’s date. I think of it as taking my Muse on a date. Like all relationships, it’s important to spend time one-on-one with your creative self. What you do is up to you but there are two ‘rules’: take around 2 hours and go alone.
Last week, I took a trip to the local art supply store. I’d passed it regularly for three plus years but this was the first time I’d ventured in. Whoa, was that an education! I discovered some very deeply-held beliefs about my own lack of artist ability and remembered childhood attractions to certain art materials (including cray pas and colored pencils).
I bought some things that caught my fancy and put them, along with some materials I’d been squirreling away, into one of my dad’s old art supply boxes. (Yes, my father is an artist. Yes, it occurred to me that that has something to do with my insecurity). That stuff will come in handy during a future artist’s date.
This week I took my Muse for a walk. On Friday morning, I had a doctor’s appointment around two miles from my home. I took the bus there and walked home through Sligo Creek Park, one of the many streams that feed into the Anacostia-Potomac river system.
The walk was about 2.5 miles, and took an hour and a half. It was a gorgeous day: high fifties, sunny with a slight breeze. I stopped whenever the mood struck and took pictures (in the slideshow above). Along the way I helped the park by pulling up any garlic mustard I saw. It’s a terribly invasive plant – bad for the park but yummy when sautéed for my lunch.
So that was one goal achieved this week. And the others?
(1) Submitted my application for the writer’s workshop – Woo Hoo! While on a roll, I also sent in page one of my manuscript to “American Author” a first-page live critique done by agents and editors at the Washington Romance Writer’s retreat (coming up at the end of the month). Not for the faint of heart – thank God its anonymous!
Now that that is done, the 3000 words/week goal kicks in.
(2) Morning pages – not always morning, but more often than not, and everyday. I’m working on a new program to get more restful sleep, and wake earlier. That should help me get up before the kids, and get them done before chaos is unleashed (usually between 6:30 and 7:00am in our house).
(3) & (4) Blogging twice a week: doing by my regular post on Wednesdays (including the mid-week check-in), and adding the Sunday check-in. Next month I’ll add another blog day, if I can work it in with my 3000 words. Those are words of fiction – the blog doesn’t count.
(5) The Artist’s Way. I’m starting week three, so that’s going well. I haven’t completed all the exercises from last week but that because some require a bit more thought. Overall, it’s going well.
There are dozens of folks participating in a Round of Words in 80 Days. Among them are these two fabulous women: Kerry Meacham, who is Desperately Seeking Sanity, and Robin McCormack, who counts the many ways she is fortunate starting with My Two Blessings. All the other amazing writers who are on this 80-day journey can be found here.
Marine Mammals Poster Giveaway
This month’s giveaway is an out-of-print NOAA poster of Marine Mammals of the Western Hemisphere. Every comment left in the month of May equals one entry. Every link or reference to this blog on your site equals two entries. The drawing will be held on the 1st of May, so start your entries now!
It’s the end of week one of a Round of Words in 80 Days and the beginning of a three-month long journey to turn writing goals into long-term habits. I discussed my goals for this round in this post. So how did I do?
3000 words did not happen this week, unless you count all the rewrites and revisions I did on the piece I’m submitting as an application for a writers workshop. I didn’t expect it to – but as soon as this piece goes out (tomorrow!) that goal moves to the front burner. I’m going to put my current WIP aside to breathe, and work on something new. Looking forward to it – and a bit nervous too.
Morning pages. They happened everyday, I’m happy to say – but not always in the morning, unless you’re referring to somewhere over the Pacific just this side of the international date line. Things got better later in the week, when I realized how easy it was to let them slip. It’ best to do them as soon as I get up – both for the subconscious and to get them done. However, on the days when I get up with the kids and I don’t beat them out of bed (no, I don’t mean it THAT way!) I’ll get to them as soon as the house clears, which is around 9am. Not ideal, but not too bad.
I did my Sunday and Wednesday posts, but decided to put off launching a regular Friday piece until May. I have a bunch of other projects going on right now and want to be sure that the new blog feature gets the attention it’s due. So look for it on the 1st Friday of next month.
Check-ins. Here’s the end of week one and my second check-in. So far, so good!
I had to return the library’s copy of the Artist’s Way, but luckily mine arrived on the same day. I’ve worked through week one and I’m reading the material for week two. I even got in an artist’s date, although not as much of one as I’d hoped. Next week’s is already on the calendar – I’m taking myself to one of the Smithsonian art museums. I’m so excited!
After put this workshop submission to bed, I’m going to start working through Holly’s Course, How to Think Sideways. So that moves to the front burner along with my 3000 words, starting this coming week.
I’d love to write more, but in celebration of finishing our taxes early and meeting most of my writing goals, and the facts that we’ve discovered swing dancing at our favorite local pub AND we have childcare, my husband and I are going dancing as soon as the kids are in bed!
Most science conferences are like little in-group parties, where people who know each other’s work intimately get together to discuss their latest results, and query each other about what to do next. Don’t get me wrong – I love them. You meet interesting people, learn A LOT, and come home with new ideas, and great T-shirts or shoulder bags. Since I am a generalist by nature, I’ve attending lots of different kinds of conferences: the Geological Society of America, the American Physics Society, the European Geophysical Union, the Estuarine Research Federation, and the Coastal Society, to name a few.
The AAAS Annual Meeting, which I attended for the first time this year, was completely different. The raison d’etre of “triple-A-S” is right there in its name: the American Association for the Advancement of Science. I didn’t really get what that meant until now. Instead of technical talks, where experts talk to their peers about the incremental advances in their area of science, this meeting was all about the big picture. Panels of speakers addressed different aspects of a single topic, speaking broadly about what was known, where the gaps and questions were, and what they’d like to see happen next. Scientists from different fields sat in on each others’ sessions, offering all sorts of interesting and cross-disciplinary questions and comments. The meeting wasn’t only for and about scientists, either. A number of panels focused on the communication of science, and the relevant of science to society. It was amazing. There was also a two-day Family Science Fair, which my son and nephews loved. I picked up all sorts of great science swag, including posters, bumper stickers, calendars and buttons, which I will start giving away next week.
Over the next few weeks I will report on some of these great sessions in depth, including:
Science Without Borders and Media Unbounded: What Comes Next
Adapting to a Clear and Present Danger: Climate Change and Ocean Ecosystems (I may have to dedicate two blog posts to this session, which included fabulous talks on coral reefs and ocean acidification by James Brady of MBARI, and Nancy Knowlton of the Smithsonian).
2050: Will There Be Fish in the Ocean?
Comparing National Responses to Climate Change: Networks of Debate and Contention (focusing on the differences between how climate change is viewed in the US and India – the two countries where I do my climate change work).
Tom Rosenstiel gave a fascinating overview. The world of media is both shrinking and expanding. The editorial aspects are expanding: there is more commentary and discussion than ever. The reportorial component – where people actually go out to discover and confirm things – is shrinking. As more people get their news online, the print newspaper is fading, but publishers are not: most people still get their news from a handful of trusted sources like the New York Times, Washington Post, and others. However, since they’re not paying for it, newspaper budgets and pressrooms are shrinking. There are more readers, but fewer reporters. This has led to the loss of specialized beats, like the environment, particularly in local papers. This also means that reporters don’t get into stories in-depth, instead sticking to breaking the news. There are fewer interviews, less follow-up. What has this done to our public square? Perhaps the world we’re exposed to is smaller, our common knowledge pool is shrinking. As readers (and listeners) we’re spending less time learning about the larger world and more time on our particular interests.
Elizabeth Shogren spoke about how the Internet has made her job easier and more interesting. She can spend more time getting the interesting stories (because that is still a priority at NPR), and can do more with them. In addition to a radio report, she can – and is expected – to present a whole multi-media story, complete with online images, and videos. She can include information that didn’t make it into the recording, and give listeners resources for more information. She noted that the Internet makes information more accessible, and has the potential to make governing more transparent. Now, even if she can’t be on Capitol Hill at 1:00 AM to follow the debate on an important bill, she can get all the information – videos and transcripts – online. In theory, this takes away one of the tactics that lawmakers have used to ‘hide’ debates they didn’t want the public to pay attention to – but only if people take advantage of the information that is out there.
The Differences Between Researchers and Reporters
Seth Borenstein spoke about the incredible access that the Internet gives him to scientific data, allowing him to dig through the databases and reports about climate change that researchers routinely put up on their websites or on government and other shared sites. (I took note of these, and you can expect to here more about specific findings and studies in future posts). He used this access to disprove a recent claim of climate change deniers: that January’s temperature were colder than usual and therefore ‘proved’ that global warming wasn’t happening. Instead, he discovered that for the past 311 months – every month since February 1985 – temperatures have been warmer than the long-term average for that month. He followed with a statement that had all the scientists in the room groaning in disbelief. He said that IF January 2011 had been warmer, THAT would have been a story that his editor would have wanted to hear, but the fact that every month for nearly 26 YEARS had been warmer was not a story! The facts weren’t interesting – only the controversy. And this from a reporter who truly gets, and likes reporting on science and climate change. Is it any wonder that so many scientists are reluctant to speak to the media?
Kerry Emanuel took up this issue in his comments. He opened with a quote from Oscar Wilde to express how many scientists see the media: “In old days men had the rack. Now they have the press.” He noted the dichotomy in the modern media (and one that journalists rarely acknowledge): the media as the fourth estate, with high ideals vs. media as a business. Scientists sometimes get tripped up by this tension. They often assume (perhaps naively) that they and the reporter have the same objective: to get to the truth. Even if languages are different, the end result is usually good. However, that is not always the case – sometimes the journalist just wants to sell the story. Sometimes journalists bend the story into something they think will sell. This makes scientists wary – they have to determine where the journalist coming from. (Shogren’s response was that scientists need to do their homework, and learn more about the journalist who is approaching them. If they don’t like the kind of things he or she writes, the researcher doesn’t have to talk).
Global Warming Deniers: Who’s To Blame?
Shogren complained that she though the global warming debate was settled, but was frustrated to hear it coming up again. Disturbingly, she blamed it on the scientists, saying that they (we) hadn’t done a good enough job explaining it to the public! There was an immediate outcry: the science has gotten stronger, but the media keeps allowing the debate to be re-opened. She said that if there was controversy, they had to report it. Researchers said: there’s no controversy in the facts, but the media keeps giving the stage to fringe groups with vested interests in undermining the facts. Very interesting.
During the Q & A, I asked all the members of the panel how Twitter and blogs had changed the way they do their reporting, if at all. Surprisingly, there were few comments. (Perhaps they thought those venues were about information, not ‘news’). Rosenstiel said that the Internet gave any expert access to an audience (unspoken, but implied was the critique that it also gives access to the clueless, as well).
Coming up next: Climate change and Ocean Ecosystems.
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