Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Warming Wednesdays: push, pull and scientific communication

It's recently been reported that the New York Times is closing down its environmental desk. Nobody is getting fired. The seven reporters and two editors are being dispersed to other departments.

The Times assures worried readers that it remains committed to quality science reporting; the paper just wants to embed these journalists' expertise in other sections of the paper.

It's easy to react with a feeling of panic. Is the US newspaper of record giving up on demanding we take notice of global warming? By the very low standards of US journalism, the Times does a decent and interesting job of highlighting environmental issues. Are they letting frustration with our unwillingness to attend to impending disasters lure them into foolish cost cutting?

At a Scientific American blog, Bora Zivkovic suggests that we needn't be quite so worried -- yet.

… back in the old times, when I actually read newspapers on paper, how did I do it? I pick up the paper. I open it up. I take out all the sections I am not interested in -- Sports, Auto, Business, Real Estate, Classifieds, etc. -- and throw them directly into the recycling bin. Then I read the parts I am interested in (front sections, domestic and world news, opinion, Sunday Magazine, Week In Review, Book Review). When I was a kid, I read the comics first, then TV and movie listings, then Kids section, perhaps some nature/science, perhaps some sports.

Other people have their own preferences. If there is such a thing as "Environment" section, or "Health" section, or "Science" section, how many people do you think automatically recycle them and go straight to Sports instead?

A dedicated Environment section is a pull method. It pulls in readers who are already interested in the topic. Others never see it. And being online doesn't change a thing -- it works the same way as on paper, in its own ghetto, isolated from the stuff people actually read.

The 'push' method inserts science/health/environment stories everywhere, in all sections of the paper, linked from all the pages of the website. It includes science/health/environment angles into many other stories. People interested in politics, economics, education, art, culture, comic strips, whatever, get a steady diet of relevant information mixed into their breakfast. They can't avoid it any more. It is pushed onto them without their explicit request.

Let's hope that The New York Times is thinking this way, as that would be the best possible outcome.

The whole article is worth a read.

Zivkovic's discussion of the difference between "push" and "pull" made me think about my "Warming Wednesdays" blog posts. I started writing these in order to force myself to think more frequently and in perhaps a deeper manner about impending climate change. The discipline has served me, I think -- on my better days anyway. I'm no expert and can't expect to evaluate whether some tidbit I've noticed is important or marginal. But I notice the developing Anthropocene era more every day.

It is not at all clear whether my attempt to write some on these topics once a week serves anyone else. I do know that the minuscule visit-count at this blog goes down on "Warming Wednesdays." I get it -- thinking about how we're rapidly rendering our only home less habitable and how can't seem to find the political will to stop the damage is dispiriting. Much of what I write about here concerns struggles that seek to realize the promise of democracy, to realize a hope that something good can happen here. Climate change politics -- an unhappy conjunction of scientific prediction, popular ignorance, and interest group self-dealing -- doesn't show democratic (small "d") government in a good light.

Finding political solutions to the deadly byproducts of the deadly economic and political systems we've ourselves trapped in is tough work. But we have no choice. Perhaps naively, despite our having already done irredeemable damage to the natural systems that made our evolution possible, I do still trust our crazy species will find a way.

Despite every other legitimate concern, we cannot ignore that our economic and social system is rapidly making the planet less habitable. So I will be posting "Warming Wednesdays" -- reminders of an inconvenient truth.

1 comment:

JGL said...

I'm a bit sporadic in my blog reading, so I probably rarely read your Warming Wednesdays posts exactly on a Wednesday, but I am always interested to read them.

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