- How Science Works
- Sources and Experts: Where to Find Them and How to Vet Them
- Making Sense of Science Stats
- Editing for Story
- Editing Controversial Science
- Holding Science to Account
- Covering Health Care
- Climate and the Environment
- Fact-Checking Science Journalism: How to Make Sure Your Stories Are True
Illustrating Complex Science Stories
- The Role of Visuals in Science Journalism
- The Process of Building Science-Centric Graphics
- Strategies for Using Visuals to Put Breaking Science in Context
- Special Considerations for Data Visualization
- Uncertainty and Misinformation
- Editorial Illustration, Photography, and Moving Images
- Additional Reading and Resources
- About the Author
- Social Media and Reader Engagement
- Popular Science
- Op-Eds and Essays
- About This Handbook
By Fen Montaigne / 2 minute read
In the coming decades, few science stories — with the exception of the threat of new pandemics in the post-Covid-19 era — will command as much reader and viewer attention as global warming and the environment. The reason is simple: Even though Covid-19 is about biology and disease, and climate change can be understood as physics and the laws of the natural world, the public relies on science journalists to help understand the ways in which humanity runs up against these realities and how it can handle the resulting perils and challenges.
In the case of climate change, the physics is clear. The more fossil fuels we burn and the more CO2 we pour into the atmosphere, the hotter the planet gets. Atmospheric CO2 levels have been soaring for a few decades and in 50 years could very well be double those of the pre-industrial era.
As for the broader environment story, it can also be reduced to some core facts. Global population has more than tripled in the past 70 years — from 2.5 billion in 1950 to 7.6 billion today — and is projected to reach 10 billion by century’s end. As humanity’s numbers grow and affluence increases, we take ever-larger bites out of nature, degrading ecosystems and diminishing biodiversity.
So, as science editors, you are now confronted by a Gordian knot made up of three major strands: a burgeoning global population, a warming planet, and the decline of ecosystems and biodiversity. Covid-19 stems, in part, from this assault on nature, as relentless incursions into previously wild lands bring people into greater contact with animal diseases, which then affect humans. And while the parallels are hardly exact, there are strong similarities to keep in mind when editing stories about the novel coronavirus or about global warming. Both are phenomena that scientists amply warned us about, but that we did not do nearly enough to combat. Both subjects have, in the U.S., become politicized and plagued by a denial of basic science and a flood of disinformation. And both are stories that must rely on covering the give-and-take of the scientific process, requiring reporters and editors to use nuance and sophistication when describing the current state of affairs and projecting what might lie ahead.