Earth science competes for space in both the prestigious scientific journals, Nature and Science, and the popular science press with the rest of the sciences. 2000 AD was the year of the genome (human and watercress), nanobots, AIDS in Africa, the quark-gluon plasma of the Big Bang, killer proteins and stem cells. In Nature’s review of the year (2000 in context. Nature, v. 408, 21/28 December 2000 issue, p. 894-904), only water on Mars and global warming figured as aspects of Earth science with “big-push-forward” status. No doubt Science will conclude much the same, in the manner of the Time-Newsweek topic tracking.
The 2000 AD issues of Earth Pages have shown that, even in the pages of the “Big Two”, Earth scientists from many branches have had that wider impact that heads everyone’s wish list, but one that continues to dwindle in proportion to other headlining subject areas.
A publication in Nature or Science is today a waving Papuan head-dress, not just a feather in a researcher’s cap. An item in News and Views or Perspectives, provoked by their publication, is the nearest Earth scientists ever come to a Nobel Prize, for the eponymous pyrotechnician eschewed the breadth of our discipline. Well, perhaps not the ultimate “gong”, but definitely an accolade that did not stem from incestuous back slapping.
My personal Hogmanay thought, in the run-up to the odd “cup of kindness”, is a bit depressing. If a department that inwardly congratulates itself – probably about now in its end of year festivities – on the quality and quantity of its research neither features in News and Views, nor in the popular-science press, does it really have any status? It seems no longer enough to pursue “scholarship” for its own, self-defined sake, as if it ever was. Without more effort to raise awareness, in the widest sense, of Earth science’s relevance, much of it risks being sidelined. Whose interest do we serve now, and how should we foster wider impact beyond the Disneyesque view of the K-T boundary and that of the damp anorak seen dimly in the mist?
Comments welcomed! Maybe Earth Pages should open a discussion on “branding” in the New Year.