Thursday, 7 May 2009

Vast resources for learning

If you really want to understand the current outlook of climate scientists, and not just hear the opinions of bloggers making claims about what the science shows, there are many, many online resources that get you directly to the primary sources.

Nearly every science journal has an online edition now; indeed, some are phasing out paper editions to save costs and lower their environmental impact. While most still restrict full-text access to subscribers only, at least for the latest few issues, many now grant open access to back issues past a set window such as one year, and virtually all give free access to article abstracts. Many also have supplementary web content beyond the formal articles, which may include editorials, less technical subject reviews, news briefs, commentary, etc. as well as source data too extensive to fit into print format.

I've made up a web page listing over sixty journals that address climate science and allied disciplines, such as oceanography, biogeochemistry, etc.

Many readers will find most of the research articles in the academic journals beyond their interest or understanding; they are, after all, intended for professionals within their field, and will come across as "inside baseball" loaded with statistics, equations, jargon and loads of assumed background, leaving most of us struggling to keep up. That's normal, and it doesn't mean there's anything wrong with us for not being insiders, nor with them for talking to one another at their own level. When looking through academic journals, look especially for "review articles" which aim to recap the highlights of the state-of-the-art on a particular topic; these can be a better entry point for non-specialists trying to get a start on an unfamiliar subject. But even these will often demand a good measure of "science literacy."

For the "rest of us" who have not studied these fields enough to follow the primary literature, is there still a way to follow what's happening? Indeed there are several. Science journalism is still alive and has much to offer to the interested lay person. While the financial pressures on tradional media - both print and broadcast - have put the squeeze on science journalism in mass media, there are still many good sources in "science news."

This would include magazines such as New Scientist and Scientific American which attempt to address a broader audience while still aiming for the standards of academic publication - editorial and peer review, citation, and publishing qualified rebuttals.

As well, some of the top journals have supplementary products addressing science news and current issues. The AAAS website supplements their lead journal Science with an extensive website, a lively podcast of science headlines and features. The magazine website has headlines linking to journal article abtracts, which are free for public access; full text of articles requires subscription or online payment.

Similarly, the UK's Royal Society supplements their lead print journal Nature with a fine website, including an entire site devoted to climate change at Nature Reports Climate Change
So although both Science and Nature are subscriber-only, each has free public access to excellent supplementary material, including much of relevance to climate.

Another excellent source is ScienceDaily, a free science news site with clear, brief write-ups of current work in all areas of science. To see what they've covered on climate, glaciers, ocean acidification, or whatever, just use their search box.

So if you are unfamiliar with what has been going on in the process of climate science, or only hearing about it second or third hand from bloggers, do yourself a favour and get a look at some of the excellent primary material, as well as good journalism reporting directly on primary sources, that is available online.

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