Andy Revkin, who writes the dot Earth blog for the New York Times posted an article on Facebook which describes an apparent link between natural gas “fracking” and low birth weights. Revkin did preface the post by acknowledging that the study discussed in the article wasn’t peer reviewed, but a number of critics immediately posted comments questioning the science, Revkin’s judgment, the environmental movement, and (for good measure) climate scientists.
Two points are relevant here. First, the study was conducted by a graduate student, Elaine Hill of Cornell University, and she wasn’t waiting for the peer review process to grind its way through her study before making her findings public. Academic scientists may wring their hands over this, but it reflects a growing trend in science where young scientists are increasingly interested in seeing that their work has an immediate impact on society. Aníbal Pauchard and I argue in Observation and Ecology that this desire in young scientists, which we think is driven by the urgency of today’s environmental challenges, is causing bottom up shifts in how science is being conducted and shared.
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