The Impurity of Book Titles

By Keith Kloor | May 29, 2009 12:33 am

Is is possible to judge a book by its title?

Roger Pielke, Jr. believes so. But he’s making much ado of nothing in this post, which Marc Morano has, ironically, turned into a splashy and hugely misleading headline on Climate Depot.

Here’s the quick background: at Seed magazine, Michael Mann participated in a forum on climate change “framing,” in which he explained the reasoning behind the title of a recent book he co-authored, called “Dire Predictions: Understanding Global Warming.” As Mann freely admits:

The purists among my colleagues would rightly point out that the potential future climate changes we describe, are, technically speaking, projections rather than predictions because the climate models are driven by hypothetical pathways of future fossil fuel burning (i.e. conceivable but not predicted futures). But Dire Projections doesn’t quite roll off the tongue. And it doesn’t convey”‰”””‰in the common vernacular”‰”””‰what the models indicate: Climate change could pose a very real threat to society and the environment. In this case, use of the more technically “correct” term is actually less likely to convey the key implications to a lay audience.

Now remember, we’re talking about the title of book–not the content. As with newspaper, magazine, and yes, blog post headlines, there is a certain amount of creative license that is deemed appropriate for book titles. (That doesn’t mean a book about apples should be called oranges.) Headlines and book titles need not be “technically accurate,” but they do need to be catchy to grab roving eyes.

Yet Pielke seems to believe that Mann’s rationale for his book title exposes a major transgression:

Penn State climatologist Michael Mann explains why it was necessary to misrepresent what the IPCC does on the cover of his co-authored book…As one of those “purists” who would like to receive information that is technically “correct” I probably can judge that book by its cover.

That would be a mistake, just as it would be a mistake to judge a newspaper story solely by its headline. If you’re still not convinced, just ask any reporter.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: climate change, framing, Journalism

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About Keith Kloor

Keith Kloor is a NYC-based journalist, a senior editor at Cosmos magazine, and adjunct professor of journalism at New York University. His work has appeared in Slate, Science, Discover, and the Washington Post magazine, among other outlets. From 2000 to 2008, he was a senior editor at Audubon Magazine. In 2008-2009, he was a Fellow at the University of Colorado’s Center for Environmental Journalism, in Boulder, where he studied how a changing environment (including climate change) influenced prehistoric societies in the U.S. Southwest. He covers a wide range of topics, from conservation biology and biotechnology to urban planning and archaeology.


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