Scientists Versus Mountaintop Removal Mining–A Communications Coup

By Chris Mooney | January 13, 2010 10:22 am

My latest Science Progress blog post looks at the case of a recent Science paper that has had a dramatic impact on the debate over so-called “MTR”–an extremely destructive and invasive form of mining that literally takes the caps off of mountain peaks to access the coal inside them. In essence, it’s the story of scientists being willing to stand up and say what they think about policy, and having a real influence as a result–a case study in how to make scientific information have its maximal impact. An excerpt:

To me, the most intriguing question is this: How did the 12 environmental scientists on the Science paper managed to achieve such an impact? Did they plan for it, or was it just fortuitous?

So I called up Margaret Palmer of the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science, the article’s lead author. I was something like her 30th media interview on the topic, but unlike other journalists, I didn’t want to ask about either the policy or the science of MTR. Rather, I inquired about the communication strategy that had been employed to disseminate news about her paper. And thus unfolded a striking story of a group of scientists, with extremely important research on their hands, doing everything pretty much right to ensure its maximal impact.

As Palmer explained, the project out started as pure science. Her team of researchers began by synthesizing a wide array of data from different scientific fields on the consequences of MTR, in a more thorough way than had ever been done before—a process that consumed many months in the peer review process. But as the truly alarming results started to manifest, members of the scientists’ group soon coalesced around a strong, unanimous position about what they were finding. “Rather than just reporting the science,” says Palmer, “we all agreed that the consequences were so huge, we were very comfortable saying, ‘This just has to stop.’”

Resolved upon its message, the team then sought to disseminate it….

To hear more of the story, you can read the full post here.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Environment, Media and Science

Comments (6)

  1. Somite

    Wait for the hacked emails story and the bogus blogs detailing their “junk” science. They might do everything right but nothing will be accomplished as long as the media listens to denialists.

    Yes, it is not scientists who have ever been at fault but the media and their bogus false equivalencies between scientists and “experts”.

  2. Guy

    It’s good to see that this issue is getting more attention. I doubt it if they will suddenly call a halt to all MTM operations. More likely, after a long period of review, the EPA will put tougher rules on issuing MTM permits.

  3. What did “state of the world” reporters know about the unsustainability of greed-driven overconsumerism? When did they know it? Why have they waited until 2010 to take stock and speak the truth that many too many of them have known for a long while?

    Our colossal failure to speak truth to power is allowing the most greedy among us to ruin Earth’s environment and deplete its resources.

  4. Marion Delgado

    Chris, this is full of awesome from every angle.

  5. Vernon Haltom

    Mountaintop removers take far more than the “caps off of mountain peaks.” If you were a mountain, they’d hack you off at the heart or lower.
    As someone living near a mountaintop removal site, I have found that words are always inadequate to describe the devastation and the impact to area residents, both human and otherwise. You really have to see it to believe it–even photos can’t capture the scale and enormity of the problem.
    Amazingly, just before this study was released, Obama’s EPA approved another MTR site in WV that will fill 3 miles of streams. If the EPA will truly base their actions on science rather than political pressure from WV’s coal-owned politicians, they need to hear from you. Please call Obama at 202-456-1414 and demand that he live up to his campaign pledge to base environmental policies on science and not politics.

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About Chris Mooney

Chris is a science and political journalist and commentator and the author of three books, including the New York Times bestselling The Republican War on Science--dubbed "a landmark in contemporary political reporting" by Salon.com and a "well-researched, closely argued and amply referenced indictment of the right wing's assault on science and scientists" by Scientific American--Storm World, and Unscientific America: How Scientific Illiteracy Threatens Our Future, co-authored by Sheril Kirshenbaum. They also write "The Intersection" blog together for Discover blogs. For a longer bio and contact information, see here.

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