#TurnItUp Science: Miranda Martin on Publishing in the Sciences

What I’m learning from them is that scientists must often show determination and courage in their work and in their efforts to inform the public.”~Miranda Martin

It’s the last day of the Association of University Presses blog tour. Today, our new science editor, Miranda Martin addresses #TurnItUp: Science with this piece about the role university presses play in making science available to the audience that needs it.

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One of the best aspects of my day-to-day job is simply talking to scientists. I ask them to tell me about what they’re working on and what they’re excited about, and there’s no shortage of compelling answers. I’ve also found myself asking how they get up every day and keep doing what they do, especially earth and climate scientists whose results can give us frightening information about the health of our planet and who are too often disbelieved. What I’m learning from them is that scientists must often show determination and courage in their work and in their efforts to inform the public. There is a continued push to for a better understanding of scientific fact and scientific thinking, and it’s a major role of university presses to support that work and help it reach as many people as possible.

At Columbia University Press, the scientists we work with are eager to share crucial knowledge about the world around us—or in the case of neuroscientists and microbiologists, the world inside us. Our books sometimes address the crisis of anti-science rhetoric explicitly, like David Helfand’s A Survival Guide to the Misinformation Age and Paul Offit’s Bad Advice. Other examples engage general audiences with stories about the thrill of new discovery, a common theme in our paleontology books.

As a science editor, I often hear from mentors and colleagues that one of the challenges of publishing books in my subject area is that scientists don’t necessarily need to write books; they advance their research and careers primarily through journal articles. In my experience so far, it’s still true that the journal article is an important vehicle for dissemination and for scientists’ career advancement. But I’m having no trouble finding engaged, passionate, highly qualified scholars and science writers alike who really want to write books. I suspect this is a growing contingent, and as both an acquiring editor and a citizen of the world, I’m grateful for them and the knowledge and discoveries they share. These books have many valuable lessons to offer us about our distant past and our possible futures, how our brains work, how our planet is changing, and what impacts we have on all of those areas.

Every time I meet with a new scientist and hear from them about their research and their perspective on their field, I feel invigorated. As a university press, it’s our job to bring that excitement out into the world in book form. Much of the importance of university press publishing in the sciences lies in our rigorous peer review and approval processes, which serve both to offer support and useful feedback along the way and to grant us a level of credibility that readers trust. Ultimately, our efforts are aligned with authors’ goals: to bring vital science to the audiences that need it.  

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