My book, Climate Change: The Fork at the End of Now was published in the early summer of 2011. I wrote it as a textbook for the general public, and it was used mainly for general education – both in my school and a few other schools. Some members of the “general public” with no special background in the sciences also bought and read it. I was not, for obvious reasons, able to follow this audience closely and became aware of that only after they contacted me.
Like many other books and articles on contemporary issues, the book was out of date the moment that it came out. I wrote about the obvious reasons for that in a previous blog. (October 22, 2013). The sale figures were decent for such a book – decent enough for my publisher to approach me during the spring of 2013 to start talking about a second edition. We met, started to exchange ideas and contacted people that have used the book.
During this summer, however, while I was traveling abroad, I got an email from my publisher saying the following (any identifying words omitted):
I am terribly sorry about the long, long delay in getting back to you with a decision about your proposed plan to revise your book, Climate Change.
As I believe xxxxx and I have both let you know in recent weeks, the owner xxxxxx has been reviewing our editorial strategy going forward. As a result, a decision has been made by xxxxxxxxx will from this point on be focused exclusively on what we call “collections” publishing: groups of 20-40 small concise monographs organized around a particular engineering topical theme aimed at primarily upper level undergraduate and graduate level college students.
So this means that I will not be publishing any more stand-alone books, particularly for professional/reference use. Moreover, I have been asked to not pursue any revisions of our currently published books. That latter directive may, perhaps, change in the future. But for now, I will have to decline a new edition of your book.
I was obviously upset but I accepted that it was a business decision. I changed my focus, starting on the demanding task of trying to pass the publishing torch. Because of the relative complexity of the efforts required to find a new prospective publisher, I have decided that the search will proceed serially; one publisher at a time, to eliminate the possibility of wasting precious publishers’ time in case of overwhelming enthusiasm to take on the job.
First, I approached a well-known publisher that I thought would be receptive. I received this response (again omitting identifying marks):
Thank you very much for forwarding this material and explaining your plans for a second edition of your textbook on the science of climate change. Although the topic is very much of interest to us and the book appears to offer an excellent introduction to the subject, it is not a fit for xxxxxxxx textbook program, which focuses on graduate level texts.
I wish you the best of luck in finding a suitable publisher for the new edition of the book. Thank you again for the chance to consider it.
Since this reason was basically identical to my existing publisher’s new changed business plan, the response made me think more generally about “graduate level texts” for highly interdisciplinary programs.
I have some experience in this business. I founded and directed (for 13 years) the Environmental Studies program at my school, which involves the participation of 14 departments. I also recently developed an interdisciplinary graduate course (Master’s level) called “Physics and Society.” The objective of the course is to engage students to apply the advanced quantitative skills that we teach our majors to broader societal issues. We used the following formal rationale to justify the course:
Rationale: “Physics and Society” is now a forum of the American Physical Society with its own publication; the most prestigious Physics journal – “Physical Review Letters” – includes a “catch all” section titled “Soft Matter, Biological and Interdisciplinary Physics.” A “typical” article in this section is titled “Environmental Versus Demographic Variability in Two-Species Predator-Prey Model” (prl – 2012- by Ulrich Dobramysl and Uwe C. Taber). Last year (2012), a new division of the American Physical Society was formed that is dedicated to Climate Change. The new division is the “Topical Group on the Physics of Climate” (GPC).
Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines Physics (among other definitions) as: “science that deals with the structure of matter and the interactions between the fundamental constituents of the observable universe.”
The goal of physics is to formulate comprehensive principles that bring together and explain all discernible phenomena. With 7 billion people (October 2012) and growing, humans have become part of the physical environment. For most of our graduate students, the Master’s is a terminal degree that should lead to job opportunities. The objective of the course is to explore career opportunities beyond the usual boundaries of textbooks that include human activities.
The anchor throughout the semester was a selection from periodic reports issued by agencies such as the United Nations (IPCC) and the US National Intelligence Council that attempt to predict the future of the world and define activities necessary in the present to optimize the prospects of such a future. Typical driving forces that are estimated in such reports include the following:
- Population growth
- Economic growth
- Income distribution
- Governmental practices – power distribution
- Environmental impact
- Climate change
- Science & Technology
Throughout the course, students adopt specific driving forces to perform a technical quantitative study of topics such as Gini coefficients (Income Distribution), tipping points (Climate Change), climate sensitivity (Climate Change), demographic distribution (Population growth), and frequency of extreme events (Climate Change). Class work is dedicated to the mutual dependence of the forces, again searching for issues that might benefit from attention of physicists.
Samples of Required Reading include:
- National Intelligence Council: Global Trends 2030: Alternative Worlds
- Weatherall, James Owen. The Physics of Wall Street. Houghton Miffin Harcourt, 2013.
- Kaku, Michio. Physics of the Future: How Science Will Shape Human Destiny and Our Daily Lives by the Year 2100. Doubleday, 2011.
- Kahn, Herman and Anthony J. Wiener. The Year 2000: A Framework for Speculation on the Next Thirty-Three Years. Macmillan, 1961.
- Lomborg, Bjorn. The Skeptical Environmentalist: Measuring the Real State of the World. Cambridge University Press, 2001.
None of these books can be classified as “graduate level texts,” yet the material was completely foreign to all of the students and they were thankful for the exposure.
Meanwhile, Congress has finally approved a budget. Research organizations such as the National Science Foundation got their 2014 budget that they can allocate as research grants. Congress did not specify to which research areas the money should go; however they did add this directive: “further growth of interdisciplinary research initiatives shall not come at the expense of the core disciplines.” Many have seen this as code for do not give any more money to climate change research.
They say when it rains, it pours – but in this case, I think the situation is more of a drought.