Wednesday, November 06, 2019

Craig Cormick Publishes New Book on Science of Communicating Science

Are you wishing you knew all you need to know about better communicating science, without having to read several hundred academic papers and blogs and books? Then this book is for you!

Dr. Craig Cormick, Australia's leading science communicator has published his new book, The Science of Communicating Science: The Ultimate Guide together with CABI and the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO). The book aims to help solve a major problem that many scientists face at some point in their career: how do I communicate my work to society?

The Science of Communicating Science  is a rare book that combines academic rigor with the ease of reading a blog. It's a solid one-stop-shop where scientists can learn about the main aspects of science communication without – as the blurb says – “having to read several hundred academic papers and blogs and books.” The book also helps to solve an unusual problem surrounding science communication: the disconnect between scientists and the information available on science communication.

The book's four-part structure creates a comprehensive but digestible road map for science communications. Here are short descriptions of each part:
  • Part 1: The ground rules. This section lays facts and truths that are essential to understand before wading into setting up Facebook accounts or drafting press releases. It covers the importance of observing and understanding your audience, audience segmentation, creating SMART goals – even when the temptation might be to dive into creating an explosive, viral YouTube video.
  • Part 2: Communication tools. This is the main section of the book and includes practical advice about specific communication tools. Its introduction helpfully explains the importance of simple messaging (not dumbing down) and tools like the message box and half-life messages, and the power of metaphors. It has a nice long chapter on the media and another chapter on social media, the two tools that most scientists have hesitations or reservations about, but are the ones they are most often pulled towards. 
  • Part 3: When things get hard. This is one of the most interesting parts of the book, since it tackles exactly those times that scientists dread the most: what to do when things get hard. In a world of fake news, can you really change behaviours and opinions? How do you share data and evidence that compete with beliefs and values?
  • Part 4: Science communication issues. The final section of the book includes some thought provoking issues, including ethics – essential for those wanting to communicate science faithfully and objectively while understanding that opinions and personality are often an important element of communication.
The book also contains interesting and relevant case studies, with each chapter ending with a section entitled ‘What to do with what you now know’, which offers practical steps for taking action, as well as ‘Key summary points’ to capture the highlights of each chapter. There are also excellent endnotes for further reading. The charts, illustrations and tables enhance the book’s messages.

As the blurb states, this book would be suitable for “anyone who is interested in science communication and all scientists wishing to improve their own communication techniques.” But given its scientific basis, it would be a good read for anyone with a technical background too. Dr Cormick often mentions biologists, chemists and physicists, but engineers and software developers who find themselves needing to communicate complex ideas to general audiences – possibly even customers – would benefit from this book as well. Those already working in science communications, such as marketing and PR, can also benefit from this book.

Dr. Cormick is, of course, a science communicator himself with over 25 years of experience. He’s worked with organisations such as CSIRO, Questacon and the Department of Industry, Innovation and Science. He has been widely published on science communication issues in key journals and the popular media, including ABC Radio National’s The Science Show, the Conversation, and has twice appeared in Best Australian Science Writing. He is a popular speaker on science communication issues at conferences in Australia and overseas. In 2013, he was awarded the Unsung Hero of Science Communication by the Australian Science Communicators (ASC) and is currently the President of the ASC. He is also a writer of fiction – a storyteller. The chatty, humorous way in which he writes makes this an easy book to read, while he keeps his eye clearly on the science audience for which this book is intended.

In sum, for any scientist needing to communicate their work, this book will be a thoroughly helpful resource. To get a copy, visit the CABI Bookshop.

Thursday, October 24, 2019

Biotech Crop Area Reaches 2.5 Billion Hectares in 23 Years

High adoption of biotech crops continued in 2018, according to the ISAAA Report, Global Status of Commercialized Biotech/GM Crops in 2018. On the 23rd year of commercial cultivation of biotech crops, 26 countries grew 191.7 million hectares of biotech crops, bringing the accumulated biotech crop area to 2.5 billion hectares, a ~113-fold increase since 1996, the first year of commercial planting of biotech crops. This makes biotech crops the fastest crop technology adopted in recent times.

The total area of 191.7 million hectares in 2018 were grown by 26 countries, 21 developing and 5 industrial countries. Developing countries led by Brazil planted 54% of the total biotech crop area, while the industrial countries led by the USA planted the remaining 46%. An additional 44 countries imported biotech crops for food, feed, and processing, bringing the total number of countries that adopted biotech crops to 70.

Learn more about biotech crops adoption in 2018, download and read the booklet Beyond Promises: Facts about Biotech/GM Crops in 2018.

Friday, August 23, 2019

ISAAA 2018 Report Reveals Biotech Crops Continue to Provide Solutions to Hunger, Malnutrition, and Climate Change

A total of 70 countries adopted biotech crops through cultivation and importation in 2018, the 23rd year of continuous biotech crop adoption, according to the Global Status of Commercialized Biotech/GM Crops in 2018 (ISAAA Brief 54) released by the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA) on August 22, 2019. Twenty-six countries (21 developing and 5 industrialized countries) planted 191.7 million hectares of biotech crops, which added 1.9 million hectares to the record of plantings in 2017. The continuous adoption of biotech crops by farmers worldwide indicate that biotech crops continue to help meet global challenges of hunger, malnutrition, and climate change.

In 2018, biotech soybeans reached the highest adoption worldwide, covering 50% of the global biotech crop area.

In 2018, it was reported in the United Nation’s State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World that hunger is growing year after year for three consecutive years, and at the levels equivalent to the records a decade ago. Furthermore, the 2017 Global Report on Food Crises revealed that hunger and malnutrition continue to rise, with around 108 million individuals in 48 countries at risk or in severe food insecurity. Biotech crops, developed with improved traits such as increased yield, more resistance to pests, improved nutrition, among others, are undeniably necessary to address these global challenges affecting the lives of so many families globally.

“GM technology has contributed to all facets of food security. By increasing yields and reducing losses, it contributed to food availability for more families. By enabling farmers to improve their processes and join the modern supply chain, it improved physical access to food. Through raising farmer and rural incomes, it improved economic access to food. Through rigorous standards of food safety and hygiene programs, it contributed to better food utilization,” said Dr. Paul S. Teng, ISAAA Board Chair. “While agricultural biotechnology is not the only key in enhancing global food security, it is an important scientific tool in the multi-disciplinary toolkit.”

Biotech crop plantings have increased ~113-fold since 1996, with an accumulated area of 2.5 billion hectares, showing that biotechnology is the fastest adopted crop technology in the world. In countries with long years of high adoption, particularly the USA, Brazil, Argentina, Canada, and India, adoption rates of major crops are at levels close to 100%, indicating that farmers favor this crop technology over the conventional varieties. More farmers’ and consumers’ needs, more diverse biotech crops with various traits became available in the market in 2018. These biotech crops include potatoes with non-bruising, non-browning, reduced acrylamide and late blight resistant traits; insect resistant and drought tolerant sugarcane; non-browning apples; and high oleic acid canola and safflower.

In 2018, developing countries planted more biotech crops than industrial countries.

The ISAAA report also highlighted the following key findings:
  • The top 5 countries with the largest area of biotech crops planted (USA, Brazil, Argentina, Canada, and India) collectively occupied 91% of the global biotech crop area.
  • Biotech soybeans reached the highest adoption worldwide, covering 50% of the global biotech crop area.
  • The area of biotech crops with stacked traits continued to increase and occupied 42% of the global biotech area.
  • Farmers in 10 Latin American countries planted 79.4 million hectares of biotech crops.
  • Nine countries in Asia and the Pacific planted 19.13 million hectares of biotech crops.
  • In Asia, Indonesia planted for the first time a drought tolerant sugarcane developed through a public (University of Jember) and private (Ajinomoto Ltd.) partnership.
  • The Kingdom of eSwatini (formerly Swaziland) joined South Africa and Sudan in planting biotech crops in Africa, with the introduction of IR cotton. Nigeria, Ethiopia, Kenya and Malawi granted approvals for planting IR cotton opening Africa to biotech crop adoption.
  • In Europe, Spain and Portugal continued to adopt biotech maize to control European corn borer.
  • More area planted to biotech crops for farmer and consumer needs included potatoes with non-bruising, non-browning, reduced acrylamide and late blight resistant traits; non-browning apples; insect resistant eggplant; and low lignin alfalfa, among others.
  • New crops and trait combinations in farmer fields include insect resistant and drought tolerant sugarcane; high oleic acid canola and safflower.
  • Various food, feed and processing approvals for Golden Rice, Bt rice, herbicide tolerant cotton, low gossypol cotton, among others.
  • Cultivation approvals for planting in 2019 include new generation herbicide tolerant cotton and soybean, low gossypol cotton, RR and low lignin alfalfa, omega-3 canola, and IR cowpea, among others.

Photo Source: ISAAA Image Gallery

With the continuously increasing adoption of biotech crops worldwide, farmers are at the forefront of reaping numerous benefits. "We were fed up with weeding and spraying pesticides to control bollworms and weeds. When the technology was introduced, we rapidly picked it up," said Frans Mallela, a farmer from Limpopo Province, South Africa. Le Thanh Hai, one of the early adopters of biotech maize in Vinh Phuc Province, Vietnam, said that biotech maize has helped revive maize farming in their province and stressed that many farmers now grow biotech maize because of its benefits. Rosalie Ellasus, a farmer from Pangasinan, Philippines, said that she adopted Bt maize because she gained more yield with less production cost, compared to conventional maize varieties. “There was not even a trace of pests considering that we did not apply insecticide. Furthermore, we no longer need to visit our maize field every day and this gives us peace of mind,” Ellasus added.

The Brief 54 Executive Summary is downloadable for free from the ISAAA website. To purchase an electronic copy of full Brief 54, send an e-mail to