Christie Henry on the Evolution of University Press Science Publishing

In The Atlantic this month, science journalist Ed Yong writes about new studies on the evolution of mammals that convey how much humans have turned up evolutionary dynamics. Since the 16th century, we sapiens have wiped out 500 million years of phylogenetic evolutionary history, and we stand to lose a further 1.8 billion years within the next five decades, breaking twigs, branches, and core trunks of the mammalian evolutionary tree. It’s astonishing, and humbling, to contemplate the scale of impact, but some of the online commentary on the article is just as devastating. One reader stated that humans just do not care; some of our species don’t read about science, others are persuaded by the untruths of redactions of climate science, or denunciations of planetary temperature fluctuations. Is news about scientific discovery heard as much as a felled tree falling in uninhabited woods?

The evolution of science publishing at university presses tells a different narrative. The #ReadUP world knows how to #TurnItUp for science, and many new branches of editorial programs are generating stands of books that range in topic from altruism to zooplankton, from neuroscience to natural history. In a 2018 survey of university press areas of acquisition, 58 presses reported publishing in earth and environmental science, and 53 in the areas of ecology and conservation. The diversity of presses, and the morphology of their science lists, helps build resilience, and niches for a wide range of book types, from graphic science to popular narratives to graduate level course books. The #Readup editors foraging in these landscapes are resilient, and opportunistic, as books in these fields do not grow on trees, and rarely on the cvs of scientists.

This year, #ReadUPscience readers can swim in the pages of Drawn to the Deep to learn about the underwater explorations of Florida’s Wes Skiles, explore the richness of The Maryland Amphibian and Reptile Atlas , have a trusted foraging companion in Mushrooms of the Gulf Coast States, savor daily joys of A Year in Nature, chatter over the Tales that Teeth Tell, learn best practices of Communicating Climate Change, and how thinking like a geologist can help save the planet in Timefulness.

While there are a diversity of university presses working to amplify science, the evolution and long-term sustainability of these programs, Princeton University Press’s included, depend on the ability to create equitable and inclusive populations of authors, a particularly acute challenge in science publishing. The American Association of Science dedicated much of its annual meeting in 2018 to diversity and inclusion, but waiting for the waves of change to reach the shores of the UP world is akin to waiting for ocean acidification to naturally rebalance; we need intervention. University presses, like scientists we collaborate with, can be pioneers, innovators, and intrepid explorers, discovering new authors to change the world of science publishing. Just as we have found ways to evolve impactful science programs at presses with origins in the humanities and social sciences, so too can we create niches for a greater equity of authorial expertise and voice in these programs.

I turn to Ed Yong again, who spent two years working to fix the gender imbalance in his stories about science. As he notes, gender parity is just a start. We need to first quantify the problem, and provide data to track change. We are doing this research at PUP now, and while the science list here is amazing in its thematic diversity, we are keen to fix the imbalances of author voices.

Just as ecosystems of great biodiversity are more resilient, so too will presses of greater diversity be sustainable. Every microbe in our publishing guts tells us that if we can present the state of scientific understanding from as wide a perspective as possible, our chances of getting readers to tune in, and turn up their own understanding of science, exponentially amplify.

Check out #TurnItUp science posts from our colleagues at Johns Hopkins University Press, Rutgers University Press, University Press of Colorado, Columbia University Press, University of Toronto Press, and University of Georgia Press.