Who “Owns” Information when Environmental and Corporate Interests Clash?

In this post, Daniel Bourgault, professor and researcher of physical oceanography at Institut des sciences de la mer de Rimouski in Quebec, Canada, talks about the difficulties environmental researchers can run into when commercial interests withhold environmental data.

Professor Bourgault, you recently published the article “Commercially Sensitive” Environmental Data: A Case Study of Oil Seep Claims for the Old Harry Prospect in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, Canada in UC Press’s new journal Case Studies in the Environment. So tell us, is there a big, natural oil seep in Canada’s Gulf of St. Lawrence?

DB: We don’t really know, but it would be surprising that there would be significant amounts of oil naturally seeping out of the seafloor of the Gulf of St. Lawrence.

Example of oil slicks (these, in the Gulf of Mexico), as seen by satellite. Image credit: NASA Earth Observatory

The Gulf of St. Lawrence has been studied and monitored for many decades by oceanographers, including chemists, geologists, biologists and physicists. If oceanographers had ever found any indications or had serious suspicions of the presence of natural oil in the seawater of the Gulf of St. Lawrence it would certainly have been reported. Yet, there is nothing in the scientific literature that points at any such evidence. But absence of evidence is not evidence of absence, so the possibility cannot be completely ruled out either. The only indications we have are provided by the oil company Corridor Resources who have been stating for about the last 15 years in their publicly available annual reports that they have indications from satellite images that there are six sites around the Old Harry prospect that would naturally and permanently seep oil. Under some circumstances, satellite images may indeed reveal the presence of oil at the sea surface. Think for example of large incidents such as the Deep Horizon in the Gulf of Mexico where surface oil slicks could easily be detected from space. In some cases, the oil detected from satellite images could also come from natural seafloor seeps if the oil is light enough to float all the way to the sea surface and if the amount released is large enough to be detected by satellite images. However, while this information might be credible, it cannot be independently verified since the satellite data and analyses that Corridor Resources hold are kept secret in the name of “commercial sensitivity”. Unambiguously identifying oil seeps from satellite images is not a trivial task by itself. Plus, determining the source of the seeps and whether the source is natural or not is really difficult and can rarely be done with satellite images only. So we are puzzled as to how Corridor Resources could have concluded that there were six oil seeps around the Old Harry prospect based only on an analysis of satellite images.

What does it mean when data is “commercially sensitive?”

DB: The specific meaning of this expression varies from state to state, and it depends on how it is defined in laws and case law. But in general, it means that the industry, or government, considers that publicly disclosing the information may result in a material loss to, or a prejudice to its competitive position. Basically, it implies that the potential harm resulting from the disclosure outweighs the public interest in making the disclosure. In our case study, it’s not clear to us why the information is judged to be commercially sensitive by Corridor Resources or Airbus Defence and Space (i.e. the consultant who actually carried out the analyses and provided the data). What appears to us to be paradoxical is that Corridor Resources publicly discloses the main conclusion of their private study, i.e. that they have apparently found evidence that there are six persistent oil seep sites around the Old Harry prospect (they’ve even presented a map of the location of those six seeps), but can decline to – and indeed cannot be forced to – present the data and analyses that support this conclusion. We wonder what material loss or prejudice could result from presenting the data and the method that the conclusions wouldn’t already? One possibility could be that Corridor may lose potential investments and take a hit on their share value if the conclusion is demonstrated as false or weak.

From an environmental point of view, the information about whether or not the Gulf of St. Lawrence naturally seeps oil is fundamental to know. Such information is needed in order to construct a reliable baseline initial state against which any new man-made oil contribution resulting from eventual oil and gas development could be compared with, and impacts on the marine environment, ecosystem, and people be then truly assessed.

In this context, we propose that it might appear sensible to label some information as “socially sensitive” or “environmentally sensitive” to balance the existing “commercially sensitive” information.

What is the most surprising thing you found when communicating with Corridor Resources or with Airbus Defence and Space in order to gain access to the data behind their claims about Old Harry prospect?

DB: How long it took to obtain answers! The questions we initially asked were simple and straightforward and could really have been answered in a week or so. Yet, the process took 9 months, from 20 July 2015 until 26 April 2016.

For example, here’s an excerpt of the first email I sent to Corridor Resources:

20 July 2015

I recently came across a document published by Corridor in 2011 that tells that evidence were found from satellite images of oil seeps emanating from the flanks of Old Harry.

Corridor’s annual reports also tells that six such seeps had been detected. For example, we can read in the 2000 annual report that: “Six natural oil seeps have been detected on the ocean surface by satellite, emanating from the flanks of this prospect.” I find this information very interesting and very relevant and I’d like to learn more. Could you please send me more information? Could you please send me the satellites images that were analyzed as well as a report that tells how these images were analyzed and interpreted? That would be greatly appreciated.

Sincerely,

Daniel Bourgault

I then had to send two reminders to finally receive a first response on September 2, 43 days later. I received a short response telling me that the data were proprietary information and that Corridor Resources was not at liberty to distribute them.

I immediately acknowledge the receipt and asked a few more questions on September 2. Again, I had to wait another 40 days to get a response (on October 12). It has been like this for 9 months.

But again, as I mentioned above, what I find most surprising is that Corridor Resources is at the liberty to publicly share the conclusion of the analyses but not the data or the method.

Does the public have a right to access environmental data?

DB: In general, at least in Canada and in the US, a lot of environmental data are publicly available. For example, the St. Lawrence Global Observatory (https://ogsl.ca/en) portal offers to anyone a lot of basic environmental data for the Gulf of St. Lawrence such as air temperature, wind conditions, sea temperature, salinity, currents, dissolved oxygen, sea level and much more. Some satellite images are also publicly and freely available from the US or Europe. However, some very specialized data sets and analyses are not always publicly available, especially when those data are owned by the private sector. For example, the oil seeps detection analyses carried out by Airbus Defence and Space for Corridor Resources on specialized satellite images are not publicly available.

In our paper, we introduce the idea that under some special circumstances of public interest, the public should have the right to access specialized environmental data in the name of an alternative concept we could call “socially sensitive” or “environmentally sensitive information or data.” This could balance the rights of the public to know and the right of the industry to secrecy. At the moment, the laws and regulations usually give precedence to the right to secrecy, but the balance sheet of the industry is not the only thing we should protect.

 

Case Studies in the Environment is a journal of peer-reviewed case study articles, case study pedagogy articles, and a repository for editor-reviewed case study slides. The journal aims to inform faculty, students, educators, professionals, and policymakers on case studies and best practices in the environmental sciences and studies.

Through December 31, 2017, all Case Studies in the Environment content is available free. To learn more about the journal, please visit cse.ucpress.edu.


On the Road to ESA: A Q&A with Case Studies in the Environment Section Editor Cynthia Wei

Cynthia Wei is a Section Editor for the Ecology and Biodiversity Conservation section of UC Press’s new peer-reviewed journal, Case Studies in the Environment, as well as Associate Director of Education at the National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center (SESYNC), based in Annapolis, Maryland.

We caught up with Cynthia as she made her way to the annual meeting of the Ecological Society of America (ESA), held this year in Portland, Oregon.

Cynthia Wei, Ecology and Biodiversity Conservation Section Editor

Cynthia, not only are you a Section Editor for an environmental journal which takes a case study approach, but you also developed and lead SESYNC’s short course, Teaching Socio-Environmental Synthesis with Case Studies. What is your background and how did that lead to an interest in case studies?

Cynthia: My background is in animal behavior, and when I used to tell people about my research on honeybees and birds, I found it easy to engage with non-scientists about what I did. But inevitably, the conversation would circle around to the question: “So how does your work help humans?” With some degree of exasperation, I’d often shrug and say: “Why does everything have to be about humans?!” I would have a different response now as I’ve come to realize that the human dimension is inescapable; we are hard-pressed to think of an environmental issue, ecosystem, or species that is not influenced by humans in some substantive way. These days, my work focuses more on helping students to learn about the relationships between humans and nature, particularly through the use of environmental case studies in the classroom. For me, case studies are a natural fit for teaching in the environmental arena. Understanding and addressing environmental problems involves many complex, abstract theories and concepts, and case studies help students to learn these by providing detailed examples that tangibly illustrate these difficult ideas. Furthermore, the problems presented in cases are often very compelling to students.

Why are case studies important for ecology?

Cynthia: As an experimental biologist, as many ecologists are, the concept of publishing a case study was somewhat foreign to me, and the idea of publishing a single example of a phenomenon ran counter to my trained instincts (i.e. that’s an anecdote!) However, like natural history monographs, I think there is great value in publishing research-based, detailed descriptions of a single subject, event, or issue. Because environmental problems are often deeply complex and require a systems perspective, case studies illuminate the roles and relationships between various factors in a socio-environmental system or problem in a detailed, nuanced way. Thus, case studies that can illustrate the roles of ecological factors and their relationship to other factors in a system are important for helping us understand and address a particular environmental problem involving that system.

Would you encourage ecologists to submit their own case studies to Case Studies in the Environment?

Cynthia: Absolutely! In the section that I am responsible for (along with Martha Groom, University of Washington, and Tuyeni Mwampamba, UNAM) we have already published some interesting case studies, including material on Bosque Protector Cerro Blanco, a dry tropical forest reserve in Ecuador; on an Australian woodland rehabilitation project; and an analysis of a massive data set on human-bear conflicts in New Jersey; with additional case studies coming soon on an eco-hotel in Costa Rica and on environmental justice, indigenous peoples, and development in British Columbia. I would encourage any colleagues at ESA to talk with me about case studies (you can likely find me at the SESYNC booth in the exhibit hall), or to get in touch via the journal at cse@ucpress.edu.

 

Case Studies in the Environment is a journal of peer-reviewed case study articles, case study pedagogy articles, and a repository for editor-reviewed case study slides. The journal aims to inform faculty, students, educators, professionals, and policymakers on case studies and best practices in the environmental sciences and studies.

Through December 31, 2017, all Case Studies in the Environment content is available free. To learn more about the journal, including guidelines for prospective authors, please visit cse.ucpress.edu.

 


Collabra: Psychology Now the Official Journal of SIPS

Collabra: Psychology is delighted to announce its new affiliation as the official journal of the Society for the Improvement of Psychological Science (SIPS). SIPS will oversee editorial responsibilities for the journal, while University of California Press remains its publisher. Dan Morgan, UC Press publisher of Collabra: Psychology, says of the new affiliation:

“With our shared focus on rigorous science and improving norms for publishing practices, and an increasing cross-over of people involved with both, it feels natural to formally affiliate Collabra: Psychology and SIPS. Both entities’ missions are amplified by this collaboration.”

Simine Vazire, UC Davis, and Chair, SIPS Executive Committee also says of the partnership:

“We are thrilled that Collabra: Psychology will be the official journal of the Society for the Improvement of Psychological Science. This joint project will be vital to helping us fulfill our mission. Collabra: Psychology provides an outlet for psychological research that exemplifies the values of SIPS, and presents an opportunity for SIPS to help change norms and incentives in the field of psychology .”

Collabra: Psychology and SIPS are excited to unite in a shared mission to improve psychological science, and scholarly communications broadly, through policies that support transparency, openness, diversity, and rigorous, ethical scientific research practices. To learn more about how Collabra: Psychology currently reinforces these values, check out our website at collabra.org.

See the press release from UC Press here.


The Case for Case Studies

By Wil Burns, Editor-in-Chief of Case Studies in the Environment

What is a case study, and how can case studies positively impact critical thinking and knowledge acquisition, as well as inform research in academia and training in professional practice? In this post, Case Studies in the Environment Editor-in-Chief Wil Burns explains what case studies are, and how they can provide an important bridge to understanding important environmental issues.

What is a “Case Study?”

In its most distilled form, a “case study” involves investigation of “real-life phenomenon through detailed contextual analysis of a limited number of events or conditions, and their relationships.” The “case” may focus upon an individual, organization, event, or project, anchored in a specific time and place. Most cases are based on real events, or a plausible construction of events, and tell a story, often involving issues or conflicts which require resolution. They also frequently include central characters and quotations and dialogue. Often the objective of a case study approach is to develop a theory regarding the nature and causes of similarities between instances of a class of events. More broadly, case studies seek to illustrate broader, overarching principles or theses. In recent years, researchers have increasingly embraced the study method in recognition of the limitations of quantitative methods to provide in-depth and holistic explanations of social problems.

Case Studies in the Classroom

Case studies can play an extremely important role in the classroom. Research surveying faculty and student learning results associated with the use of case studies demonstrate significant increases in student critical thinking skills and knowledge acquisition, as well as enhanced ability to make connections between multiple content areas and to view issues from different perspectives. Case studies can also promote active learning, which has been proven to enhance learning outcomes. Case studies can help to facilitate learning by deductive learners by helping them to reason from examples, analogies, and models, as well as from basic principles.

In the specific context of environmental studies and science courses, case studies have proven to be a valuable component of teaching by fostering critical transdisciplinary perspectives conductive to addressing environmental issues. The case study method has also been employed in an effort to foster engaged learning in environmental studies and science courses by “flipping the curriculum.”

Case Studies in the “Real World”

Case studies are also a valuable tool for environmental practitioners. They can provide guideposts for best practices, as well as lessons learned by others in any given professional sector, including in the environmental arena. The case study method has proven to be an effective tool to assist environmental professional in developing effective recommendations and policy prescriptions. Also pertinent to the environmental sector, case study research can also help to identify relevant variables to facilitate subsequent statistical research. Moreover, case studies can be employed in organizations for training purposes to foster problem-based learning and the ability to formulate solutions.

Case Studies in the Environment

Case Studies in the Environment is a new online journal published by the University of California Press. It seeks to foster the development of a substantial compendium of case studies by the environmental academic and professional communities. The journal focuses on environmental cases studies in the following categories:

It is our hope that Case Studies in the Environment will help to develop a community of scholars and practitioners that can leverage the benefits of case studies on behalf of our efforts to combat some of the most imposing environmental issues of our time. Learn more at cse.ucpress.edu, or sign up for Case Studies in the Environment news alerts.

 


Tools of the Trade: Resources for Psychology Research

As part of our “Tools of the Trade” blog series this summer, we’re here to help you further your own research by providing the resources you need to focus on your scholarship, write—or rewrite—your work, and prepare your work for publication.

Regardless of the discipline, the quality of one’s research is only as sound as the manner in which it was conducted. That’s why our Open Access journal, Collabra: Psychology, has an entire section dedicated to the study of Methodology and Research Practice in Psychology. For those conducting research this summer—and especially those in psychological fields—we’ve rounded up the following articles to help inform your own methodological approaches, data transparency, and replicability practices.

Making Your Research Transparent (Unlike a Car Salesperson!)

Quality Uncertainty Erodes Trust in Science by Simine Vazire

When consumers of science (readers and reviewers) lack relevant details about the study design, data, and analyses, they cannot adequately evaluate the strength of a scientific study. A car whose carburetor is duct-taped to the rest of the car might work perfectly fine, but the buyer has a right to know about the duct-taping. Without high levels of transparency in scientific publications, consumers of scientific manuscripts are in a similar position as buyers of used cars – they cannot reliably tell the difference between lemons and high quality findings. The solution is to increase transparency and give consumers of scientific research the information they need to accurately evaluate research. Transparency also encourages researchers to be more careful in how they conduct their studies and write up their results.

A New Standard for Replicating Your Research

A New Replication Norm for Psychology by Etienne P LeBel

In recent years, there has been a growing concern regarding the replicability of findings in psychology, including a mounting number of prominent findings that have failed to replicate via high-powered independent replication attempts. In the face of this replicability “crisis of confidence”, several initiatives have been implemented to increase the reliability of empirical findings. In the current article, LeBel proposes a new replication norm that aims to further boost the dependability of findings in psychology. Paralleling the extant social norm that researchers should peer review about three times as many articles that they themselves publish per year, the new replication norm states that researchers should aim to independently replicate important findings in their own research areas in proportion to the number of original studies they themselves publish per year (e.g., a 4:1 original-to-replication studies ratio).

Giving Due Attention to the Pitfalls of False Negatives

Too Good to be False: Nonsignificant Results Revisited by Chris H. J. Hartgerink, et al

The concern for false positives has overshadowed the concern for false negatives in the recent debates in psychology. This might be unwarranted, since reported statistically nonsignificant findings may just be “too good to be false.” This article examines evidence for false negatives in nonsignificant results in three different ways, arguing that the failure to address false negatives can lead to a waste of research resources and stifle the scientific discovery process.


Late Antiquity and World History: Challenging Conventional Narratives and Analyses

By Mark Humphries, published in Studies in Late Antiquity 1.1 (read the first issue free!)

This article excerpt is part of a blog series related to the North American Patristics Society, which meets May 25-27 in Chicago for their annual conference. #NAPS2017


Introduction

This article [published in Studies in Late Antiquity 1.1] offers an unashamedly personal set of challenges to conventional approaches to the study of late antiquity. In particular, it recommends that some of the impasses that currently bedevil debates in the discipline might be overcome by adopting a more world-historical approach to the subject. By that I mean not only seeing the history of late antiquity in a wider geographical perspective, but also a viewpoint that adopts an ethical stance that challenges the current paradigms within which late antiquity is debated: as I argue below, conventional accounts of the period focus their narratives around the experiences of the Roman Empire and, therefore, articulate an essentially western and Eurocentric interpretation of historical development. Of course, many specialists in the field are already making significant advances away from this western-dominated narrative; nevertheless, it strikes me as a worthwhile exercise to draw the strands of the debate together and to offer pointers to possible future directions.

Given the scope of the undertaking implicit in this recommendation, the enquiry presented here can only offer a brief overview of the themes and issues I want to contest: the examples cited below could be multiplied exponentially, and I aim to investigate many of the issues in more detail in the future. In other words, what is presented here is only the beginning of a larger project. I should also clarify that the outcomes of what I suggest here might take many forms. I have written this article mainly with an eye to research agendas; but there is no reason why some of the perspectives recommended here could not also be imported into a classroom setting, where they would surely provoke interesting discussions. But to begin with, and in order to demonstrate how ingrained the conventional approaches I wish to challenge have become, I present a narrative that will seem, at first, wholly familiar.

A victory had been won and the ruler wanted to celebrate it. The barbarians, true to form, had been duplicitous and had broken the treaty. Now a great hosting of them (Goths, Germans, and others) had invaded the empire, but they were no match for the empire’s forces and had been utterly defeated. Many of the enemy had been slain in bloody vengeance for their treacherous behaviour in starting the war. More importantly, many of their leading men had been captured; best of all, their king had been captured alive. He would make a fine ornament for the ruler’s victory celebrations at his capital, a living example of the ruler’s indomitable power, a figure to be humiliated and put on public display. Such a great victory also deserved a permanent commemoration in text and image, so reliefs and inscriptions were set up showing the ruler in all his might lording it over his abject, cowering foe.

Such images are familiar to us from Roman imperial and late-antique monuments, like the reliefs from the now lost triumphal monument of Marcus Aurelius or from the extant arch of Septimius Severus in Rome, or those that decorate the obelisk base of Theodosius I in the hippodrome in Constantinople. But the set of victories and commemorations I have been describing so far do not come from that familiar context. Rather, the triumphant ruler was Shapur I, shahanshah of Sasanian Persia; the defeated barbarians were the Romans; and the captive king the emperor Valerian in 260 C.E. For humiliating display, I have in mind the tradition that Shapur used Valerian as a stool when mounting his horse or getting into his carriage, and that later, when the emperor died, his corpse was flayed and his skin tanned to provide a more permanent trophy. As for the epigraphic and visual commemorations, I mean the so-called Res Gestae Divi Saporis, the great trilingual inscription recording Shapur’s victories, and the rock reliefs at Naqsh-i Rustam and Bishapur, showing his triumph over not only Valerian, but Gordian III and Philip the Arab too. If, however, anyone steeped in Roman imperial or late-antique history had assumed that my earlier description alluded to the victories of a Marcus, Severus, or Theodosius, their misapprehension would be wholly understandable, for they have been conditioned to think of a world centred on Rome, Constantinople, and the Mediterranean.

That this should be the case attests to the profound influence on modern perceptions of a supposedly “normative” world view underwritten by traditional, classical geographical divisions of the world into a civilized centre and barbaric periphery. In this traditional schema, Persians, like other non-Romans, inhabit the margins of the map. Such a world-view underpins classical and classicising historiography, and can be found, for instance, in the fourth-century Latin historian Ammianus Marcellinus’ celebrated description of the Huns as being “abnormally savage” and living “beyond the Maeotic sea, near the frozen ocean.” He goes on to catalogue their lifestyle in a form that reads like a negative checklist of the accoutrements of civilization as it was viewed by the Greeks and Romans: the Huns lack every marker of civilized life, from fire, to cities, to politics, and are only acknowledged begrudgingly as human. They are, therefore, doubly remote from civilization, in terms of both their geographical distance and their lack of cultural attainments.

But the achievements of Shapur I, and his epigraphic and monumental commemoration of them, remind us that other perspectives, not centred on the classical Mediterranean, are possible. It is these perspectives that I want to explore here, and I organise my reflections as follows. First I offer a survey of late-antique perspectives on the world, showing their variety and complexity, and how they demonstrate that the Mediterranean-centred perspective of classical and classicising historiography is not the only view possible. Next, I discuss how the traditional shape of late antiquity has been made to fit into a customary western, and essentially Eurocentric, view of history – and how this might be regarded as deeply problematic. The final part of the article considers how that traditional view might be challenged by adopting an approach that is more sensitive both to the multiple local perspectives outlined in the first part of the discussion and to global contexts; this in turn shows how, by advocating a more world-historical perspective on events, we can challenge traditional narratives of the period, and see events in a new light.

Continue reading at sla.ucpress.edu.


Mark Humphries is a Professor of Ancient History at Swansea University, having previously held appointments at St Andrews, Leicester, Manchester, and the National University of Ireland Maynooth.


Elementa: Science of the Anthropocene Call for Papers: Earth & Environmental Science

We invite you to submit your next paper to the Earth & Environmental Science domain of Elementa: Science of the Anthropocene, a trans-disciplinary, open-access journal whose mission is Open Science for the Public Good.

Elementa publishes original research with the ultimate objective of accelerating scientific solutions to the challenges presented by this era of human impact. Structured into six distinct knowledge domains, the Earth & Environmental Science domain encompasses research on processes impacted by humans that occur on the land surface, in groundwater, and in rivers, lakes and coastal areas. This includes, but is not limited to, the traditional sub-disciplines of surficial geology, geomorphology, physical geography, hydrology, glaciology, geochemistry, biogeochemistry, geomicrobiology, limnology, soil science, remote sensing, climate science, and contaminant fate and transport. Studies published in Elementa should relate to processes that have occurred during the Anthropocene epoch (i.e., since the onset of the industrial revolution ~250 years ago) or earlier if they are significantly affected by human activities.

For the full Aims & Scope of the Earth & Environmental Science domain, please click here.

In addition to innovative features including a value-sharing business model and an article-promotion partnership with Kudos, Elementa articles are highly used and downloaded (see highlighted articles below). For the full Elementa story, visit our website at elementascience.org.

For Elementa news and updates, be sure to follow along on Facebook and Twitter.

There has never been a more important time to ensure that transparent, evidence-based, peer-reviewed research has the widest and most impactful dissemination as possible. Please consider submitting your Earth & Environmental Science papers to Elementa or developing a Special Feature or Forum, and feel free to get in touch with Oliver A. Chadwick, University of California, Santa Barbara, Editor in Chief for Earth & Environmental Science, should you have any questions.


Special Features currently open for submissions
Deltas in the Anthropocene

High-impact Earth & Environmental Science content from Elementa: Science of the Anthropocene

(All metrics from May 2, 2017)

Dating the Anthropocene: Towards an empirical global history of human transformation of the terrestrial biosphere
Ellis EC, Fuller DQ, Kaplan JO, Lutters WG
Total usage: 31,617 views/downloads and 7 citations since original publication on December 04, 2013

Seasonally varying contributions to urban CO2 in the Chicago, Illinois, USA region: Insights from a high-resolution CO2 concentration and δ13C record
Moore J, Jacobson AD
Total usage: 19,240 views/downloads and 2 citations since original publication on June 05, 2015

Sources and sinks of carbon in boreal ecosystems of interior Alaska: A review
Douglas TA, Jones MC, Hiemstra CA, Arnold JR
Total usage: 19,097 views/downloads and 1 citation Since original publication on November 07, 2014

Earthcasting the future Critical Zone
Goddéris Y, Brantley SL
Total usage: 18,259 views/downloads and 2 citations since original publication on December 04, 2013

Major impact of climate change on deep-sea benthic ecosystems
Sweetman, Andrew K., et al.
Total usage: 2,554 views/downloads since original publication on February 23, 2017


7 New #OpenAccess Articles from Elementa

An open access scientific journal, Elementa: Science of the Anthropocene’s mission is Open Science for Public Good. With the ultimate objective of publishing original research that accelerates solutions to challenges presented by this era of human impact, Elementa is uniquely structured into six distinct knowledge domains, led by six Editors-in-Chief.

Check out 7 new #OpenAccess articles from Elementa, and consider becoming an Elementa author! Visit elementascience.org to see Calls for Papers from each knowledge domain.


Major impact of climate change on deep-sea benthic ecosystems
Andrew K. Sweetman, et al.
Domains: Earth & Environmental Science, Ecology, Ocean Science

Analysis of local-scale background concentrations of methane and other gas-phase species in the Marcellus Shale
J. Douglas Goetz, et al.
Domain: Atmospheric Science
(Part of a Forum: Oil and Natural Gas Development: Air Quality, Climate Science, and Policy)

Scape goats, silver bullets, and other pitfalls in the path to sustainability
D. G. Webster
Domain: Sustainability Transitions
(Part of a Special Feature: Envisioning Sustainable Transitions)

Legacies of stream channel modification revealed using General Land Office surveys, with implications for water temperature and aquatic life
Seth M. White, et al.
Domain: Ecology

Leveraging agroecology for solutions in food, energy, and water
Marcia DeLonge, Andrea Basche
Domain: Sustainability Transitions
(Part of a Forum: Food-energy-water systems: Opportunities at the nexus)

Ten-year chemical signatures associated with long-range transport observed in the free troposphere over the central North Atlantic
B. Zhang, et al.
Domain: Atmospheric Science


Want to browse more recent content from ElementaClick here for recently published articles, and follow Elementa on Facebook and @elementascience for the latest updates.


Elementa: Science of the Anthropocene Call for Papers: Atmospheric Science

We invite you to submit your next paper to the Atmospheric Science domain of Elementa: Science of the Anthropocene, a trans-disciplinary, open-access journal whose mission is Open Science for the Public Good.

Elementa publishes original research with the ultimate objective of accelerating scientific solutions to the challenges presented by this era of human impact. Structured into six distinct knowledge domains, the Atmospheric Science domain is dedicated to research on the impacts of human activities and the natural state of the Earth’s atmosphere. Elementa invites original research manuscripts that investigate chemical and physical atmospheric properties encompassing natural processes, perturbations, and assessment of future conditions. Elementa, in particular, strives to become a home for publications on societal impacts of atmospheric conditions and processes, for policy-relevant research findings, and for work that directs and nurtures the path towards a sustainable Earth Atmosphere. To attain this goal, submissions going beyond traditional disciplinary borders are welcome.

For the full Aims & Scope of the Atmospheric Science domain, please click here.

In addition to innovative features including a value-sharing business model and an article-promotion partnership with Kudos, Elementa articles are highly used and downloaded (see highlighted articles below). For the full Elementa story, visit our website at elementascience.org.

For Elementa news and updates, be sure to follow along on Facebook and Twitter.

There has never been a more important time to ensure that transparent, evidence-based, peer-reviewed research has the widest and most impactful dissemination as possible. Please consider submitting your Atmospheric Science papers to Elementa or developing a Special Feature or Forum, and feel free to get in touch with Detlev Helmig, University of Colorado Boulder, Editor in Chief for Atmospheric Science, should you have any questions.


Special Features and Forums open for submissions

Quantification of urban greenhouse gas emissions: The Indianapolis Flux experiment
Reactive Gases in the Global Atmosphere
Oil and Natural Gas Development: Air Quality, Climate Science, and Policy

High-impact Atmospheric Science content from Elementa: Science of the Anthropocene

(All metrics from April 13, 2017)

Analysis of local-scale background concentrations of methane and other gas-phase species in the Marcellus Shale
Goetz, J. Douglas, et al.
Total usage: 1,101 views/downloads since original publication on February 9, 2017

Global distribution and trends of tropospheric ozone: An observation-based review
Cooper OR, Parrish DD, Ziemke J, Balashov NV, Cupeiro M, et al. 2014.
Total usage: 31,188 views/downloads and 24 citations since original publication on July 10, 2014

Influence of oil and gas emissions on ambient atmospheric non-methane hydrocarbons in residential areas of Northeastern Colorado
Thompson CR, Hueber J, Helmig D. 2014.
Total usage: 24,420 views/downloads and 10 citations since original publication on Nov 14, 2014

Dimethyl sulfide control of the clean summertime Arctic aerosol and cloud
Leaitch WR, Sharma S, Huang L, Toom-Sauntry D, Chivulescu A, et al. 2013.
Total usage: 19,151 views/downloads and 8 citations since original publication on Dec 04, 2013


“Color-Blind Casting”: Thomas Jefferson and the Erasure of the Black Past in Hamilton

by Lyra D. Monteiro

This post is excerpted from Race-Conscious Casting and the Erasure of the Black Past in Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton, found in the UC Press journal The Public Historian, Vol. 38 No. 1. Read more and subscribe to The Public Historian here.

The American public has long been enthralled with the mythology of the founding fathers. Though a recent (and recurring) trend within popular history writing, ‘‘founders chic’’ can also be experienced on historic house tours at places such as Mount Vernon, Monticello, and Hamilton Grange that focus on lauding while also humanizing the founders. Overall, the impression these sites give of the Revolutionary era echoes the majority of American history textbooks: the only people who lived during this period—or the only ones who mattered—were wealthy (often slaveowning) white men. There are exceptions to this pattern, such as the African American programming at Colonial Williamsburg, the interpretation of the mills at Lowell, Massachusetts, and the Smithsonian’s recent exhibition about the enslaved families at Monticello. Such challenges to the ‘‘exclusive past’’ are absolutely necessary for our present, as we strive to live up to an ideal of all people being equal and create a world in which women’s voices are no longer silenced and Black Lives Matter.

Currently on Broadway, MacArthur fellow Lin-Manuel Miranda’s hip-hop musical Hamilton brings to life the founding era of the United States in an engaging show that draws heavily on Ron Chernow’s 2004 biography, Alexander Hamilton. With a cast dominated by actors of color, the play is nonetheless yet another rendition of the ‘‘exclusive past,’’ with its focus on the deeds of ‘‘great white men’’ and its silencing of the presence and contributions of people of color in the Revolutionary era.

Race is, in some ways, front and center in this play, as the founding fathers are without exception played by black and Latino men. These choices, which creators and critics have dubbed ‘‘color-blind casting,’’ are in fact far from color blind. The racialized musical forms that each of the characters sings makes this particularly clear.

While most critics love the casting—calling it imaginative, accessible, and thought provoking, others take issue with the premise of casting black actors as the founding fathers. When asked directly in a Wall Street Journal interview about how it feels to portray a white slaveowner, Daveed Diggs, who plays Jefferson, avoided the question altogether. By contrast, theater critic Hilton Als perceives ‘‘something new and unrecognizable . . . on the stage—a dramatic successor to Derek Walcott’s and Jamaica Kincaid’s literary explorations of the surreality of colonialism.’’

This realization brings attention to a truly damning omission in the show: despite the proliferation of black and brown bodies onstage, not a single enslaved or free person of color exists as a character in this play. For the space of only a couple of bars, a chorus member assumes the role of Sally Hemings, but is recognizable as such only by those who catch Jefferson’s reference to the enslaved woman with whom he had an ongoing sexual relationship. Unless one listens carefully to the lyrics—which do mention slavery a handful of times—one could easily assume that slavery did not exist in this world, and certainly that it was not an important part of the lives and livelihoods of the men who created the nation.

The play can thus be seen as insidiously invested in trumpeting the deeds of wealthy white men, at the expense of everyone else, despite its multiracial casting. It is unambiguously celebratory of Hamilton and Washington, and though it makes fun of Jefferson, he is nonetheless a pivotal figure. Sadly, that is where this revolutionary musical fails to push any envelopes: the history it tells is essentially the same whitewashed version of the founding era that has lost favor among many academic and public historians. Here there is only space for white heroes.

The musical undoubtedly does have a special impact on this audience. Seth Andrew, the founder of Democracy Prep Public Schools took 120 students to see the show and reported, ‘‘It was unquestionably the most profound impact I’ve ever seen on a student body.’’ And Miranda has noted that young people ‘‘come alive in their heads’’ when they’re watching the show.If the goal is to make them excited about theater, music, and live performance, great. But reviews of the show regularly imply that what is powerful about the show is how it brings history to life. So I ask again: Is this the history that we most want black and brown youth to connect with—one in which black lives so clearly do not matter?


Lyra D. Monteiro is an assistant professor of history and teaches in the Graduate Program in American Studies at Rutgers University—Newark. She has published on issues in cultural heritage and archaeological ethics and is the co-director of the public humanities organization The Museum On Site.