Scientists' second warning to humanity goes viral

By Lauren Davis
Thursday, 08 March, 2018


Twenty-five years after the publication of ‘World Scientists’ Warning to Humanity’, a follow-up piece has become one of the most talked about papers in the world.

‘World Scientists’ Warning to Humanity: A Second Notice’ was published in the journal BioScience November 2017 by an international group of scientists, including Dr Thomas Newsome from the University of Sydney. Four months later, the paper has an Altmetric Attention Score — a measurement of the quality and quantity of online attention it has received — of 7100. In comparison, President Barack Obama’s 2016 review of the healthcare system accumulated a score of 8063 in four months, while most of the top 100 papers of all time have a score below 6000.

Altmetric, which records data complementary to traditional citation-based metrics, shows the paper now has a cumulative rank of the 6th most talked about ever worldwide out of more than nine million research outputs. It is also the most talked about research output for bioscience and the most talked about of all research outputs of a similar age.

The ‘second notice’ clearly charts environmental degradation over the past quarter-century and notes that only one out of nine areas assessed — the ozone layer — has improved. Its publication was prompted by lead author Professor William Ripple, an ecologist who came across a copy of the initial ‘warning to humanity’ and realised that because things had become worse — particularly due to climate change — it was time for an update.

The paper immediately made global headlines, including on CNN, BBC and page 1 of France’s leading newspaper, Le Monde. It has prompted speeches about the research in Israel’s Knesset and Canada’s BC Legislature, with signatories increasing with the specially formed Alliance of World Scientists. The latest translation includes Polish, with universities set to discuss the recommendations later this month and a push for city-wide implementation in the Central European region of Silesia.

In addition, three letters in comment, as well as a companion piece by the study authors, have also been published in BioScience. The companion piece highlights two key areas for action in policy and science: that the Nobel Prize Economic Sciences Prize Committee should give greater weight to externalised environmental limits; and that there is an urgent need for higher carbon prices around the world.

There are now approximately 20,000 expert endorsements and/or co-signatories to the second notice online, over 4500 of which have been received since publication; signatures and donations are encouraged at Updates continue from Dr Newsome on Twitter (@NewsomeTM), whose posts on the report have helped amass almost 9000 related tweets.

Image credit: Oliver Day, Oregon State University (modified).

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