How often are ecologists mentioned in the news?

More specifically, how often are they mentioned in the NY Times? Turns out the Times has an online tool to tell you! It gives you a time series of the % of all NY Times articles containing a specified word or phrase. Here’s the time series for “ecologist” (which seems not to be case sensitive):


The general trend is upward, though with ups and downs that may or may not be interpretable.

Ecologists are mentioned less often than members of many other scientific fields. We’re about on par with or a bit above “geneticist”, “geologist”, “demographer”, “paleontologist”, and “linguist”, but dwarfed by “biologist”, “sociologist”, “anthropologist”, “psychologist”, “historian”, and especially “economist” (interactive graph).

You can also look at the names of fields, which reveals rather different patterns. For instance, mentions of “ecology” in the NY Times skyrocketed starting in the mid-1960s and peaked in 1972, at the height of the US environmental movement. Then they declined precipitously, rebounded a bit in the runup to the 20th Earth Day in 1990, and have held steady or drifted downward slowly ever since. But mentions of ecology are dwarfed by, and show different temporal trends than, other related words like “environmental” (interactive graph). So I suggest not reading too much into the trends for any single word.

Must…resist…urge…to…spend…all…day…playing…with…this! 🙂

Related posts:

Fun with Google Ngrams: what’s the most popular subfield of ecology?

More fun with Google Ngrams: the ups and downs of ecological ideas, societies, and journals

8 thoughts on “How often are ecologists mentioned in the news?

  1. I would expect ecologist to be a little used word in a newspaper because its a little understood word in the public. Very few people know exactly what it means.

    I imagine a lot of newspaper reports use botanist, zoologist, “expert in species x” or “studies species x” or “studies birds in location y”

    The bigger question is whether it matters that nobody knows what an ecologist is. I suspect it does – e.g. for arguing for funding for our field.

    • “I would expect ecologist to be a little used word in a newspaper because its a little understood word in the public.”

      Hmm…but that would mean the public doesn’t know what geneticists etc. are. But they do know what biologists, sociologists, etc. (and esp. economists) are.

      I think what you’re seeing here is that newspapers tend to cover stories about things lots of people care about. i.e. stories about people. Hence the predominance of social scientists, especially economists.

      • I don’t think people are uninterested in ecology at all. The high rate of use of “environmentalist” suggests that. And there are tons of stories about cool animals in the Amazon, how this species cheats on that species and on and on. I don’t think geneticists are well understood either.

    • Some anecdotal evidence to back up Brian’s hypothesis – I was asked several times by immigration officers when renewing my visa “what is ecology” (could be just to trip me up), and once by a bank cashier if it’s the same as horticulture.

  2. Recipe for “ecologist” to meet or exceed “economist” in NYT usage: make innumerable incorrect predictions about the future, making them frequently enough that no one can keep track of what was predicted for when, thus eliminating even the most remote possibility of being held accountable. 🙂

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