On January 11 this year, the United Nations announced that 2010 is the International Year of Biodiversity (IYOB).
Activists and environmentalists were delighted. We can imagine the words “about time” on their lips. Likewise, scientists were pleased. They had long wanted a higher profile for a relatively neglected area of the biological sciences.
We’ve certainly seen some positive attention. For example, in July the UN appointed actor Ed Norton as International Goodwill Ambassador for the IYOB. There’s been plenty of hype and bandwagon jumping, but what about results?
We’re now three quarters into the year. Let’s take stock and evaluate the IYOB. Has it been a success or failure?
The data don’t look good. Look at searches for the word “biodiversity” on Google since January 2010. You can see an initial rise in interest up to the middle of the year. This follows the UN’s official launch of the IYOB (indicated by letter “A” on the chart; See UN Launching International Year Of Biodiversity). The peak of searches is in May, apparently follwing the announcement that no governments met their goals to halt biodiversity loss (letter “B”; See World governments fail to halt biodiversity loss).
But later in the year, after the middle of June, into July, search volume drops off precipitously. This decline coincides with the summer vacation. Schools are out. If much of the search traffic is from students looking for information, the drop off might be expected.
Recent months, since July, have seen an upturn in search volume, perhaps because the UN had assigned monetary value to ecosystem services and biodiversity loss (letter “C”; See UN puts price on biodiversity loss).
But overall the results are disappointing. Compare the volume of searches in the last part of 2009 with the volume during 2010. (Only data for relative volumes are available. Beginning with September 2009, search volume = 1.0.) The average weekly search volume increased in 2010 from 2009, but not much. In 2009, relative volume averaged 0.95 (red line). In 2010 it has averaged 1.02 (green line) to date. This small increase is not statistically significant (unpaired t-test, t = 1.4, p = 0.17).
Even more worrisome than the ups and downs in search volume is the decline in news volume after a peak in May to June. Even though we see an increase in search volume, news references have been flat at best, or even declined. (I cannot test a correlation since I do not have numeric data for news volume.) That is, news outlets are not responding to increases in public interest.
Of course, this evaluation depends on our measure of success. Perhaps it’s too soon to say the IYOB has “failed.” There are many ways to measure success and I have just chosen one that is readily available. Certainly the additional publicity for biodiversity is better than none at all.
But the result of this quick and dirty analysis is a bit disappointing. I expected to see a steady increase in relative search volume over the year. It would be nice to have seen an upswing in news references, rather than the decline. This is a shame, since we (and the planet!) need the media to be taking this story and running with it. Perhaps fellow science writers and bloggers could make a greater effort to get the word out.