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Field Notes on Science & Nature

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Overview

Once in a great while, as the New York Times noted recently, a naturalist writes a book that changes the way people look at the living world. John James Audubon’s Birds of America, published in 1838, was one. Roger Tory Peterson’s 1934 Field Guide to the Birds was another. How does such insight into nature develop?

Pioneering a new niche in the study of plants and animals in their native habitat, Field Notes on Science and Nature allows readers to peer over the shoulders and into the notebooks of a dozen eminent field workers, to study firsthand their observational methods, materials, and fleeting impressions.

What did George Schaller note when studying the lions of the Serengeti? What lists did Kenn Kaufman keep during his 1973 “big year”? How does Piotr Naskrecki use relational databases and electronic field notes? In what way is Bernd Heinrich’s approach “truly Thoreauvian,” in E. O. Wilson’s view? Recording observations in the field is an indispensable scientific skill, but researchers are not generally willing to share their personal records with others. Here, for the first time, are reproductions of actual pages from notebooks. And in essays abounding with fascinating anecdotes, the authors reflect on the contexts in which the notes were taken.

Covering disciplines as diverse as ornithology, entomology, ecology, paleontology, anthropology, botany, and animal behavior, Field Notes offers specific examples that professional naturalists can emulate to fine-tune their own field methods, along with practical advice that amateur naturalists and students can use to document their adventures.

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Editorial Reviews

New Scientist

This compendium comprises essays written by renowned scientists like mammalogists George Schaller and Jonathan Kingdon, and plant biologist James L. Reveal. Based on their own journals, and replete with illustrations lifted straight from their field notes, the essays not only provide an insight into the minds of world-class researchers but also address broader questions about the function and meaning of the field journal...While the solid observations have indeed gone on to be used in peer-reviewed publications, the more Darwinesque-style human stories make for the most enjoyable parts of the book. These stories show the delightful humanity behind the scientific studies...The contributors' enthusiasm and informed guidance will ring true with anyone who has spent time in the field. Although few will have the dubious privilege of having their every scribbling archived, valuable lessons are there for everyone armed with a pen and paper. In fact, the vivacity of the essays will inspire many to pick up a pencil and venture into the wild. I for one am left itching to get back to the bush to put what I've read here into practice.
— Jack Ashby

Wall Street Journal

[This] exceptional collection of essays, Field Notes on Science and Nature, offers practical tips for the born-again naturalist, who, after all, is useless without a notebook. Here biologists, geologists, anthropologists and scientific illustrators open notebooks from all stages of their lives, showing how they record and organize their observations. Some sketch, others paint, some combine graphs and cryptic scrawl making a glorious mess. The point is that their observations don't go unrecorded and that many seemingly random notations, made during routine or aimless forays, have led to important discoveries.
— Jennie Erin Smith

Los Angeles Times

This gorgeous book reproduces samples from the notebooks of 12 naturalists in all their glory, accompanied by short essays on methodology and why field notes are still so critical to the art of science...These drawings, notes (in spectacular handwriting), photos and maps are a reminder that natural history is the root of all biology, and observation is a critical skill. George Schaller's drawings of a lion hunt in the Serengeti, Bernd Heinrich's delicate drawings of leaves, Kenn Kaufman's lists, Jonathan Kingdon's drawings of acacia trees in Kenya, Jenny Keller's spectacular drawings of moon jellies—these and others make science look not only appealing, fascinating and fun but human and creative as well.
— Susan Salter Reynolds

Nature

Field Notes on Science & Nature is an eclectic collection that crosses many disciplines, from geology, botany and zoology to art and anthropology. The variety of styles and records described are fascinating—field notes are very personal. Some of the contributors take notes entirely electronically, others in red pen in cheap notebooks. Others use pictures more than words. Few of us have the artistic skills of Jonathan Kingdon or Jenny Keller, scientist-illustrators whose drawings alone make this book worth buying. But even the sketchiest sketch can call to mind a place or organism in a way no words can...I will alter my own note-taking after reading this set of essays. All scientists, whether based in the field or the lab, could benefit from the advice given here so eloquently.
— Sandra Knapp

Boston Globe online

Michael Canfield's extraordinary new book, Field Notes on Science and Nature, takes us back to a time when the notebook was a serious scientific tool: when paper-and-pencil field notebooks were "the most basic tool for studying the science of nature." Field Notes, by beautifully reproducing dozens of pages from field notebooks old and new, reveals the important role note-taking has played, and still plays, in scientific reasoning.
— Josh Rothman

New Yorker blog

It's hard to believe that only two of the fourteen scientists who contributed chapters to Field Notes on Science & Nature, a study of the lasting importance of the scientist's field journal, are formal illustrators...It was the book's graceful design and beautiful illustrations that first grabbed my attention. The sketches and watercolors made by scientists in real time are charming and instructive, capturing unsuspected nuances of the world around us...A scientist's field journal is an intimate thing, rarely shared with outsiders. But the contributors to Field Notes on Science & Nature have a purpose: to demonstrate the importance of the field journal in scientific study for younger generations of researchers, who receive less and less formal instruction in their graduate work in keeping and maintaining field notes...What comes across most in Field Notes is how the creativity and care involved in making notes aids in thinking about problems and theories in new ways.
— Stacey Mickelbart

Cleveland Plain Dealer

This remarkable book features 14 essays written by accomplished natural scientists about scientific note-taking in the field, lavishly illustrated with examples from their field notebooks and journals...Most of the authors acknowledge the value of technology, but prefer writing in their field books. I find it refreshing that these distinguished scientists consider the humble pen and notebook their most important tools...Field Notes on Science and Nature may turn out to be inspiration for a new generation exploring our natural world.
— Harvey Webster

National Geographic online

Flip through the pages of a biologist's notes and you may find sketches of plants and animals, hand-drawn maps, and the author's occasional excited exclamation or question to himself. It can be like getting an opportunity to hear someone think out loud. Field Notes on Science & Nature gives readers a chance to do some eavesdropping of their own by providing a glimpse into a few of these notebooks.
— Alyson Foster

Barnes & Noble Review

Michael Canfield's Field Notes on Science and Nature raises the curtain on where "science happens," allowing readers behind-the-scenes glimpses of the rough-draft places from which serious inquiry springs...This book of meditative essays is interspersed with lush facsimiles of just such notebooks, often accompanied by sketches of butterflies, charts of soil strata, or memories of weather and light. In the era of the laptop and iPhone, readers can see what the Moleskine can still accomplish as a place for thought to assemble, and observe how the act of careful recording can give rise to great and meaningful discovery. Ranging from etymologists to paleontologists to avian specialists, the essayists gathered in this collection share a common love of watching and writing, and a keen ability to articulate how both of these things form the first tier of human investigation. Whether we're learning the way a passing thought about crane flies became a discovery of the way a species protects itself, or hearing about an expert who developed his own finely honed philosophy of list-making, or reading how journal entries about raven behavior led to a book, we're gifted with an understanding of how note-taking becomes the first place to frame a world...Looking at these well-kept journals is like looking into an artist's sketchpad, a journalist's reporting notes, or a composer's first drafts. We see the activity of a mind sorting out the world and framing it...Out of these drafts some essence reveals itself—and to each of these scientists this process still has the luster of mystery. At its base this book is about science, but it's also about the liveliness of the human mind practicing any craft, and about the kinetic, surprising places from which any human knowledge springs.
— Tess Taylor

Science

Right from the start, the book induces a rewardingly sublime aesthetic response...Anyone who cares about the environment would likely profit from reading Field Notes on Science and Nature, and I hope graduate professors will require it as background for qualifying exams.
— Harry W. Greene

George Schaller
There is no other book like this--one that takes readers out of the laboratory and into the field to learn the basics of natural history and the fun of observing nature.
New Scientist - Jack Ashby
This compendium comprises essays written by renowned scientists like mammalogists George Schaller and Jonathan Kingdon, and plant biologist James L. Reveal. Based on their own journals, and replete with illustrations lifted straight from their field notes, the essays not only provide an insight into the minds of world-class researchers but also address broader questions about the function and meaning of the field journal...While the solid observations have indeed gone on to be used in peer-reviewed publications, the more Darwinesque-style human stories make for the most enjoyable parts of the book. These stories show the delightful humanity behind the scientific studies...The contributors' enthusiasm and informed guidance will ring true with anyone who has spent time in the field. Although few will have the dubious privilege of having their every scribbling archived, valuable lessons are there for everyone armed with a pen and paper. In fact, the vivacity of the essays will inspire many to pick up a pencil and venture into the wild. I for one am left itching to get back to the bush to put what I've read here into practice.
Wall Street Journal - Jennie Erin Smith
[This] exceptional collection of essays, Field Notes on Science and Nature, offers practical tips for the born-again naturalist, who, after all, is useless without a notebook. Here biologists, geologists, anthropologists and scientific illustrators open notebooks from all stages of their lives, showing how they record and organize their observations. Some sketch, others paint, some combine graphs and cryptic scrawl making a glorious mess. The point is that their observations don't go unrecorded and that many seemingly random notations, made during routine or aimless forays, have led to important discoveries.
Los Angeles Times - Susan Salter Reynolds
This gorgeous book reproduces samples from the notebooks of 12 naturalists in all their glory, accompanied by short essays on methodology and why field notes are still so critical to the art of science...These drawings, notes (in spectacular handwriting), photos and maps are a reminder that natural history is the root of all biology, and observation is a critical skill. George Schaller's drawings of a lion hunt in the Serengeti, Bernd Heinrich's delicate drawings of leaves, Kenn Kaufman's lists, Jonathan Kingdon's drawings of acacia trees in Kenya, Jenny Keller's spectacular drawings of moon jellies--these and others make science look not only appealing, fascinating and fun but human and creative as well.
Nature - Sandra Knapp
Field Notes on Science & Nature is an eclectic collection that crosses many disciplines, from geology, botany and zoology to art and anthropology. The variety of styles and records described are fascinating--field notes are very personal. Some of the contributors take notes entirely electronically, others in red pen in cheap notebooks. Others use pictures more than words. Few of us have the artistic skills of Jonathan Kingdon or Jenny Keller, scientist-illustrators whose drawings alone make this book worth buying. But even the sketchiest sketch can call to mind a place or organism in a way no words can...I will alter my own note-taking after reading this set of essays. All scientists, whether based in the field or the lab, could benefit from the advice given here so eloquently.
Boston Globe online - Josh Rothman
Michael Canfield's extraordinary new book, Field Notes on Science and Nature, takes us back to a time when the notebook was a serious scientific tool: when paper-and-pencil field notebooks were "the most basic tool for studying the science of nature." Field Notes, by beautifully reproducing dozens of pages from field notebooks old and new, reveals the important role note-taking has played, and still plays, in scientific reasoning.
Barnes & Noble Review - Tess Taylor
Michael Canfield's Field Notes on Science and Nature raises the curtain on where "science happens," allowing readers behind-the-scenes glimpses of the rough-draft places from which serious inquiry springs...This book of meditative essays is interspersed with lush facsimiles of just such notebooks, often accompanied by sketches of butterflies, charts of soil strata, or memories of weather and light. In the era of the laptop and iPhone, readers can see what the Moleskine can still accomplish as a place for thought to assemble, and observe how the act of careful recording can give rise to great and meaningful discovery. Ranging from etymologists to paleontologists to avian specialists, the essayists gathered in this collection share a common love of watching and writing, and a keen ability to articulate how both of these things form the first tier of human investigation. Whether we're learning the way a passing thought about crane flies became a discovery of the way a species protects itself, or hearing about an expert who developed his own finely honed philosophy of list-making, or reading how journal entries about raven behavior led to a book, we're gifted with an understanding of how note-taking becomes the first place to frame a world...Looking at these well-kept journals is like looking into an artist's sketchpad, a journalist's reporting notes, or a composer's first drafts. We see the activity of a mind sorting out the world and framing it...Out of these drafts some essence reveals itself--and to each of these scientists this process still has the luster of mystery. At its base this book is about science, but it's also about the liveliness of the human mind practicing any craft, and about the kinetic, surprising places from which any human knowledge springs.
New Yorker blog - Stacey Mickelbart
It's hard to believe that only two of the fourteen scientists who contributed chapters to Field Notes on Science & Nature, a study of the lasting importance of the scientist's field journal, are formal illustrators...It was the book's graceful design and beautiful illustrations that first grabbed my attention. The sketches and watercolors made by scientists in real time are charming and instructive, capturing unsuspected nuances of the world around us...A scientist's field journal is an intimate thing, rarely shared with outsiders. But the contributors to Field Notes on Science & Nature have a purpose: to demonstrate the importance of the field journal in scientific study for younger generations of researchers, who receive less and less formal instruction in their graduate work in keeping and maintaining field notes...What comes across most in Field Notes is how the creativity and care involved in making notes aids in thinking about problems and theories in new ways.
Cleveland Plain Dealer - Harvey Webster
This remarkable book features 14 essays written by accomplished natural scientists about scientific note-taking in the field, lavishly illustrated with examples from their field notebooks and journals...Most of the authors acknowledge the value of technology, but prefer writing in their field books. I find it refreshing that these distinguished scientists consider the humble pen and notebook their most important tools...Field Notes on Science and Nature may turn out to be inspiration for a new generation exploring our natural world.
National Geographic online - Alyson Foster
Flip through the pages of a biologist's notes and you may find sketches of plants and animals, hand-drawn maps, and the author's occasional excited exclamation or question to himself. It can be like getting an opportunity to hear someone think out loud. Field Notes on Science & Nature gives readers a chance to do some eavesdropping of their own by providing a glimpse into a few of these notebooks.
Science - Harry W. Greene
Right from the start, the book induces a rewardingly sublime aesthetic response...Anyone who cares about the environment would likely profit from reading Field Notes on Science and Nature, and I hope graduate professors will require it as background for qualifying exams.
The Barnes & Noble Review

A roving look into the diaries, journals, and field notebooks of several of this generation's most celebrated natural scientists, Michael Canfield's Field Notes on Science and Nature raises the curtain on where 'science happens,' allowing readers behind-the-scenes glimpses of the rough-draft places from which serious inquiry springs. Focusing on notes taken in the field--as well as the doodle, the observation-in-passing, the daydream--Canfield invites his readers to peer over the shoulders of natural historians in their first raw moments of observation.

As such, this book of meditative essays is interspersed with lush facsimiles of just such notebooks, often accompanied by sketches of butterflies, charts of soil strata, or memories of weather and light. In the era of the laptop and iPhone, readers can see what the Moleskine can still accomplish as a place for thought to assemble, and observe how the act of careful recording can give rise to great and meaningful discovery. Ranging from etymologists to paleontologists to avian specialists, the essayists gathered in this collection share a common love of watching and writing, and a keen ability to articulate how both of these things form the first tier of human investigation. Whether we're learning the way a passing thought about crane flies became a discovery of the way a species protects itself, or hearing about an expert who developed his own finely honed philosophy of list-making, or reading how journal entries about raven behavior led to a book, we're gifted with an understanding of how note-taking becomes the first place to frame a world.

It's highly nerdy stuff, but it's human and humane as well. University of Vermont Emeritus Professor Bernd Heinrich describes his note-taking addiction this way: "I use any stray implement at hand. I have no system, no object or goal in mind. The notebook allows for spontaneity, a counterbalance to my ideal of orderly scientific objectivity. The process slows my thinking and serves as a first crude filter for the natural breeze of data that passes by in a continual stream." Heinrich's writing doesn't record thinking--it makes thinking possible. What's more, in each of these essays, scientists' notebooks embody the place where the seemingly objective process of science begins in hunch, intuition, or whimsical speculation, the place where the possible asserts itself.

Although the book seems geared to Canfield's fellow scientists, scientists aren't the only ones who might profit from it. Looking at these well-kept journals is like looking into an artist's sketchpad, a journalist's reporting notes, or a composer's first drafts. We see the activity of a mind sorting out the world and framing it, asking, "what is the question that will illuminate some part of the truth?" Or "what is the constellation of thought with which I will play?" Out of these drafts some essence reveals itself--and to each of these scientists this process still has the luster of mystery. At its base this book is about science, but it's also about the liveliness of the human mind practicing any craft, and about the kinetic, surprising places from which any human knowledge springs.

--Tess Taylor




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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780674057579
  • Publisher: Harvard
  • Publication date: 5/15/2011
  • Pages: 320
  • Sales rank: 679,486
  • Product dimensions: 6.80 (w) x 9.40 (h) x 1.20 (d)

Meet the Author

Michael R. Canfield is Lecturer on Organismic and Evolutionary Biology at Harvard University.

Edward O. Wilson is Pellegrino University Professor, Emeritus, at Harvard University. In addition to two Pulitzer Prizes (one of which he shares with Bert Hölldobler), Wilson has won many scientific awards, including the National Medal of Science and the Crafoord Prize of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences.

Bernd Heinrich is Professor Emeritus of Biology at the University of Vermont. He has written several memoirs of his life in science and nature, including One Man’s Owl, and Ravens in Winter. Bumblebee Economics was twice a nominee for the American Book Award in Science, and A Year in the Maine Woods won the 1995 Rutstrum Authors’ Award for Literary Excellence.

Karen L. Kramer is Associate Professor of Human Evolutionary Biology, at Harvard University.

Piotr Naskrecki is Post-Doctoral Fellow in Organismic and Evolutionary Biology and Associate in Entomology in the Museum of Comparative Zoology at Harvard University.

Roger Kitching is the chair of ecology at the Griffith School of Environment. He also heads the Arthropod Diversity Lab at Griffith University and the Biodiversity Research theme of the Centre of Innovative Conservation Strategies.

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Table of Contents

Contents Foreword Edward O. Wilson Introduction Michael R. Canfield
1. The Pleasure of Observing George B. Schaller
2. Untangling the Bank Bernd Heinrich
3. One and a Half Cheers for Listmaking Kenn Kaufman
4. A Reflection of the Truth Roger Kitching
5. Linking Researchers across Generations Anna K. Behrensmeyer
6. The Spoken and the Unspoken Karen L. Kramer
7. In the Eye of the Beholder Jonathan Kingdon
8. Why Sketch?
Jenny Keller
9. The Evolution and Fate of Botanical Field Books James L. Reveal
10. Note-Taking for Pencilophobes Piotr Naskrecki
11. Letters to the Future John D. Perrine and James L. Patton
12. Why Keep a Field Notebook?
Erick Greene

Notes Contributors Index

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 18, 2012

    Do not buy the Nook version of this book. None of the many illus

    Do not buy the Nook version of this book. None of the many illustrations are included; in place of each one is a short phrase referring you to the print version. Since the main reason I bought the book was for the illustrations, this is totally unsatisfactory.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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