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Field Notes on Science & Nature    edited by Michael Canfield order for
Field Notes on Science & Nature
by Michael Canfield
Order:  USA  Can
Harvard University Press, 2011 (2011)
Hardcover, e-Book

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* *   Reviewed by Bob Walch

Edited by Michael Canfield, Field Notes on Science and Nature allows the reader to peer over the shoulders of a dozen field scientists and gaze into their notebooks. This isn't something that happens often. Most scientists and naturalists are a little reluctant to share their personal records with others, especially lay people.

A Lecturer of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology at Harvard University, Michael Canfield was able to convince a group of diverse experts to share their notebooks, thus allowing the reader the opportunity to study these individuals' observational methods, materials and first impressions of what they encounter while doing research in the field.

The book covers a number of disciplines, such as ornithology, entomology, ecology, paleontology, anthropology, botany, and animal behavior. The featured materials from the various experts not only offer examples that professional naturalists can use to improve their own methods, but there's also practical advice given for amateur naturalists and students that will assist them in documenting their own research.

The list of contributors includes a number of Harvard faculty members plus men and women from various other institutions around the U.S. and abroad.

While George Schaller writes about The Pleasure of Observing and shares his notes observing a Serengeti lion pride, Tibetan antelope, and the giant panda in China, Keller, in a piece called Why Sketch?, shares her drawings of various creatures as diverse as a catshark, moon jellies, and a basilisk lizard. 'The tradition of field notes that grew into its own genre over the past three centuries is still relevant to anyone who studies nature,' writes Canfield. 'Although the diversification of field pursuits and the complexity of their studies have expanded the scope and methods for field documentation, the basic role and importance of field notes are unchanged.'

He continues in the book's introduction, 'The examples, thoughts, and instruction provided in this book are only a first step in maintaining the valuable tradition of field notes, and are meant to encourage more rigorous and long-lasting documentation of our natural world.'

No matter one's expertise, much can be learned about how scientists work in the field from this collection of actual field notes and commentary. This book would be much appreciated by anyone who maintains a journal or takes notes while hiking or camping in wilderness areas or along the coast. Obviously, professional naturalists will also find this a very valuable resource.

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