CU, CSU biologists’ encyclopedia wins top honor

By Clint Talbott

Michael Breed and Janice Moore introduce their “Encyclopedia of Animal Behavior” this way: “It is difficult to think of a major area of biological inquiry that has not been touched by a behavioral tendril or two.”

Michael Breed, professor of biology at the University of Colorado

Here, the co-editors punctuate a summary of their topic with a literary device—synecdoche—more likely to be found in T.S. Eliot than in a scientific encyclopedia. Such artful and accessible presentation of complex material is, no doubt, one reason the duo’s work has been honored by a major publisher’s association.

Breed and Moore are biology professors at the University of Colorado and Colorado State University, respectively. They are also co-editors of “The Encyclopedia of Animal Behavior,” published last year by Academic Press. The work won a 2010 American Publishers Awards for Professional and Scholarly Excellence—or PROSE Award.

Breed says he and Moore were “just stunned,” at the news.

The two-volume set contains more than 300 articles on aspects of animal behavior ranging from dolphin signature whistles to game theory, and it includes the work of more than 400 contributors. Four years in the making, the encyclopedia spans more than a million words.

Though the intended audience is undergraduate and graduate students, Breed says the work is broadly accessible.

“If you take all of science, animal behavior is one of the most generally intuitive fields,” Breed says. “Somebody who is a reasonably able reader can pick up this stuff.”

And, as the work’s preface suggests, understanding the material is important: “Anthropogenic change is occurring at a higher rate than ever before, and if we are to preserve our own habitat—the world that the ancients felt compelled to explain in their stories about animals—we must not fail in our attempts to understand its inhabitants. Those residents sustain our own habitat, and their requirements are varied, going far beyond calories and oxygen. …

“A fully integrated knowledge of animal behavior will be indispensable as scientists analyze changing populations, communities, ecosystems and landscapes. Indeed, it will be indispensable for anyone who seeks to be an honest custodian of nature.”

The encyclopedia is divided into sections, and the sections had editors whom Breed and Moore recruited and guided. The section editors did the initial round of editing.

“We did a second-level review. We definitely read it all.” Breed and Moore also served as section editors, and in those cases the pair had more intensive editorial work: “For sections we edited, there was a lot of converting non-English into English.”

Such challenges can be particularly pronounced when an article’s writer is a global expert but not a native English speaker, he says.

However, Breed, hastens to add, opaque scientific communication is more common than one would hope, even among those for whom English is a first language.

“The one thing they really don’t teach you in grad school is to teach,” he explains. “In the sciences, we do virtually nothing to train graduate students how to write outside their field.”

In addition to the encyclopedia, Breed and Moore are co-authors of a new textbook, “Animal Behavior,” which Breed plans to use in his courses beginning in fall. If a student were to take Breed’s animal-behavior course and fellow CU biologist William Bowman’s ecology course, they’d be reading textbooks written by each of those professors.

Breed says that reflects well on his department and on CU. “When you come to a research university, one of the things you should expect is to have a textbook written by the professor.”

About the award and the work that inspired it, Breed says he feels gratified that he and Moore have represented Colorado’s academic community positively. He’s also pleased that professors from CU and CSU collaborate so well.

The 2010 PROSE Awards received a record-breaking 491 entries—more than ever before in its 35-year history—from more than 60 professional and scholarly publishers across the country. The “Encyclopedia of Animal Behavior” won the PROSE Award for the Multivolume Reference/Science section.

The Association of American Publishers is the national trade association of the U.S. book publishing industry.  AAP’s more than 300 members include most of the major commercial publishers in the United States, as well as smaller and non-profit publishers, university presses and scholarly societies.

The protection of intellectual property rights in all media, the defense of the freedom to read and the freedom to publish at home and abroad, and the promotion of reading and literacy are among the Association’s highest priorities.

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