13 October 2010
It’s Earth Science Week again – this time with an energetic twist. Volcanology and energy are certainly linked in the geothermal realm, but I’m going to skip that discussion and discuss an article I found recently. It’s called “United States earth sciences, status, and future: How bad, how good?”
I’ll start you off with a quote:
“In terms of public perception, however, earth scientists appear to come off rather badly, in spite of the fact that the nature of the Earth and the societal importance of mineral and energy resources, geologic hazards, and biological evolution are familiar concepts to the public. Everyone ‘knows’ what a physicist, chemist, or mathematician does (really?), possibly because the subjects are universally offered in secondary schools. Astronomy, however, seems to be more recognizable to the lay public than is geology, in spite of the more abstruse nature of the former, and neither science is generally taught in high school. Perhaps another reason for the lack of familiarity with geology stems from its remarkable diversity. Our field is almost unique among the sciences in being dependent on, and a blend of, all of the primary sciences and many purely geologic specializations as well.”
Know the interesting thing about this article? It was an address by W.G. Ernst, a retiring President of the Geological Society of America…and it was given in 1986.
The same problems we have with public perceptions of Earth science today were happening almost a quarter of a century ago. Almost before I was born, in fact. So why are we still dealing with this lack of comprehension of and respect for the Earth sciences? Shouldn’t we have managed to open the public’s eyes to the wonders of our field by now?
It’s not all gloom and doom. Federal funding for Earth science research has more than doubled since 1986, and geoscience enrollments increased 8% in the 2008-2009 school year (a jump attributed to increased interest in energy and environmental issues). Salaries for Earth scientists have been increasing steadily for the past decade. There’s a lot to find attractive about Earth science – but we need to keep selling it! Which brings me back to outreach of any kind. We as Earth scientists (and Earth science enthusiasts) need to keep telling everyone that yes, we are real scientists who do important, useful work. We work hard to get our degrees, and earn educations that are unparalleled in their breadth and depth of study. And we have fun doing it! Earth science is fascinating, and whether it’s by trying to attract new grad students to your department, or get elementary school kids excited about rocks, or show off for thousands of people at a science expo, it’s immensely important to never stop supporting our science. So however you do it, get out there and fulfill the spirit of Earth Science Week!
Ernst, W.G. (1987). United States earth sciences, status and future: How bad, how good? Geological Society of America Bulletin, 99 (1)