6 December 2017

My GSW Presidential address

Posted by Callan Bentley

I can hardly believe it but tonight I wrap up my tenure as the 2017 President of the Geological Society of Washington.

In our Society, it’s a tradition for the President to give the final talk of the year, a Presidential Address that takes up the entirety of the final regular meeting. I’ll be talking tonight about the art of geology. Specifically, my title is “Visualization in geology: A brief history, best practices, and dispatches from the future.”

Here’s a mashup image of Rene Magritte’s “Treachery of images” and NASA’s “Blue Marble” that kind of sums it all up:

A visualization isn’t the real thing: “Ceci n’est pas une planète” is French for “This is not a planet.” The point is that it’s a picture of a planet – well, sort of. Really, it’s a parody of Magritte’s “Ceci n’est pas une pomme.” But the point remains: pictures aren’t the same thing as that which they depict. Just the same, images can depict the real thing in startling detail, and reveal insights and transmit information far better than mere words are usually capable of. Visualizations take many forms – those we make ourselves in order to force ourselves to see, those we construct for others, to help them see what we think we see. They’re worth way more than a thousand words.

There are elegant, effective ways to visualize geology. There are other ways that are less elegant, less effective. There are practices we can follow to make aesthetic masterpieces that also conform to the empirical reality of the world we are attempting to document. There are tools we can use to convey temporal information, or 3D information, or extraordinary detail, within the confines of a typical 2D “flatland” (paper, computer monitor, projection screen, etc.). I hope to cover all of that in a way that will leave my audience a little excited and feeling a little empowered. And I’m going to show them a lot of pretty pictures.

I hope to see some of my DC-based readers there tonight. The doors to the John Wesley Powell Auditorium of the Cosmos Club open at 7:30pm. (Access is from the small members-only parking area on the corner of Massachusetts Avenue and Florida Ave NW.) We’ll have some cold ones waiting for you. The formal program begins at 8pm. If you can’t make it, I intend to offer a similar talk at Spring 2018 seminars at the University of Kentucky and at West Virginia University. You might try to make one of those instead.