Archive for October 19th, 2009

“Overcoming Resistance to the Reality of Evolutionary Change in Nature”

October 19th, 2009

PORTLAND, OREGON–This was the very direct title of an inspiring panel discussion today at the Geological Society of America meeting. It was sponsored by the Paleontological Society and included some of the strongest voices in the endless Evolution Wars:

From the left, Randy Olson (scientist-filmmaker best known for the movie "Flock of Dodos" and the great book "Don't Be Such a Scientist"), Ray Troll (extraordinary artist with evolutionary themes), Roger Thomas (Paleontological Society Secretary and moderator), Judge John E. Jones (at the podium), Jeremy Jackson (hidden, alas, by that podium), and Kevin Padian (paleontologist, star witness in the Dover Trial, and professor at the University of California, Berkeley).

From the left, Randy Olson (scientist-filmmaker best known for the movie "Flock of Dodos" and the great book "Don't Be Such a Scientist"), Ray Troll (extraordinary artist with evolutionary themes), Roger Thomas (Paleontological Society Secretary and moderator), Judge John E. Jones (at the podium), Jeremy Jackson (hidden, alas, by that podium), and Kevin Padian (paleontologist, star witness in the Dover Trial, and professor at the University of California, Berkeley).

The lessons that emerged for me from the riveting conversations: (1) The communication of science to the public is an essential part of the role of a scientist; (2) Most scientists are not very good at it; (3) All scientists can learn to be better communicators; and (4) It is not too late but we have a lot of work to do. Jeremy Jackson made the strong point that evolution is part of life around us and can be made immediately relevant to any audience, but that it takes time and effort. Randy Olson emphasized that scientists need to make much better use of media sources. Ray Troll showed how humor and cool art can have an enormous influence on public perceptions of science. Kevin Padian encouraged us to address the “middle 50%” of the public which is open to learning and making their own decisions, and that we need to control the agenda of the debate and the use of our own scientific terms. Judge John E. Jones, besides being a heroic and wise judge in the Dover Trial, showed us that rational argument well presented really does make a difference. All agreed that the issues go beyond evolution in this country to include other sciences, history, literature, art and civics.

It was a pleasure to see that three of the questions from the audience were asked by Wooster paleontologists: Tricia Kelley, Lisa Park and John Sime.  Very good questions, too, which received thoughtful answers.

Much to do, and soon.

AWG Breakfast

October 19th, 2009

I was fortunate enough to have a ticket to the sold-out Association for Women Geoscientists (AWG) breakfast. How inspiring it is to be surrounded by women and men who support and promote female geoscientists! After a heartfelt series of stories from students and colleagues, Dr. Anita Grunder (Oregon State University) was awarded the AWG Outstanding Educator Award. Dr. Grunder’s impact on women geoscientists is significant and tangible, which challenged me to think about the ways that I can contribute to this cause.

Coffee and juice at the AWG breakfast. I would have taken a picture of the food, too, but I ate it all and my plate was cleared before I remembered to pull out my camera. Trust me, it was delicious!

Coffee and juice at the AWG breakfast. I would have taken a picture of the food, too, but I ate it all and my plate was cleared before I remembered to pull out my camera. Trust me, it was delicious!

AWG promotes women in all fields of geology at all stages of their careers. They offer numerous scholarships, awards, and resources for students. They also hold gatherings to help their members develop strong support networks. At my table, I spoke with women who began their careers as chemists and realized, after working in the field for several years, that their passion was geology. We were joined by other female faculty and AWG leadership. I was glad to see that a couple of Wooster grads took advantage of the opportunity.

Heather Hunt '09 (left) and Elyssa Krivicich '09 (right) at the AWG Breakfast.

Heather Hunt '09 (left) and Elyssa Krivicich '09 (right) at the AWG Breakfast.

Although it was unintended, this picture exemplifies the strength of the networking opportunities provided by AWG. Above Heather’s right shoulder is Kim Hannula, author of one of my favorite geoblogs and a geology professor at a liberal arts college in the Rockies. Sitting at the table behind Elyssa’s left shoulder is LeeAnn Srogi (center), a new collaborator of mine from West Chester University, who I am co-leading a field trip with at the 2010 Northeastern/Southeastern GSA meeting.

Digital Geology at #GeoPort

October 19th, 2009

This post is for my Instructional Technology Fellows. #GeoPort is the GSA Portland twitter hash tag, so you can follow what people are saying about the meeting. GSA also posts meeting updates on its own twitter feed and facebook page. If you prefer to read blogs, check out the GSA Portland blog roll, which includes our own Wooster Geologists blog.

After an important afternoon stop (see Figure 1), I attended an inspiring session on digital innovations in the geosciences. Talks focused on the digital revolution, OneGeology, GigaPan, and Google Earth. The advantages of writing my field notes with a Smart Pen and geotagging my field photos made me wonder why I haven’t been doing these things all along! Thanks to Kyle House, Ian Jackson, M. Lee Allison, Declan De Paor, Ron Schott, and all of the other presenters who so graciously shared their insights and ideas.

Figure 1. The Starbucks in the conference center is arguably the busiest spot in the entire building.

Figure 1. The Starbucks in the conference center is arguably the busiest spot in the entire building.

First Wooster talk at the 2009 GSA meeting

October 19th, 2009

PORTLAND, OREGON–By now I’ve given over 35 talks at annual Geological Society of America meetings, but I still get as nervous as I did as a graduate student. The cavernous room, the high quality of the previous presentations, the people coming in and sitting expectantly — it all comes to an exquisite tension as I hear the speaker before me say, “And in conclusion …”. We don’t read from a text or even use notes in these 15-minute sessions. It all comes from the slides and our desperate hope that we remember what to say at each. Somehow the adrenaline kicks in as you step up to the podium. The words flow and the slides become old friends with stories which must be told.

I’m in that magical post-talk phase of the meeting this evening with no more performance pressure. I can now happily share a few slides from our presentation, along with happy memories of the field and lab work:

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