Mark Wilson 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:
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.
mpollock 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.
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.
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.
mpollock 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.
Mark Wilson 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:
Mark Wilson October 18th, 2009
PORTLAND, OREGON–The Paleontological Society has a free short course program it runs on the day before the GSA meeting officially begins. When I began my career the topics were always about some taxonomic group such as “Brachiopods”, “Mollusks”, “Plants” and the like. The purpose was to gather a dozen or so experts on the topic and bring the participating paleontologists up to speed on the latest ideas and discoveries. As you might imagine, as useful as these sessions were, they often became dull recitations of anatomy and classification schemes.
This began to change about a decade ago with short course topics which were more interdisciplinary and not taxa-specific. We began to talk about issues such as predation, paleoecology, preservation, evolution — subjects which appealed to all paleontologists by cutting across differences within the field and foregoing systematic details. These sessions have been very successful, keeping hyperactive paleontologists in their seats most of the day. (As with all geologists, they would rather be in the lobby telling stories and making summer field plans.)
Yesterday’s short course was titled “Conservation Paleobiology”. There was some confusion as to what this title meant before it started (is it about preserving specimens in collections? saving paleontological localities from destruction?), but once it began it was clear this would be a different course from all those which preceded it. Karl Flessa of the University of Arizona (and one of the short course leaders) invented the term for the “application of paleoecological and geochemical techniques to the analysis of the prehistoric and historic skeletal remains of species threatened with extinction.” In other words, the concept is to make paleontology and paleontologists important players in the attempts to limit environmental degradation and preserve ecosystems in this time of climate change, overuse of resources, pollution and overpopulation. Those who study the history of life have much to contribute to understanding current extinctions and other ecological changes. In the more irreverent words of Karl: “Let’s put the dead to work”.
The presentation I found most impressive was by Jeremy Jackson of Scripps Institution of Oceanography (and a bryozozoologist of great note, I might add!). In his talk entitled “Historical ecology for the paleontologist”, he emphasized how much our baselines of what we expect to be “normal” for an ecosystem have shifted “beyond recognition from their formerly pristine state”. This shifting began with the first human interactions with the environment. The only way to deduce what “natural” ecosystems really were is through the fossil record. We have altered every environment on Earth to extraordinary degrees, each time shifting our baselines of what we thought it was like in some Edenic past. It was not a happy talk, that’s certain, but it did clearly lay out what contributions paleontologists must make to pull us back from the brink.
Mark Wilson October 16th, 2009
PORTLAND, OREGON–Every year the Wooster geology faculty and many of our students travel to the annual meeting of the Geological Society of America to share our research and learn from our colleagues. As with most professions, these conventions are times to reconnect with old friends and make new ones. Wooster students also meet potential graduate advisors and collect more information and ideas for their Independent Study projects. We all especially enjoy seeing Wooster geology alumni at a gathering on Monday night.
We plan to post blog entries here about our experiences at this meeting. I arrived in Portland this evening because the paleontologists traditionally have a short course on the Saturday before the GSA convention officially begins. Most of the department will fly in tomorrow afternoon.