Monday, March 30, 2009
Shaking in my Boots (er, my Keen's)
Thursday, March 26, 2009
Wilderness Bill Passes!
These bills were bipartisan efforts, but were held up for years by a handful of senators and representatives. I am so gratified to see these precious lands receive the protection they deserve.
Monday, March 23, 2009
The Fully-Equipped Geology Student
Hair: Always messy. Females usually wear fashionable hats to hide bad hair days
Sunburned Peeling Nose: Forgot the #$%&*#! sunscreen again...
Beard: Used by males for long-term food storage...
The Ever-Present T-shirt and Logo: Entire life, philosophy and travels are displayed prominently on chest or back. Same function in general as bumper stickers on R.V.'s.
Belt and Buckle: Pants fit o.k., but samples tend to pull pants down, and something is needed to carry a rock hammer.
Deep Pockets: (not in the legal sense; geologists are both poor, and chintzy with money) Full of specimens. Keys and wallet usually carried in hands, only to be lost on sand dunes or inside of locked vans.
Assorted Scars and Bandages: Mashed fingers, scraped knees, and contusions from flying particles of rock constitute a rite of passage for most field geologists.
Rock Hammer: for specimen collecting, fighting off deerflies, self-defense, etc. Used in certain quasi-religious ceremonies (Such as bringing dead vans back to life).
Muscular, tanned legs: from hill climbing, rock scrambling, climbing in and out of vans.
Shoelaces: Usually knotted and broken: "wasn't that on the equipment list?"
Vibram Soles: for traction on rocks, mud, snow, and spilled oatmeal.
Ironclad Bladders: (not pictured) For 300 mile drives to geologic localities without stops.
Brunton Compass: to determine strike and dip, fault orientations, and locating nearest road, 'cause we are generally lost (coming soon: GPS receivers! We're gonna find the cars somehow!)
Eyes: Full of wisdom; but often confused: "What the heck is this?"
Brain: (not pictured) Dehydrated, half-baked, freeze-dried, poisoned, but always plotting the next trip. Limited aptitude for chemistry in many...
A bit of a confession on the genesis of the people...this was my first honest attempt at drawing pictures of persons who weren't stick figures. I used ink and everything, and when I presented the first draft to the geology club, there was a protest from the women in the group. They grabbed some white-out, and adjusted the woman's torso to a smaller size, and the waist and thighs a bit bigger. They said I needed to "get real". They didn't change the guy at all, though.
Thursday, March 19, 2009
A Gift for the Spring Equinox
Monday, March 16, 2009
10 Things a Geology Major Should Know (An Alternate View)
OK, actually it is because I am coming with a different point of view about what geologists should know. It's not the job skills and technical expertise, which of course are necessary and desired, but the face we geologists present to the world as teachers and interpreters of earth science and geology. At one time or another, a person will find out you are a geologist, and they will want to know something from you. It'll be a rock, a fossil, a question about something happening in the news. We are the ambassadors of our science. We all need to be ready for these questions!
If anything seems sarcastic in the list that follows, it is not really meant that way. It's just that some questions come up SO often. I really do feel it is a privilege to be educating the public about our science. So in no particular order, here they are:
1) Know your dinosaurs: Better even than the average eight-year old. Don't just learn the classic plastic toy-in-a-kit types. Go beyond even the Jurassic Park dinosaurs. You need to communicate to people that the world of the dinosaurs was an ecosystem with hundreds of species already discovered, with more being found every year. Even better, know about the mammal-like reptiles, who were almost diverse as the dinos. And know the Cenozoic mammals, better than the kids who've seen "Ice Age".
2)Know the important fossil finds in your region: make people aware of the rich history of your region. My home in the Central Valley is kind of boring on the surface, but we have an incredible array of fossils that have been found nearby. A complete Pleistocene fauna is being dug up from one of our garbage dumps (excuse me, sanitary waste facility), and mosasaurs and plesiosaurs used to swim in the shallow sea that once existed here. The first dinosaur ever discovered in California was found in my county (Stanislaus)...by a 13-year-old kid! Which brings up the next necessity:
3) Be able to identify pseudo-fossils: make yourself familiar with dendrites, concretions and the other things people will find in your region. And learn the fine art of diplomacy as you explain how this feature is not a petrified alien brain or dinosaur egg, but actually an unusual pattern of cementation in the rock. I was once visited by a man who had what he was just sure was a dinosaur egg. I gently explained to him how it was actually a piece of sandstone in the shape of an egg. He was disappointed, but thanked me and left. The next morning I found an article about me and dinosaur eggs in the newspaper. The man had called a reporter before he talked to me, and the reporter was waiting for the verdict outside. I was really glad I was polite...
On the other hand, sometimes there are surprises. I got a series of calls from a person who had found what she called some petrified wood along our local river. I didn't take her seriously, of course, because there just isn't any petrified wood there, but she persisted and finally brought it by. It wasn't petrified wood at all, it was a section of a wooly mammoth tusk!
4) Learn to say why "this piece of (slag, vesicular basalt, magnetite) is not a meteorite": this is the closest I am going to come to sarcasm, but this is the most common reason for an unsolicited visit to my office. And people will seriously say "Are you sure? Who else can I talk to who will tell me the truth?".
5. More seriously, be able to explain clearly and concisely the geological hazards that threaten your region. Without exaggeration. One fine day, an earthquake, a flood, an eruption, a landslide will take place near by, and you will be the one who gets the phone call from an anxious reporter who has already written an overwrought story, and just needs you to confirm his or her misconceptions. I once tried to explain the concept of earthquake magnitude, and how there was only one magnitude of a quake, but that intensity was different depending on the damage and people's perception of the shaking. The article the next day said the quake had an "intensity of magnitude 4.5".
6. Be able to explain science and the scientific method: people often do not understand how science works, and there is a frustrating tendency to confuse the meaning of "theory". They may know how an auto technician may follow a process to narrow down the cause of a leak in the AC system of your car, and they know how a doctor uses symptons to be led to the possible cause of a disease, but they don't realize that scientic research follows the same process. We often don't know what we will find, and we don't know a truth and then try to gather evidence to prove it.
7. Be able to explain the theory of evolution, and to do it in soundbites. The creation-science people have been successful in the society at large because they boil huge and complex controversies into short and sometimes sarcastic bits. Don't be sarcastic, and don't be long-winded. And do not be arrogant; it feeds into the wrong stereotype.
8. Be able to explain how we know the age of the earth and the timing of significant events in the history of the earth. This is a huge necessity because the person asking about this and evolution is probably concerned about some aspect of their religious beliefs. To be honest, when faith is involved, you cannot expect to change someone's mind, but if you treat someone with respect and patience, there will be more room for understanding.
9. Be able to identify and explain the origin of the rocks found in your area. People want to know how their treasures formed.
10. Understand how the political process operates in your region: politicians know very little about geology, and sometimes there are proposals that sound good to most people, but would be foolish from a geological point of view: building on river floodplains or on unstable slopes would be an example. There will be times when a lone voice of reason will need to speak up. Be ready to present complex geological topics in a straightforward manner.
Sunday, March 15, 2009
Ever Wished for a Guide to the Geology of Southern California?
Field trips will explore evidence for Tertiary floodplains, oceans, & volcanoes in the Santa Monica Mountains; Martian analogs in the Mojave Desert; geology of the Conejo Valley & Western Santa Monica Mountains, Ventura County; natural hazards in the eastern San Gabriel Mountains, and engineering geology on the Palos Verdes Peninsula. Conference attendees will also receive a really nice guidebook containing all of the field trip narratives. Other activities at the conference will include seminars on teaching college-level earth science to high school students, the science of global warming, and strategies for teaching K-12 students about earthquakes in their area. There will also be a walking tour of wildlife sanctuary at Mt. San Antonio College.
Information and registration forms for the conference can be found on the Far West Section website at http://nagt-fws.org/. I am a past president of the section and the current webmaster, and I can attest to the value of these meetings. Much of whatever success I have had at teaching can be attributed to ideas and inspirations I have received from interacting with the hundred or so teachers and students that I meet at these conferences. And they're fun!
Anyone with an interest in geology and education is encouraged to join us (non-members are welcome), and if you live outside the region, this is a great way to see some interesting west-coast geology. Ontario International Airport is just a few miles away from the meeting site, and I would be glad to answer any questions long-distance travelers might have about getting around southern California. And heck, I would love to meet some fellow bloggers and blog-readers!
Check it out!
The mountains surrounding the Los Angeles basin are spectacular treasures that are not really well-known outside the region. The picture is Cucamonga Peak (8,859 feet) at the eastern end of the San Gabriel Mountains from the vicinity of Ontario, California. One of the field trips at the conference will include an exploration of Icehouse Canyon which is hidden deep on the north flank of the mountain (and yes, I know that Lytle Creek is really the first canyon north of it; Icehouse is two ridges over). Picture is courtesy of Susan Hayes.
Where I Live....
Friday, March 13, 2009
Is the Kid Right or What?
And I'm talking about Jeffrey, not Danae. I'd reproduce the comic but would probably be in copyright trouble for it. Wiley Miller ooften hits the nail on the head in the science-political world.
I seriously remember as a kid playing with the hose in mom's rose garden and getting absolutely captivated by the patterns of evolution and deposition in the garden soil. And I have quickly established who the best potential geology majors are by watching how they get trapped in lab by stream tables!
Wednesday, March 11, 2009
And The Old World Passed Away... The Geologic History of the Colorado Plateau
Saturday, March 7, 2009
OK, Not Really Geology, But....
I've made the geology connection, so what's up? It turns out that Shel's production "Gerald's Last Day" has won a number of short film awards, and is now a finalist on the Delta Fly-In Movies Film Festival. I would love to encourage you to give their film a look and a vote (the others are pretty good too, I guess). I even know some of the characters (at least the people providing their voices!).
You know how it is with us Californians...rubbing shoulders with the Hollywood stars and all that...
What is it With Kids Today?
I also have to salute the hundred or more volunteers that make the Olympiad work; the event is supported by the local school districts, but the volunteers do the footwork, judging the events, tabulating the scores, providing lunches, and keeping things from descending into chaos. It's also a chance sometimes to see my former students in their present-day role as teachers and mentors to these students.
The top schools overall earn the chance to advance to the state finals, and then to the national finals. If only we had a "Science" section of our local paper, and that people recognized the value of scientific and academic competition as much as they do sports achievements.
Is there an Olympiad in your region? Do you volunteer? It would be great if all the students in the country had a chance to compete in this sort of thing. If you want to learn more, check out the National Science Olympiad Website.
Monday, March 2, 2009
What's Wrong With This Picture? A Short Rant
"We have to do this the scientific way
Try and prove it....."
I was grading papers tonight. Given that I fall asleep easily while doing this means that I need distractions, so I was watching an old episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation. In the first season episode "Home Soil" the good doctor Beverly Crusher delivered this stunner of a statement about "science". As much as Star Trek was a half-decent attempt at good science fiction (don't ask a physicist, maybe), the statement above represents the kind of television/movie silliness that science teachers have fought against for decades: a fundamental misunderstanding of how we gain knowledge in an objective manner.
The term "theory" has been misused for a long time, I suppose because it is harder to get actors to say "hypothesis" in a convincing manner. And to get the science right means cluttering up a crisp script where everything has to happen in the 47 minutes or so that isn't commercials in an hour-long broadcast (and yes, I know all about 47 and Star Trek). How many times have you heard someone say that an explanation is "just a theory"? Or, "here's my theory about why something happened the way it did". These statements only work when the word "theory" is replaced by "hypothesis".
Theories, on the other hand, are models that are accepted and understood by scientists as to the way the universe works: atoms are theoretical; so is gravity. And evolution. We don't "believe" in atoms or evolution, we accept them on the basis of years of research and exploration. And the world and universe behave exactly as if these phenomena are in operation. One can choose not to believe in gravity, but trip over a rock and you will land on your face anyway.
In any case, the Creation-Science/Intelligent Design movements use a method much like that at the start of the post: Decide upon the truth, and garner all the evidence that supports this truth. You can try to call this approach "science", but it is not science.
So, to assist the Star Trek writers, here is Beverly Crusher's statement, updated to reflect the way things work in scientific research. Sorry I'm 20 years too late for this episode...
"We have to do this the scientific way...."
"Observe the phenomena, collect evidence and organize all the data, formulate as many possible explanations (hypotheses) as we can, and design tests that can disprove our hypotheses. If one explanation is finally supported by the evidence and cannot be disproven, we will accept the explanation and act accordingly, knowing even then that our explanation could be disproven if new evidence emerges".
Sorry script-writers, science is sometimes hard to jam into a sentence (and this, among many reasons, is why I am not writing scripts for a living). I welcome any of my readers to try to make this more succinct. But I wish Hollywood would try a bit harder; it would be better for us all.
Thus endeth a short mini-rant...