Saturday, February 25, 2023

What are the Real Laws of Geological Field Work and Research Publication?

 A bunch of years ago (1998) I took on the first really substantial written work I was ever involved with, a field guide to Yosemite National Park, the central Mother Lode, and the Coast Ranges at Del Puerto Canyon and around the Calaveras fault in the vicinity of Hollister. This was for a field conference of the National Association of Geoscience Teachers-Far Western Section. I was pretty happy with the result in the end, but it took a lot of work, and I came to realize a few underlying laws of the Universe that apply to doing field work and writing of any kind. I know I plagiarized some of these (Murphy's Law is of course universal in and of itself), for which I apologize, but today I am more interested in what other universal laws that exist out there. What would you add to this list?

The Ultimate Law (also known as Murphy’s Law): In an infinite Universe, anything that can go wrong, must eventually go wrong.

The First Corollary: In an infinite Universe, the number of ways something can go wrong is also infinite.

In the field:

The Snowflake Uncertainty Principle: No two individual snowflakes in the Universe are identical. Neither are car odometers.

Corollary: no outcrop will ever be found by following mileages in a guidebook. 

The Abandon all Hope Principle: The outcrop you are looking for has been destroyed by landscaping anyway.

One of the most significant geology exposures in the eastern Sierra Nevada, the Big Pumice Cut, was recently slated for "landscaping". It once and for all established the age of Sherwin glacial tills in relation to the Bishop Tuff

Law of Complexity: The geology is always more complicated than you think it will be.


Corollary: The complexity of the geology is directly proportional to the percentage of the area that is exposed as an outcrop. The least amount of exposure contains the most complex geology.

Grass covers the hills of the California Coast Ranges, hiding the extraordinarily deformed rocks of the Franciscan Complex, an accretionary wedge deposit

Laws Regarding Organized Skepticism in Science:

Pharaoh’s Principle: Be skeptical about extraordinary claims, but do not forget that the guy may really have been talking to God after all.

Pharaoh always struck me as the best scientist in antiquity: question all claims; require evidence (screen capture from "The Ten Commandments", 1956, Paramount Pictures)

The X-Files Principle: If you truly believe in a hypothesis, all evidence will eventually prove it.

Laws Regarding the Teaching of Science:

The “California will fall into the sea” Syndrome: The one principle, fact, or model that students will remember 20 years after taking a science class will be factually wrong.

Researching and Publishing (and in my case, field guides):

TheGrammatical Problems: the Colon” Principle: Despite the best efforts of editors and publishers to abolish the practice, the colon will always be used in geology titles. No geologist can resist its dramatic impact. 

The Law of Expanding Returns: The time remaining before the deadline for submittal of papers is inversely proportional to number of pages remaining to be written (i.e., as the deadline approaches, the number of new facts, ideas and conclusions approaches infinity).

The second corollary: the best ideas and insights must necessarily occur after a paper has been submitted.

The Log in One’s Own Eye Axiom: Authors can never proofread their own documents.

The Aggressive Editor Fallacy: An editor who makes too many changes to a document becomes subject to the previous axiom.

The Elephant in the Living Room Principle: An editor can spend so much time correcting minor grammar problems that he/she will miss the fact that the entire premise of the paper is erroneous.



DSchwartz78 said...

The Agony of Originality: Is what I am writing meaningfully different from what others have said?

Anonymous said...

I love the rule about odometers

Hollis said...

Diversity will increase as publication deadline approaches ... not due to evolution but to taxonomists. And it can't be replicated in the field.
OOPS!!!! thinking botany, sorry, but you led me to it ;)