2009 Portland GSA Annual Meeting (18-21 October 2009)

Paper No. 1
Presentation Time: 8:05 AM


MANDUCA, Cathryn A., Science Education Resource Center, Carleton College, 1 North College Street, Northfield, MN 55057 and KASTENS, Kim A., Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, Columbia University, 61 Route 9W, Palisades, NY 10964-8000, cmanduca@carleton.edu

A more careful articulation of the strengths of our discipline, the characteristics of its scientific approach, and the nature of geoscience expertise may help geoscientists better explain themselves to the larger population of scientists, policy makers, and citizens. Like most other modern sciences geoscience is not easily classified as quantitative, qualitative, experimental or historical, but rather integrates these methods to address questions about the Earth system.  Methods of proof in the geosciences rest heavily on comparing explanation to observation drawing across multiple cases, scales, and lines of evidence (including results derived from experiments and models).  While individual geoscientists have a wide range of skills and expertise, they are united by a set of common perspectives that both characterize their approach and foster collaboration.   These perspectives provide a framework in which phenomena are understood as complex systems, as integrated into a long (4.5+ billion year) history that allows for slow processes to have major impacts but also includes short, catastrophic changes, and as taking place in a context where the specific geographic, spatial and temporal circumstances are important.  Collaboration, which is essential to testing hypotheses across cases and with multiple converging lines of evidence, is facilitated by this shared perspective.   While the characteristics or skills that geoscientists bring to the table can be found in scientists in other disciplines, the specific combination of observation, argumentation and collaboration used by geoscientists to address questions about the Earth is instructive not only in solving scientific problems but in providing insight into how humans can understand complex systems, how compelling arguments can be made with incomplete data, and how a collaborative culture can extend the capacity for human problem solving.