Paper No. 8
Presentation Time: 4:00 PM


FLETCHER, Frank W., 4 Thompson Ct, Reedville, VA 22539,

The values gap between geoscience and public policy making often stands in the way of beneficial land use and resource decisions. Geoscientists and policy makers hold values that are rooted in very different intellectual traditions. The task of geoscientists is to describe the rules of the game that control geologic processes and to make predictions from these rules. This task requires a commitment to objectivity, fidelity to scientific method (that is, rational process), insistence on verifiability, and openness to critical evaluation. Policy makers, particularly elected officials, have a very different task. They decide the rules that preserve the public welfare, safety and health. In this role, they reflect a set of values that includes responsiveness to the will of constituents, loyalty to political party, bias toward select answers, casualness toward strict verifiability, and impatience with critical assessment.

Several examples of public policy issues involving geologic phenomena and events in the Commonwealth of Virginia demonstrate that the values gap is wide and that bridging it is hard work. Topping the list of geologic challenges that bedevil state and local policy makers are: sea level rise, groundwater depletion, uranium mining, seismic threat, and shale gas extraction. Successful solutions to these challenges will require policies founded in sound geoscience; however, much of the public debate has exposed unconstructive schemes which arise out of values reflecting the influence of powerful special interest groups, widespread scientific illiteracy among voters, flawed reporting by the news media, and too little effort by geoscientists to educate voters and connect with policy makers.

Bridging the values gap will necessitate some determined reaching out to the public by geoscientists. It will require establishing personal relations with policy makers, special interest organizations, and journalists; summarizing and distributing geoscience research findings in plain language; conducting geoscience educational programs for social and service organizations; and testifying on behalf of scientific legitimacy at public hearings.

  • Bridging the Gap NOTES FINAL TALK.pdf (2.9 MB)