WHAT IS ‘GEOLOGY’? PRELIMINARY FINDINGS FROM A WORD ASSOCIATION EXERCISE WITH EXPERTS AND NON-EXPERTS
We examined data from 897 responses to an online survey which asked participants “What five words come to mind when you see the word 'geology'?” The survey also collected basic demographic information including highest level of education and previous expertise in geology. We circulated the survey initially via academic mailing lists serving geological and non-geological audiences, from where it became distributed more widely. The responses generated a dataset of 4406 individual words which were qualitatively analysed and categorized under five broad themes: 1) identity (concepts and items associated with ‘being a geologist’); 2) geological products (physical objects); 3) geological or scientific processes (method of change); 4) emotional or experiential (indicating personal responses); and 5) other. The word most commonly associated with geology was ‘rocks’ (81.8%; n=3604) while 63.3% of words (n=2789) were categorized under the theme of ‘geological products’.
This research forms part of a wider study into individuals’ mental models of the subsurface. To further explore this aspect, we re-categorized the data according to whether surface or subsurface aspects of geology were implied by each word. Initial findings suggest that people with a higher level of formal education are more likely to hold ideas relating to the subsurface, and hence may be more aware of the non-visible aspects of geology. This has important implications for communicating geological topics to audiences that vary in expertise and level of education.