2014 GSA Annual Meeting in Vancouver, British Columbia (19–22 October 2014)

Paper No. 265-8
Presentation Time: 10:00 AM

WHAT IS ‘GEOLOGY’? PRELIMINARY FINDINGS FROM A WORD ASSOCIATION EXERCISE WITH EXPERTS AND NON-EXPERTS


GIBSON, Hazel1, STOKES, Alison1, STEWART, Iain1 and PAHL, Sabine2, (1)School of Geography, Earth and Environmental Sciences, Plymouth University, Drake Circus, Plymouth, PL4 8AA, United Kingdom, (2)School of Psychology, Plymouth University, Drake Circus, Plymouth, PL4 8AA, United Kingdom, alison.stokes@plymouth.ac.uk

Geological issues are increasingly encroaching on the everyday lives of ordinary people. Whether it is through onshore exploration and extraction of oil and gas, development of geothermal power generation or underground storage of carbon dioxide and radioactive waste, many communities across the world are being confronted with challenging geological activities under their backyard. In order to engage communities and individuals in effective dialogue about these activities, it is necessary to gain a better understanding of the range of ideas about geology as a science that exist within the general population.

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.

Handouts
  • Gibson et al GSA 2014.pdf (1.7 MB)