GSA Annual Meeting in Denver, Colorado, USA - 2016

Paper No. 96-1
Presentation Time: 8:10 AM


ANDREWS, Sarah, P.O. Box 1521, Sebastopol, CA 95473,

The task of interpreting science to park visitors is complicated by visitors’ educational, cultural, or religious backgrounds. It is therefore important to create a portal through which visitors may experience the essential state of wonder through which scientists access and create scientific understandings. Using language alone to describe science presents ambiguities, as most scientific terms identify concepts that require years of education to fully comprehend, and because listeners are sensitized to the metacommunication that abides in such subtleties as active vs. passive voice, tone of voice, the choice of what is said and what is left unsaid, and what is displayed in park museums and outdoor exhibits vs. what is left unseen. Fortunately, the parks present unparalleled opportunities to take visitors to the source of scientific understanding, thus providing education through a combination of person-to-person communications and the vast sensory input experienced while embracing nature in near-pristine settings.

Greeted by the scale and magnificence of parks that preserve and present natural history, visitors are already surprised part way into the essential state of wonder that scientists seek in order to open thinking and awareness to new ideas. Within these parks, naturalists are often challenged to interpret science to visitors who may hold ideas about the scientific method that are partially or wholly incorrect. By dispensing with the limitations of ideas formerly held and engaging education and experience, scientists employ the scientific method. When a talented park interpreter is also a scientist, this bridge of communication is especially inspiring. An example was Edwin D. McKee, who served as chief naturalist at Grand Canyon while studying the stratigraphy of the Colorado Plateau on his days off. Simple, direct passion for clarity of understanding moved McKee to share his work with both learned colleagues and visitors.

By inviting visitors into science’s essential state of wonder, all may meet with open minds and thus dispel concerns and prejudices visitors may hold about science, fostering understanding that helps visitors understand how and why scientists do science and how scientific findings support life on this complex planet.