Geotimes Logo FROM THE EDITOR April 1999


Welcome to the fourth annual geoscience and public policy issue of Geotimes. This special issue takes a look at how science and politics interact here in the United States and abroad. By definition, earth science is a global discipline, and many of the policy challenges we face in this country also confront our colleagues around the world. The broader scope of this issue of Geotimes also recognizes the increasingly international outlook and composition of AGI’s member societies.

For those in the oil patch, no issue is more important than the current crisis brought on by low oil prices. Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas is well aware of their plight. In her “Comment,” she describes the efforts that she and a bipartisan group of other senators are making to pass legislation that would help domestic producers maintain marginal wells, preserve jobs, and stay in business.

Jim Franklin provides our first international perspective. At about the same time that the USGS weathered its elimination threat, the Geological Survey of Canada was coping with 40 percent budget cuts. Franklin, then chief scientist (director) of the Canadian Survey, was charged with the task of rebuilding his agency in the wake of massive downsizing. He describes that experience as well as efforts by Canadian scientists and engineers to inform and educate members of Parliament about the vital role of science in their society.

U.S. Geological Survey Chief Hydrologist Bob Hirsch summarizes the Survey’s recent report to Congress on the state of the nation’s streamgaging network. In many respects, this network epitomizes the contribution that the geosciences can make to environmental, resource management, and public-safety policy decisions. But given the ebbs and flows of annual budgets and multiple funding sources, maintaining a long-term data collection system presents a major challenge. Hirsch addresses the need to close a widening gap between increased user needs for streamgage information and the network’s declining infrastructure.

Peter Cook asks whether geoscientists have considered the full implications of the new global economy for our global science. Currently head of the Australian Petroleum Cooperative Research Centre and a former director of the British Geological Survey, Cook brings a wealth of international experience to bear in making his case for the integral role that the geosciences can and should play in solving a host of global environmental and resource-related problems. He places responsibility squarely upon us as geoscientists to assume that role in the coming century.

Our final article spreads the word about an important workshop that took place last fall on how scientific predictions should and should not be used in policy-making. Co-authors Dan Sarewitz, Roger Pielke Jr., and Rad Byerly Jr. emphasize that scientists must develop predictions in a way that recognizes the needs of potential users, the necessity for an open prediction process, and the importance of clearly articulating the uncertainties that are inherent in any prediction. Meeting these challenges will require closer collaboration and better communication between natural scientists, social scientists, and decision-makers.

I hope that these articles will stimulate your interest in the many ways that the geosciences can contribute to effective public policy-making. To learn more about the environmental, resource, and natural hazard policy issues that affect geoscientists, please visit AGI’s government affairs web site at

David Applegate
     AGI Director of Government Affairs
     Guest Editor

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