The Society Page
February 2000

AGI Member Society News

A comprehensive listing of news and announcements from the American Geological Institute's 35 member societies.

AGU takes a stand on evolution

Following its fall meeting held Dec. 13–17 in San Francisco, the Council of the American Geophysical Union announced the adoption of a revised position on the importance of teaching evolution and Earth history—still a hot topic several months after the decision by the Kansas State Board of Education to remove evolution, the origin of the universe and the age of Earth from state education standards. AGU first adopted a statement opposing the teaching of creationism as science in 1981 and has reaffirmed it several times since, most recently in 1998. The society’s new statement, an expansion of the original, is titled, “Earth History and the Evolution of Life Must Be Taught: Creationism is not Science.” It reads, “An educated citizenry must understand these theories in order to comprehend the dynamic world in which we live and nature’s complex balance that sustains us.” The statement also notes that scientific theories are based on observation, testing and repeated verification—not faith. “AGU opposes all efforts to require or promote teaching creationism or any other religious tenets as science. AGU supports the National Science Education Standards, which incorporate well-established scientific theories, including the origin of the universe, the age of Earth and the evolution of life.”

Member society members

Larry A. Lebofsky of the University of Arizona in Tucson was honored with the 2000 Carl Sagan Medal for his excellence in communicating the planetary sciences to the general public. The American Astronomical Society recognized Lebofsky for his exemplary dedication to education in the planetary sciences spanning kindergarten through community programs for adults. After he earned his doctorate in earth and planetary science from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1974, Lebofsky spent several years at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory before moving on to the Lunar and Planetary Laboratory at the University of Arizona, where he has remained active since 1977. He is a member of many professional societies, including the American Geophysical Union.

The Geological Society of America honored Mohamed Sultan, geologist and environmental scientist at the Argonne National Laboratory, as the first recipient of the newly established Farouk El-Baz Award for Desert Research during its annual meeting in October. An adjunct professor of earth and environmental science at the University of Illinois, Chicago, Sultan spearheads the effort to establish a state-of-the-art Center for Environmental Hazard Mitigation at Cairo University in Egypt, and has made great advances in the field of desert rock chronology. The El-Baz Award will be presented annually to a scientist who has significantly advanced the knowledge of arid land studies. Nominees need not be geologists or U.S. citizens.

A new oceanographic vessel, the USNS Mary Sears, was named in honor of the woman who pioneered oceanographic exploration for the world as the first oceanographer of the Navy and as the leader in developing the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. Mary Sears was born in 1905 and passed away in 1997 at the age of 92. During her lifetime she played an invaluable role in furthering our understanding of oceanography. The Navy paid tribute to Sears with its sixth Pathfinder class ship. Capable of surveying in coastal and deep waters, the USNS Mary Sears will conduct research in the field including physical, chemical and biological oceanography, marine geology and geophysics, and others. A 1985 issue of Deep-Sea Research was dedicated to Mary Sears. She was a member of many community and educational organizations and professional societies, including the American Geophysical Union.

Kentucky named James C. Cobb its new state geologist and director of the Kentucky Geological Survey. For the past 10 years Cobb has served as an assistant state geologist and adjunct professor in the Department of Geological Sciences at the University of Kentucky. He is also a member of the Geological Society of America, the American Association of Petroleum Geologists, and the Association of American State Geologists. Cobb hopes to make Kentucky the first state to have a geology GIS for the entire state.

The Society Page is compiled by Christina Reed, associate editor of Geotimes.


John Charles Ferm, professor of geological sciences at the University of Kentucky, died of natural causes on Nov. 15 in Lexington, Ken. He was 74 years old.

Ferm was born in East Liverpool, Ohio, and was raised in Midland, Penn., where his early interest in paleontology, steam locomotives and the steel industry was kindled. He studied geology at Penn State.

Ferm began his career in Lexington as a field mapper in the eastern Kentucky coal resource program of the U.S. Geological Survey. He maintained a special interest in the sedimentary deposits of northeast Kentucky and later returned there with students to explore the problems he discovered during his early career. His academic life spanned almost 50 years and three universities and affected hundreds of graduate students. Ferm was at Louisiana State University from 1957 to 1968, where he focused his research on sedimentation in coal-bearing strata.

Arriving at the University of South Carolina in 1969, he discovered that operating coal companies maintained massive quantities of information that could be utilized in research. He used such information to help initiate the computerization of geologic data and methods of standardization for core description. His applications of geologic models to mine exploration and safety were internationally recognized. Ferm left the University of South Carolina in 1979 and spent his last two decades at the University of Kentucky, Lexington, where he continued to pursue his earlier interests in coal geology, paleontology and modern depositional environments.

Ferm was made senior fellow of the Geological Society of America in 1995. He was also a member of the Society of Economic Paleontologists and Mineralogists, the Society for Organic Petrology, Sigma Xi, the American Association for the Advancement of Science and Sigma Gamma Epsilon. In 1991, Ferm received the Gilbert H. Cady Award from the Geological Society of America’s Coal Geology Division, and in 1995, he received the Gordon H. Wood Jr. Memorial Award from the American Association of Petroleum Geologists’ Energy Minerals Division.

Obituary provided courtesy of Jerry Weisenfluh, University of Kentucky

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