|FROM THE EDITOR||May 1999|
Three cheers for the multitalented! In the United States and the rest
of the world, we
generally admire those with the greater vision. Take the Academy Awards. The multitalented actors who write the screenplays and direct the films get our praise (and a lot of our money). Why is it that creative, multitalented geoscientists do not receive such admiration? Raised glasses and multiple funding offers reward the multidisciplinary actor. The multidisciplinary geoscientist gets raised eyebrows and no money. For a profession that thrives on creativity, it’s strange that those who are the most creative tend to be penalized.
In this month’s “Comment,” AGI Executive Committee member and Johns Hopkins University professor, Steven M. Stanley, describes his own multidisciplinary experience. Provocative, but credible, work on the origin of Pleistocene continental glaciation has netted Stanley a range of reactions. His multidisciplinary ideas have given everyone from paleoceanographers to anthropologists a big target to strike. But, he has also given them much to examine, discuss, and verify.
Stanley brings to light an interesting dilemma. Our science thrives on new ideas, yet the universities and funding agencies tend to discourage those who “think outside the box” — at least, the younger scientists who draw on multiple disciplines. His concern should be a warning for us to examine how we reward creative science — especially now that after decades of specialization, our finely focused topical boundaries are starting to blur. As Stanley suggests, now is the time to encourage more multidisciplinary research and reward multidisciplinary researchers.
Sherri Cooper’s feature article offers a good example of a practical multidisciplinary approach. By examining a variety of clues from the Pamlico and Neuse river estuaries in North Carolina, Cooper (Duke University’s Nicholas School of the Environment) has been able to see changing trends in ecosystems during the past 1,000 to 2,000 years. Like many coastal zones, the use of these estuaries and the surrounding land has changed dramatically over just a few decades. Cooper’s multidisciplinary approach reveals the change in fauna and flora in the estuaries as well as changes in the local geology and climate. By setting baselines for the expected ranges of these natural systems, we can begin to understand the impact of human activity along estuaries.
In our second article, John McBride suggests that we stop summarily dismissing old data. For the past three years, the Illinois Geological Survey has been collecting seismic data shot decades ago in the central mid-continent. Tapping petroleum companies as a data source, the survey has collected thousands of miles of seismic profiles. For the first time, the deep basement structure of the Illinois Basin is coming into focus. McBride’s work shows the value of older data and reinforces the need to save and re-examine this information.
In our final feature, William Houston and Colleen Riley (Michigan Technological University) show us how to be multidisciplinary in education and public outreach. We all know through our everyday activities how unaware most people are about Earth. Houston and Riley report on a successful program they’ve developed that encourages university students and professors to get involved with K-12 students and, by default, the general public. They feel that it is a necessary part of a geoscientist’s professional education. Their “experiment” is providing predictable results — geologists can make a solid, public outreach contribution and nongeologists can learn.
Finally, I want to mention a transition at Geotimes. Jan Childress, our managing editor, is leaving us. A talented writer, editor, and manager, Jan has helped guide the publication through a very challenging period. Her talents will be missed.
Victor V. van Beuren