Archive | March 2017

Why the AAPG should March for Science

Today the Geological Society of America (GSA) announced via email to members that it supports the March for Science (which is shown on the March for Science partners page but appears to be absent from the main GSA website). This is notable because GSA has far more professional members in the conservative oil and gas industry than, say, AGU, where the oil and gas folks are greatly outnumbered.

Two prominent earth science professional societies are still absent from the list: the American Association of Petroleum Geologists (AAPG) and the Society of Exploration Geophysicists (SEG). These are dominated by professional, private sector earth scientists who probably vote at the more conservative end of the scale. Why should they march?

Simple: Science is just as critical for them as for scientists pursuing topics favored by liberals. Their participation would help to balance the scales in the popular media more. They could help keep the March for Science a march for science and not simply become a march against Trump/GOP.

Well, you say, that is helping the people promoting the march and not the members of these organizations so much.  GG isn’t so sure.

Right now oil and gas companies face considerable emotional opposition to their operations. In the absence of respect for science, they are left with no real tools other than shear magnitude of political money to fight the anger of many communities assigning all their ills to oil and gas operations. Yes, sometimes the science shows those communities are right–but sometimes it shows that things are far more complex (e.g., some examples of natural gas migrating into aquifers are not from new activities but gas rising along old, abandoned wells with poor or degrading casings) and sometimes it finds there isn’t any merit to community claims. Furthermore, scientific understanding of the cause of any impacts can lead to the development of mitigation strategies that can allow resource development while limiting or eliminating harmful impacts.

Understanding and respecting science for what it is offers perhaps the best path forward in accommodating conflicting agendas in many disciplines.  Allowing science to be discredited as a tool in developing government policy might have some short term gains in some situations, but that will be counterbalanced by other situations where emotions run high and motivations will appear suspicious.  Science is, at its heart, simply a rational way to solve problems.

“Petroleum” and “Exploration” are modifiers to “Geologists” and “Geophysicists;” they are not the essence of them. Science is the essence of geology and geophysics.  GG is hoping that, as long as a lot of people are marching for science, that they are joined by the AAPG and SEG.  It’s best for all concerned.

College Changes

No, not changes to the college, changes by it. For years and years now, higher education has been viewed as the perverter of young minds even as it is lauded as the gateway to upward mobility. Although this is usually portrayed as fine upstanding youth becoming leftist socialists, some of us remember the preppie phase where leftist parents lamented the materialistic impulses of their college offspring.

Does this have any meaning? Is it that the teachers at colleges and universities are brainwashing students? Does this reflect a cocoon where disagreement with the party line is squashed?

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Public Science, Private Profit

As some of the new administration’s scientific plans start to emerge, one can see a pattern.  Proposed changes to the NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) budget include a 26% ($126M) cut to the Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric research, elimination of the SeaGrant program, and a 22% cut in the satellite data division, all of which smacks of anger that scientists supported under some of these programs failed to confirm some climate denialists’ claims of global cooling. In addition there appears to be a general sense that NOAA needs to operate more like a business. Even the National Weather Service is to be cut under this plan. (Payback for the rain on Inauguration Day?)

In essence, this is an evaluation that climate research must be scaled back. It is a classic head in the sand move, one profoundly unwise in many areas.  First, an awful lot of that research has nothing to do with anthropogenic climate change, so even if you think that research is inappropriate, you are killing a lot of innocent bystanders as a result.  It includes work on understanding some of the various atmospheric oscillations and how they can affect extreme weather events. It includes work on means of improving long-term weather forecasts and monthly climatic forecasts. It includes observations of how temperatures in the oceans and atmosphere are changing–observations, mind you, not interpretations of why such changes are happening, but necessary observations for all the other forecasting activities going on. Previous NOAA heads from the last two administrations have called these cuts unwise. For a country that regularly suffers billion dollar losses in multiple weather events each year, cutting back on research and observation is profoundly misguided.

While part of this is motivated by a change in priorities by the new administration toward military growth, and part may well reflect unhappiness with scientific observations and inferences by some members of the administration, part of this too reflects a long time Republican feeling that government can be replaced by business. For instance, the GOP wanted to kill off the distribution of topographic maps by the USGS during the Reagan Administration. In fact, they wanted the Survey’s data to be freely available to corporations that would then print off their own maps, free of any competition from the USGS maps. One claim, for instance seen in a 1988 National Review article, was that private companies could make better, cheaper maps than the USGS. It is worth tearing this apart just to illustrate why there are some things the government does well, which actually benefits private interests as well as advancing public ones.

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Interring the Good

The evil that men do lives after them; the good is oft interred with their bones.- Wm. Shakespeare, Julius Caesar

We are all human and recognize in others strengths and weaknesses.  Generally we choose to amplify those: those whose accomplishments seem notable are heroes, those whose failings seem pronounced become villains. What has become more common in the past few decades is to revise evaluations using present standards of conduct. So, for instance, you might think of Columbus, who was lauded for centuries for opening the New World to the Old, but in recent years that accomplishment has come to be viewed as a mixed blessing or an outright calamity, leading to fewer places recognizing this as a holiday.

But Columbus’s loss of stature is in large part a change in our view of the accomplishment and less a revision of how we view Columbus the man (though he has taken hits there, too). A more pertinent example might be Thomas Jefferson, whose accomplishments as a statesman and president retain their luster, but whose personal behavior (most notably being a slave owner) has caused many to deride him. Is Thomas Jefferson now more villain than hero?

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