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Is the Fourth Paradigm Really New?


Posted: Oct 20 2012 by Kim Kastens
Topics: Spatial Thinking, Interpretation/Inference, Community, History of Geosciences

Cover of Fourth Paradigm I have a long-standing interest in the use of data in education, so I've been reading with interest several articles and a book concerned with the so-called "Fourth Paradigm" of science, in which insights are wrested from vast troves of existing data. The Fourth Paradigm is envisioned as a new method of pushing forward the frontiers of knowledge, enabled by new technologies for gathering, manipulating, analyzing and displaying data. The term seems to have originated with Jim Gray, a Technical Fellow and visionary at Microsoft's eScience group, who was lost at sea in 2007. The first three paradigms, in this view, would be empirical observation and experimentation, analytical or theoretical approaches, and computational science or simulation. Earth and Environmental Sciences are well represented in the book, with essays on data-rich ecological science, ocean science, and space science.

I am finding these readings very stimulating and worthwhile. But I question whether this way of making meaning from the complexity of nature is really so new. More

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Older but Wiser


Posted: Jan 2 2012 by Kim Kastens
Topics: Interpretation/Inference, History of Geosciences

photo of Marie TharpMarie Tharp's workspace with seafloor profiles aligned to facilitate comparing and contrasting multiple "cases." Source.
In a recent post, I wrote about "Case Based Reasoning," a powerful form of learning in which a person compares and contrasts multiple instances of something and extracts a common pattern or thread of insight. Without using that term, Ault (1998) described a very similar process for how geologists extract insight from nature, using the example of deep sea fans. Each fan is a little different from the others, and the essence of deep-sea-fan-ness lies in the aspects they have in common.

This reasoning process is found throughout geosciences. For example, Marie Tharp's discovery of the rift valley of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge came about as she slogged through thousands of kilometers of echo sounder profiles and extracted the common schema of a rift-shaped feature reminiscent of the East African Rift Valley. More

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Seeking Kosmos


Posted: Nov 18 2011 by Kim Kastens
Topics: History of Geosciences, Temporal Thinking
I've been working on a set of concept maps showing major domains of geoscientific thinking as part of the Synthesis of Research on Thinking and Learning in the Geosciences. One tendril of the "Temporal Thinking in Geosciences" concept map branches off to depict "Historical sciences."

Concept map of Historical Sciences
As described in an earlier post on temporal thinking, these are fields of science or scholarship that pay careful attention to the timing and sequence of events, and use timing and sequence to provide constraints on causality. Our concept map shows nodes for Cosmology, Geology & Paleontology, Archeology, History, and Developmental Psychology. More

In which I encounter a "Merchant Of Doubt"


Posted: May 24 2011 by Kim Kastens
Topics: History of Geosciences, Solving Societal Problems

Cover of "Merchants of Doubt" In the course of my work with science and environmental journalism students, I had repeatedly heard of efforts by various people and organizations to stir up doubt about the scientific evidence concerning prominent medical and environmental issues. Thus it was with great interest that I opened a new book, Merchants of Doubt, by Namoi Oreskes and Erik Conway. The book promised to tell me "How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Climate Warming," with chapters on acid rain, the ozone hole, second hand tobacco smoke, global warming, and DDT.

A short way into the book, my interest took a sharp turn towards the personal. One of the four protagonists of the story turned out to be Dr. William Nierenberg, who had been the Director of Scripps Institution of Oceanography during the years that I studied there for my PhD. Nierenberg starred in two chapters: on acid rain and global climate change. More

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GSA goes Metacognitive


Posted: Dec 23 2010 by Kim Kastens
Topics: History of Geosciences, Metacognition

Looking around the website of the Geological Society of America, I found myself on the page announcing the Society's upcoming 125th anniversary celebration. In bold print, the Society congratulates itself for: "ADVANCES IN GEOSCIENCES: Our science, our societal impact, and our unique thought processes." More

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