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We've been writing a lot on the blog and in Synthesis Project manuscripts, about interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary collaboration. In so doing, we are reflecting an important trend within Geosciences, as the field tries to grapple with problems that are too big for one brain to solve.
Yet even as this trend picks up momentum, there is a discernible countercurrent of colleagues who decidedly do not want to be drawn into interdisciplinarity. I might paraphrase their point of view as: "I study A, and the reason that I'm good at studying A is because I focus on A, and I really don't think that B, C, D, E, and F are as interesting or important as A, and if I did I would have studied them instead of A. So leave me alone, and let me get back to work studying A." Their point is well taken: Deep expertise requires concentrated focus over a long duration, and collaboration takes time. Moreover, without the findings of disciplinary specialists, the interdisciplinary folks would have nothing upon which to build.GSA Today, to find an illustration that seemed to express the latter point of view right out there in public for all the world to see.
In the midst of an intricate stratigraphic diagram of cross-cutting sedimentary relationships there was a minor unit, conspicuously colored in bright red, and conspicuously labelled as "Boring Volcanic Rocks."
Does that really say "boring?" My goodness, how....um...forthright. More
In yesterday's New York Times magazine, Nobel prizewinner economist and columnist Paul Krugman asked "How Did Economists Get it So Wrong?" Earlier this year, in Mother Jones, journalist Dean Starkman asked "How could 9,000 business reporters blow the biggest story on their beat?" Starkman cited a multitude of intertwined factors, including failing financial health of the media industry with consequent newsroom layoffs, desire on the part of business journalists to keep on good terms with key sources inside corporations, and less investigative work by federal regulators. What with one distraction and another, almost all business journalists failed to anticipate that economic collapse was imminent or inevitable. Krugman cites a different multitude of intertwined factors, including mistaking an internally coherent line of reasoning for a correct line of reasoning, and academic infighting.
Both writers' arguments are clear and compelling as far as they go. But I think there is another reason: Most people who grew up to be today's economists and business journalists never studied Earth System Science. More
In followup to our recent EOS paper "How Geoscientists Think and Learn" (Kastens, Manduca, et al, 2009), Michael D. Max, of Marine Desalination Systems, wrote:
I think this is an interesting point, that extrapolation beyond the last data point is more or less forbidden in science, but geologists do it anyway. More
In fact, Pratt's exact words were: "Where oil is first found, in the final analysis, is in the minds of men" (Pratt, 1952). I can't tell you how many edits and revisions and discussions it took, among co-authors, reviewers and editors, to arrive at wording that captures Pratt's prescient insight while avoiding the 1950's vintage phrasing, which sounds sexist to the 21st century ear. More