One Additional Question: Why Do You Write About Geology So Often?

Eldridge Moores with an exposed ophiolite in a road cut in the Sierra Nevada. (Craig Miller/KQED, 2016)

While WC recently answered readers’ questions, in that effort WC held one question out to address is a separate blog post. You’ll see why.

Why do you write about geology so often?
When WC was in undergraduate school, in the late Pleistocene, he took a minor (sorry) in Geology. One of the classes was on plate tectonics, which back then was less than five years old as a respectable branch of geology. We had a series of visiting professors, one of whom was the late Eldridge Moores, a rock star (sorry) among geologists, who had done pioneering work on the rock sequences associated with spreading centers, areas on the globe where tectonic plates were being shoved apart. Prof. Moores was later made even more (sorry) famous by John McPhee, who featured Moores and his work in the best geology book written, Assembling California.

Moores was a wonderful lecturer. It was Moores who gave WC his favorite quote about Oregon geology: “There’s some very interesting geology in Oregon; unfortunately, it’s all buried under 2,000 feet of basalt.” And Moores’ ability to explain in comprehensible terms what geologists were finding and how it fit the evolving model of plate tectonics was simply outstanding.

In 1996, Moores was elected President the Geological Society of America, the GSA. He had been the editor of Geology, the GSA’s publication, for some 25 years. As is the custom for GSA Presidents, he gave a presidential address in the course of his term. He chose as the theme of his presidential address the vast ignorance of geology in the American public. He pointed out that 46% of Americans think the Earth is less than 10,000 years old. Nearly half of Americans effectively reject the primary tenets of geology. That half of Americans think that humans and dinosaurs existed at the same time.1 The ignorance is shocking, profound and dangerous. Yet, as Moores points out,

[T]here is a great deal of interest, even hunger, for geologic knowledge on the part of the average person. Many regret not having had geology in school. Furthermore, if you ask the average 3rd grader what (s)he is interested in, the answer typically includes dirt, rocks, volcanoes, earthquakes and dinosaurs. People are naturally attracted to the earth and are very interested in their surroundings— they need a sense of place.

Eldridge Moores, “Geology and Culture: A Call to Action.”

Somehow, for some reason, that early interest and understanding is lost as we get older.

In his address, among other important points, Moores called for all geologists to make a greater effort share their science with the public at large, to find opportunities to make geology and its principles and conclusions more accessible to the public at large.

So the simple answer to the reader’s question is that WC writes about geology because his professor told him to write about geology. It’s even kind of true.

But geology is also endlessly fascinating. It combines inductive and deductive reasoning, deep puzzles, wonderful language and a strong impact on everyday life. Geology is fun.

WC writes about geology because it is important, because it just might push back against the walls of ignorance, because it honors Prof. Moores and, most of all, because geology is fun.

1 Sure, WC recognizes that the answers to public opinion questions depend on how you state the question. There is data suggesting that it’s only a third or so of Americans really and truly believe the earth is just 8,800 years old. WC respectfully suggests that’s not very reassuring.

4 thoughts on “One Additional Question: Why Do You Write About Geology So Often?

  1. John McPhee is one of my favorite writers – able to make geology comprehensible even to someone who has trouble visualizing in 3 d.

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  2. Basin and Range was the geology hook for me, then In Suspect Terrain and Rising from the Plains, featuring geologist David Love. Since then I eye road cuts more closely.


  3. When I was a kid my dad decided it would be “good for the boy” to help out some friends. His friend was Joe Usibelli and he hired two geologists who needed someone to carry a radio and samples for a few weeks. Joe graciously provided a two way radio he used in Vietnam. Between that & rock samples, in just two weeks, I learned to dislike geology and rock lickers.

    Liked by 1 person

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