Can’t get no respect

Ashley Fitzpatrick
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Geoscientists called upon to impress their expertise upon the public

Members of the Geological Association of Canada and the Mineralogical Association of Canada were faced with a projected photo of Rodney Dangerfield and comments of “no respect” Sunday, during a speech by geological association president Stephen Rowins.  

Rowins pressed the hundreds of geoscientists before him, gathered at the Delta Hotel and Conference Centre in St. John’s, to find ways to explain and convey their work to the public.

Not enough influence

“Although geoscience, or earth science is a topic of great interest to the general public, I sense that we geoscientists really don’t have that much influence on today’s great geoscientific debates,” he said.

‘Failure to communicate’

“We seem marginalized, yet we have much to contribute to the discussion on climate change, the environmental impacts of oil sand development, on the role of government funding in science and education, and even the debate over evolution versus creationism, or its modern guise of intelligent design.”

He went on to quote from Cool Hand Luke: “Luke, what we have here is a failure to communicate.”

Rowins, also chief geologist for British Columbia’s Ministry of Mines and Energy, said the inability to convey the significance of a geoecientist’s day to day work has resulted in the average person not thinking to seek out a geoscientist for expert opinions when debates arise.

“I find that troubling. And we should be concerned, because it is the general public — not the elites — that ultimately decide on how society evolves and adapts,” he said.

When scientists are not sought out, or have a weak voice, it can lead to decisions based on public perception rather than scientific reality.

The attitude on promoting geoscience work, Rowins said, has been to allow the science to “speak for itself.”

Yet, “it is time for us to step up to the plate,” he said. “We need to let people know what we do.”

Geosciences in Newfoundland and Labrador

The event in St. John’s includes 12 technical program sessions, each with multiple subjects being explored at once, in different rooms of the Delta space.

“Some are pretty esoteric,” said chief geologist with Alderon Iron Ore Corp., Edward Lyons. Yet the sessions are not meant to sell shares or recruit workers.

Lyons’ own presentation was focused on the Labrador Trough and one of many such presentations scheduled with areas of Newfoundland and Labrador at its core.

A presentation by James Conliffe, a geoscientist working with the provincial Department of Natural Resources, provided an overview of iron ore exploration in Labrador to conference delegates. Conliffe’s work this summer will include examining core drilled in the Julienne Lake area by Altius Minerals and comparing it to government data — moving ahead on defining the potential of the mineral resource there.

“Labrador is and will continue to be the major source of Canadian iron ore,” he told delegates.

Outside the meeting rooms, booths included a table for Boulder Publications. Boulder is previewing Martha Hickman Hild’s “Geology of Newfoundland: Touring through time at 48 scenic sites.”

Hild told The Telegram the idea behind the book was to allow people unfamiliar with the more technical aspects of the geosciences to still get out, see and understand why Newfoundland and Labrador is of such interest to the geoscience crowd — from the Tablelands of Gros Morne National Park to the fossils of Mistaken Point.

Upcoming sessions at the conference are expected to address the potential for promotion of provincial geological treasures and engagement of the public in the geosciences.

The conference continues to Tuesday, closing out with a public lecture “Iceberg Alley” with Dr. Stephen Bruneau, an assistant professor with Memorial University of Newfoundland's faculty of engineering. The talk is being held at the Johnson Geo Centre, starting at 7 p.m.

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Recent comments

  • Fred Penner
    May 28, 2012 - 06:38

    Geoscientists are vital to today's oil based economy and beyond that, "simply" understanding the dynamics of the planet that we live on. Take heart Geoscientists.....your area of study is an esoteric science compared to the area of expertise of the general public and people simply cannot appreciate or discuss what they do not understand. Until the knowledge of society contains a little bit of Geoscience, you will be marginalized simply because, like so many other specialities, you will be in a class by yourself.