Geodata analysis and modeling wrap-up.

Some parting thoughts: I thought it might be useful and fun to provide some context for this course.

Garbage in and garbage out of the black box: This has been a skills course for geoscience, in which I hope you also learned quite a bit of geoscience content on the way. With the computer as an aid, the suite of problem solving tools you can bring to bear on a problem are much greater than decades ago. There is one very important thing to remember in this high tech world - garbage into the black box and garbage out. Many of these programs develop very snappy, clean and pleasing to the eye graphics. This can be misleading, lending the appearance of credibility, of crispness of results. You or someone else conducting the analysis needs to be able to answer the following questions. What is the quality, biases, and accuracy of the data going in? What is the software doing exactly, and what are the model assumptions built into the analysis written into the code? In the above context, what do the results suggest or indicate? Don't let the analysis become anything like magic.

A perfect combo: It has been said in so many ways and so many times it is becoming trite or tedious, but nonetheless, it is 90% true or so - geoscience problems are so big it takes collaborative teams to do the work. Geoscience is the marriage between field work and 'desk' work. Indiana Jones and the Computer Geek make a good team. Yet, what ever specific role you might play you need to appreciate both the field and desk roles so that you can collaborate well. The field is the real world, the place for a reality check, the origin of data for our analytic world, what we are trying to understand, and the origin of our efforts. It is the place. The computer world can be seductive and illusory. For scientific purposes we want our computer worlds to reflect and reconstruct as closely as possible the world in the field. On the other hand, it is clear that computers allow us to do science that we couldn't before. We have concentrated on building your desk skills and tools in this course. As a geoscientist you also need to be versed in your field skills. It is this diversity of effort that can make geoscience such a fascinating career.

Educating the masses about geoscience. People are prone to ranking things. Now adays ranking is manifest as the top ten whatever. It is such a common practice it must literally be part of our nature, hard wired in some manner, unavoidable. If so, lets do it with some thought. Scientific disciplines are sometimes ranked, and in this ranking physics often comes out top, with chemistry not far behind, and then biology and geology are far behind. Some consider social sciences as so far down in the ranking that they don't even qualify as real science. Not surprisingly, I have heard this view most commonly from those in the more 'elevated' sciences. John Horgan captures this view in his book - The End of Science - where he relegates any discovery in anything put physics and chemistry as of secondary importance. This would include the discovery of how life could naturally evolve from inorganic reactions. Such perspectives and rankings are actually important in many ways. It determines what type of research gets funded, who serves as a spokesperson for science, and much else. This ranking of the sciences is, of course, pure garbage.

It is pure garbage for several reasons. Scientific knowledge doesn't belong to or come from one discipline, and the boundaries between the disciplines are extremely fuzzy. How can components that can overlap so much and in so many ways be ranked significantly differently. The distinction between pure and applied science suffers the same difficulties. There is interbreeding between these two and a lot of fuzzy overlap. The focus should be on the question at hand, and then any knowledge or methodology useful should be brought to bear on that question.

Part of the basis for the stereotypic ranking is perceived difficulty, and part of this is related to the proportion of qualitative vs. quantitative analysis in a given discipline. Why quantitative analysis is considered more difficult than qualitative, conceptual model building is often not explored. After all, the one can be described as a set of rigid rules to follow insuring success, while the other one can not be so simply captured. Also, any quantitative model must be based on conceptual models.

This courses is a geoscience skills course in some large part. Here is just one place we can see how the ranking can be reversed by considering the suite of skills utilized. Contrast the set of skills needed to practice physics vs. that demanded by geoscience. As we have seen in this course, geoscience requires a diversity of skills and problem solving tools, that includes physics, chemistry, statistics, biology and more. It requires the careful integration of field data with lab data with theory. This is because the systems being studies are more complex. Physics usually concentrates on a much more restricted and simple environment, and the needed tools are more limited, although more focused and highly developed. Physics, from this perspective, is actually simpler. Geoscience is the more complex and difficult science. The ranking is reversed. The purpose is not to argue that geoscience is a superior science, but merely point out that stereotypic rankings are often not founded on careful thought and the rankings can be reversed. I hope to persuade you, so that you can persuade others and counter some of the silliness that goes on, and so that you appreciate the nature of geoscience and its relationship to other overlapping and linked sciences..

The future will likely be more fluid or fuzzy with people moving between scientific disciplines more commonly, and that will be also be a more dynamic environment. Already with new disciplines like geobiology, the old boundaries are melting away. Its not the name of the tribe you belong to that counts - its what you can do and what you understand. Enjoy.


In-class proposal exercise.

Now its time to rank this course!


Copyright by Harmon D. Maher Jr.. This material may be used for non-profit educational purposes if proper attribution is given. Otherwise please contact Harmon D. Maher Jr.