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Geological Understanding and the Changing Environment
Victor R. Baker
We live in a time of profound change, not just in the physical environment of the planet, but also in the social environment in which science is conducted. Science is increasingly being criticized for its insensitivity to societal concerns, whereas its abstract, theoretical structure is becoming increasingly mysterious to those both benefiting from its products and responsible for its support. Geology has a central role to play in forging a new relationship between science and society. Its great strength in this regard does not lie merely in the factual information that it provides about the planet inhabited by humankind. Important as such information is to global habitability, much more important is the approach used by geologists to understand nature. Almost alone among disciplines, geology has preserved, in the actions of its practitioners, a pragmatic approach to science. This approach involves synthetic reasoning according to classical doctrines of commonsensism, fallibilism, and realism. While lacking the predictive rigor of the analytical modeling approaches so in vogue today, the pragmatic approach of geology derives its relevance from documentation of the real experience of the natural world. It is with such real experience that humankind must coexist, not with some idealized prediction of a conceptualized future.
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