Rethinking the Fabric of Geology
Geological controversies: A role for history and philosophy of science in earth science education
Published:September 01, 2013
The state of geoscience education, in terms of numbers of teachers, students taught, and perceived importance, has been lagging behind the other science disciplines for decades. Part of the reason for this is that geology has commonly been seen as a “derivative” science, by educators, especially when compared to its “experimental” counterparts (for instance, physics and chemistry). However, with current global issues (climate change, scarcity of clean water, increasing fossil fuel usage) facing the populations of the world, being geoscience literate is a must. We show that, in fact, the geological sciences have their own philosophical structure, being both historical and hermeneutic, and it is this specific structure that aids students in addressing these global issues. In addition, we discuss the reasons for using historical controversies as a pedagogical tool for geoscience instruction. The history of geology is rife with scientific controversy, and the use of such a strategy has been shown to be effective for developing students' interest in the content, for sharpening critical-thinking skills, as well as for emphasizing the nature of science. This chapter consolidates the knowledge base by describing the structure of the geosciences in terms of its philosophical, theoretical, and cognitive frameworks. We find that geoscience instruction could well be improved by incorporating history and philosophy of science and employing historical case studies, especially those involving controversy. Two well-known controversies, continental drift/plate tectonics and the Cretaceous-Paleogene extinction event, illustrate these frameworks.