The Economic Aspect of Geology Part 46

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The writer is inclined to emphasize also the desirability of what might be called the quant.i.tative approach to the subject,--that is, of training in mathematics and laboratory practice, which gives the student facility in treating geologic problems concretely and in quant.i.tative terms. Geology is pa.s.sing from the descriptive and qualitative stages to a more precise basis. For this reason the combination of geology with engineering often proves a desirable one. It is not uncommon for the student trained solely in the humanities and other non-quant.i.tative subjects to have difficulty in acquiring habits of mind which lead to sufficient precision in the application of his science. He may have a good grasp of general principles and be able to express himself well, but he is handicapped in securing definite results. This does not necessarily mean that a large amount of time should be given to study of quant.i.tative methods; exact habit of mind is more important in the early stages than expert facility with methods.

The teacher of economic geology finds his data so voluminous that it is difficult to present all the essential facts and yet leave sufficient time for discussion of general principles or for drill in their constructive application. It is difficult to lay down any rule as a guide to the proper division of effort; but from the writer's point of view, it is a mistake to attempt to crowd into a course too many facts.

At best they cannot all be given; and in the attempt to do so, the student is brought into a pa.s.sive and receptive att.i.tude, requiring maximum use of his memory and minimum use of his reasoning power.

Presentation of a few fundamental facts, combined with vigorous discussion tending to develop the student's ability to use these facts, and particularly tending to develop a constructive habit of investigation, seems to be the most profitable use of time during the course of training. The acquirement of facts and details will come fast enough in actual practice.

The variety, amount, and complexity of the data available in geology tend in themselves toward generalizations in teaching--toward the deductive rather than the inductive method. A certain amount of generalization is desirable, but its over-emphasis develops bad habits of mind on the part of the student, and requires radical readjustment of his ideas in subsequent field investigations. To retain a proper emphasis on inductive methods, it is necessary to limit the amount of data presented. Good results have been obtained by using the "case system," now common in the teaching of law--that is, by starting with a specific fact or situation as a basis for developing principles.

Another advantage in the restriction of data is the opportunity thus afforded for spending more time in the study of original reports rather than of the short textbook summaries. The student thus learns where the best primary sources of information are, how to find them, and how to extract essentials from them.


Field work is an essential part of any course of geologic training. Not only should it be taken at every opportunity during the regular school year, but no summer should be allowed to pa.s.s without geologic practice in the field. Opportunities for such work are offered in the summer field courses given by various inst.i.tutions. In recent years it has usually been possible, also, for the student with elementary training to take part in summer geological survey work for state, national, or private organizations. In fact, after two or three years of geologic training, it is comparatively easy for the student to earn at such intervals during the year a fair fraction of his year's expenses.

The ideal arrangement, from the writer's viewpoint, would be about an equal division of time between indoor and outdoor study. The alternation from one to the other supplies a much needed corrective to clear thinking. It is impossible to bring all the subject materials into the cla.s.sroom and laboratory; such study must inevitably be more or less deductive and generalized. If the student at frequent intervals is not able to acquire and renew a mental picture of field conditions, there is likely to be a faulty perspective even in regard to principles, and a considerable gap between the theoretical and applied phases of his knowledge. It may be possible in the cla.s.sroom, for instance, to discuss faults in great detail with the aid of maps, diagrams, and pictures; and yet it is extremely difficult to get a real three-dimensional conception of the problems without actually standing on the ground.


With the increasing size and efficiency of human operations has come an inevitable tendency to specialization. Where, in the past, the necessary geologic work might be pa.s.sably done by the mining engineer, the local superintendent or operator, it is now being intrusted to specialists.

Even within the more strictly engineering phases of the mining engineer's work, there is the same tendency toward specialization; his work is being divided up among the electrical engineers, the mechanical engineers, the hydraulic engineers, and others. The opportunities for geologic work, therefore, are distinctly in the direction of specialization. The student in determining the field he shall enter needs to take this fact into account and to prepare accordingly, but not at the sacrifice of the broad basal training. Only a small part of the specialization can be accomplished in college. The remainder will come with experience.

In the future there is likely to be increasing specialization among the different educational inst.i.tutions in the phases of applied geology which are taught. Geographic location has a good deal to do with this tendency. Where an inst.i.tution is located near a coal or oil field, it is likely, as a matter of course, to specialize to some extent in the application of geology to these resources. Or, the specialization may arise from the fact that the teachers have had special training in certain phases of applied geology, and such training naturally and properly determines the emphasis to be placed. Courses in engineering geology are finding a natural development in the leading engineering colleges.

In view of the fact that it is impossible for any one inst.i.tution to cover all phases of applied geology, because of lack of time, and in view of the fact that even if this were attempted the results would be very unequal, because of the varied experience of teachers or because of geographic location, it would seem wise definitely to recognize these limitations and for each inst.i.tution to play up the work it can do best.

With freedom of migration among universities, a student by moving from place to place can thus secure any combination of specialized courses which best fits his requirements.


There has been some agitation in recent years for standardization of courses in economic geology, and for the granting of a special degree in evidence of the completion of such a course. The princ.i.p.al argument for this procedure is that it would tend to insure a better average of training and would draw a line between worthy geologists and a host of ill-trained pseudo-geologists. The earth is so accessible, and its use so varied, that geology is handicapped perhaps more than any other science by persons who really have no valid claim to a scientific t.i.tle.

The writer doubts whether a special degree in economic geology would go far toward improving this situation. Even if the courses were the same in different inst.i.tutions, the manner of treatment and the ability of the teachers would be so varied that in the future, as in the past, anyone inquiring into the real standing of a geologist would be likely to consider his individual training rather than the degree attached to his name. There would be no guarantee that inst.i.tutions not qualified to give the degree might not do so. However, the princ.i.p.al objection in the writer's mind to a degree of economic geology is the a.s.sumption that it is possible for anybody, in the present stage of knowledge, to formulate a standardized course adequate or best to meet the varied requirements.

Considering the breadth and the variety of the field, any such attempt at standardization would have to be highly arbitrary. Once established, it would be a hindrance to the natural development of new courses to meet the ever changing requirements. When, if ever, the science of economic geology becomes fully organized, a standardized course may be possible. In the present stage of the science, more elasticity is required than seems to be possible in any of the courses proposed.

One of the purposes of the introduction of a degree of economic geology, to separate the sheep from the goats, may be accomplished in another way,--namely, by the establishment and maintenance of high standards of admission and high aims on the part of the various professional societies having to do with geology and mining. If this is done, membership in such societies may be regarded as evidence of sound training and achievement. To some extent this procedure may relieve the pressure on universities for uniformity of courses and degrees, leaving them free to develop in such manner as seems best. Scientific organizations, overlooking the entire field, are in a position to take into account the greatest variety of factors of training and experience in selecting their members. Failure of any university course to make men eligible for such recognition will obviously react on the course in a desirable way.


It has been the aim in this book to present a general view of the fields of activity of the economic geologist; and the list of chapter headings in itself summarizes the variety of his opportunities. The rapidly increasing use of earth materials promises far greater calls for geologic aid in the future than in the past. The profession is in its infancy.

Opportunities for employment are ordinarily found in three main directions--in educational inst.i.tutions, in the federal and state geological surveys, and in private organizations. Connection with the United States Geological Survey excludes partic.i.p.ation in private work, and in recent years even in teaching. In the state surveys there is ordinarily more lat.i.tude in this regard. In the educational inst.i.tutions, it is rather the common procedure for the instructor to secure his field practice and experience through private agencies, or through part time connection with state surveys,--an arrangement with advantages to all concerned. The educational inst.i.tution secures the benefit of the field experience which it cannot afford to provide, and is enabled to hold geologists at salaries far below their earning capacity. The geologist gains by the opportunity to alternate between office and field study, and to correct his perspective by the constant checking of theory with field conditions. The combination tends to keep the clearly scientific and the applied phases in a proper relative proportion; it minimizes the danger of drifting into purely empirical field methods on the one hand, and of losing touch with actualities on the other. Geologists devoting their attention solely to field work often complain that they do not have time to digest and correlate their results, nor to keep up with what others are doing. On the other hand, geologists without current field practice are likely to develop too strongly along subjective, deductive, and theoretical lines. The teacher gains in freshness and force in the presentation of his subject in the cla.s.sroom, and the very effort necessary for presentation requires better a.n.a.lysis and coordination of his field observations. The private or state organization gains in this combination by drawing on the general and varied knowledge which has necessarily been acc.u.mulated for teaching and investigative purposes.

Temperament and circ.u.mstances will determine in which of these directions the student will turn. However, in view of the present natural tendency to be attracted by the large financial rewards in the commercial field, it may not be out of place to emphasize the fact that these rewards are perhaps more likely to be gained through perfected training and experience in state and national surveys and in educational inst.i.tutions, than through early concentration in the commercial field.

In any case, the financial side will take care of itself when sufficient knowledge and proficiency have been attained in any branch of the science.

The world is the geologist's laboratory; it is the only limit to his activities. The frontiers are near at hand, both physically and intellectually. There are few fields so attractive from the scientific standpoint. There are few in which the successful prosecution of the science can be of so much direct benefit to civilization and can yield such large financial rewards. If, in addition, the opportunities for travel and adventure are taken into account, what profession promises a more interesting and useful life?

So far we have discussed geology as a profession. It has proved its value also as a training for administrative and other public careers.

The profession contributes its full share of men to these activities.

The practice of geology deals with a wide variety of factors, and requires the constant exercise of judgment in balancing, correlating, and integrating these factors in order to reach sound conclusions. This objective treatment of complex situations is valuable training for the handling of human affairs.


Ethical questions involved in the practice of economic geology have called out much discussion, and, in some cases, marked differences of opinion among men equally desirous of doing the right thing. In the plain choice between right and wrong, there is of course no difference of opinion. Unfortunately in many of the questions which arise the alternatives are not so clearly labeled.

The lure of discovery and quick returns always has, and doubtless always will, draw into the field large numbers of persons without sound ethical anchorage or standards. Fortunately, these are not the persons in control of the mineral industries; they are mere incidents in the great and stable business built up by legitimate demands for raw materials.

The view is sometimes expressed that the geologist should hold himself aloof from the business or applied phases of his profession, because of the danger of being tainted with commercialism. This argument would apply to the engineer as well as to the geologist. To carry such a procedure through to its logical conclusion would mean substantially the withdrawal of scientific aid from industry,--which, to the writer, is hardly a debatable question. Circ.u.mstances are trending inevitably to the larger use of geologic science in the commercial field. The problems of ethics cannot be solved by staying out. The economic geologist is rather called upon to do his part in raising the standards of ethics in that part of the field in which he has influence. This he can do by careful appraisal of all the conditions relating to a problem which he is asked to take up, and by refusing to act where questionable ethical standards are apparent or suspected. He must understand fully the purposes for which his report is to be used; merely as a matter of professional self-interest, there is no other course open to him. In a field in which there is so much danger from loose ethical conceptions, the premium on rigid honesty and nice appreciation of professional ethics is proportionately higher. The extreme care taken in this matter by acknowledged leaders in the profession of economic geology should be carefully considered by the young man entering the profession. There is a reason.

In other chapters reference is made to certain special ethical questions, such as the use of geology in mining litigation (pp.

349-355), and the necessity of the geologist's recognizing his own limitations (pp. 92-94), but no attempt has been made to cover the variety of such questions that may come up. It is safe to a.s.sume that no special ethical code can be made sufficiently comprehensive, detailed, and elastic to cover all the contingencies which are likely to be met in the practice of economic geology; nor is it likely that any such code, if attempted, would be any improvement on the spirit of the Golden Rule.

Simple decency and common sense in their broader implications are essential to the practice of the profession.

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The Economic Aspect of Geology Part 46 summary

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