Product has been added to the basket

Bruce Yardley appointed Chief Geologist

Bruce Yardley (Leeds University) has been appointed Chief Geologist by The Radioactive Waste Management Directorate (RWMD) of the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA).

Chartership news

Chartership Officer Bill Gaskarth reports on a projected new logo for use by CGeols, advice on applications and company training schemes

Climate Change Statement Addendum

The Society has published an addendum to 'Climate Change: Evidence from the Geological Record' (November 2010) taking account of new research

Cracking up in Lincolnshire

Oliver Pritchard, Stephen Hallett, and Timothy Farewell consider the role of soil science in maintaining the British 'evolved road'

Critical metals

Kathryn Goodenough* on a Society-sponsored hunt for the rare metals that underpin new technologies

Déja vu all over again

As Nina Morgan Discovers, the debate over HS2 is nothing new...

Done proud

Ted Nield hails the new refurbished Council Room as evidence that the Society is growing up

Earth Science Week 2014

Fellows - renew, vote for Council, and volunteer for Earth Science Week 2014!  Also - who is honoured in the Society's Awards and Medals 2014.

Fookes celebrated

Peter Fookes (Imperial College, London) celebrated at Society event in honour of Engineering Group Working Parties and their reports

Geology - poor relation?

When are University Earth Science departments going to shed their outmoded obsession with maths, physics and chemistry?

Nancy Tupholme

Nancy Tupholme, Librarian of the Society and the Royal Society, has died, reports Wendy Cawthorne.

Power, splendour and high camp

Ted Nield reviews the refurbishment of the Council Room, Burlington House

The Sir Archibald Geikie Archive at Haslemere Educational Museum

You can help the Haslemere Educational Museum to identify subjects in Sir Archibald Geikie's amazing field notebook sketches, writes John Betterton.

Top bananas

Who are the top 100 UK practising scientists?  The Science Council knows...

Book Review: The Earth on Show

The Earth on Show

The Earth on Show

Today’s scientists, whether celebrating or complaining about it, often seem to think that ‘public outreach’ is a new trend. But, as Ralph O’Connor’s wonderful study of the early years of geology The Earth on Show - Fossils and the Poetics of Popular Science, 1802-1856 proves, being able to sell your subject was as important 200 years ago as it is now – perhaps more.

“If men competent to the task disdain to popularize science the task will be attempted by men who are incompetent: popularised it will be”, said John Crosse in 1845. Luckily, early 19th Century geologists included in their ranks such men as William Buckland, Charles Lyell and later Hugh Miller – characters more than capable of holding a crowd.

Connor outlines, entertainingly and in meticulous detail, the tools these early champions of geology used, dispelling some popular ‘myths’ surrounding the science’s early years - particularly that geologists were at loggerheads with the religious establishment. Yes, there were ‘liberals’ and ‘literalists’, but these were two points on what O’Connor calls a ‘spectrum of debate’.

Early geologists won respect by incorporating, not openly challenging, established ideas about Earth’s history. To win over a public familiar with the narrative tropes and imagery of the Book of Genesis, Paradise Lost and Childe Harold, it was necessary to draw on these themes rather than dismiss them. Thus, strange new creatures were likened to dragons or biblical monsters, geologists to Byronic heroes and the early Earth to Hell.

“What if there was an ancient, very large sort of octopus, like the kraken of mythology?” asked US geologist Mark McMenamin, in the now notorious GSA press release entitled Ancient kraken lair discovered. “A cunning sea monster ...a kraken of such mythological proportions it would have sent Captain Nemo running for dry land.”

Amid all the outrage this fanciful release evoked among the strait-laced, no-one remarked on the age-old nature of this narrative trick. “Imagine an animal of the lizard tribe” writes Gideon Mantell in 1827, “three or four times as large as the largest crocodile...such a creature must have been the Iguanadon!”

Wildly speculative, yes; but stories like these bring geology to life for the uninitiated. Though a historical study, ‘The Earth on Show’ demands to be taken seriously by today’s scientists and science communicators. It is a brilliant reminder of how empathising with your audience is as important as presenting the best factual evidence – a skill which perhaps comes more naturally to the poet.

Reviewed by Sarah Day

RALPH O’CONNOR Published by: Chicago University Press 2008. ISBN: 9780226616681 (cloth) 9780226616704 (e-book). 542pp List Price (cloth) $47.50,