Product has been added to the basket

Field versus mouse

TedSmithMapResized.jpgThis magazine is no stranger to arguments about fieldwork.  Little seems to push our readers’ buttons more effectively than a perceived threat to the primacy of looking at rocks, in the field – ‘the geologist’s laboratory’. Anyone daring to suggest that (perhaps) fieldwork might have had its day, or is no longer attractive, soon feels the walking-boot being put in good and proper in correspondence and, once down, the final killing blow to the head from H H Read’s famous dictum about the best geologist being the one who has seen the most rocks.

This may all be good knockabout stuff, but these arguments usually end up artificially pitting virtuous fieldwork against evil virtual reality, as though the world ever presented us with such an either/or.  But in doing so we succumb to bad reasoning – the false polarisation of complex issues towards non-alternatives.  This issue of Geoscientist, I believe, perfectly illustrates how impoverishing such posturing is. 

Nobody is seriously suggesting that fieldwork is totally passé.  Nobody really believes we can replace the real with the virtual. The truth is that new technology offers new ways to interpret real data (Feature).  It expands, rather than restricts, the ways we as individuals, and as groups, can experience the natural world (Soapbox).  We need both.  Enthusiasm for one does not mean denying the other.  Using virtual technology, the better to assimilate real data, is not equivalent to walking blindly through life with your nose in an iPhone.  (At least, not unless you let it.)

Fieldwork, and a love of the outdoors, initially attracted many of us to geology.  But even in this increasingly indoor age, the call of the wild persists for millions of people (Second Feature), helping to draw large numbers onto geological excursions, and so afford them the opportunity to learn about landscape while at the same time enjoying simply being out in it.  And that is our chance to demonstrate how much more pleasure is to be had by looking with an understanding eye.

Finally, yes – sometimes we may in our enthusiasm over-state our claims for fieldwork, simply because we like doing it and will resist any attempt to diminish our quality of life by allowing Mr Gradgrind to think that maybe the bottom line could do just as well without it (Letters).  But so what?  In the end, work must be done by people, people have to live, and it is not by (or for) bread alone that we do it.


[email protected], @TedNield @geoscientistmag