Product has been added to the basket

1984 and all that

Rick Brassington

Rick Brassington argues that the Society should reject “Orwellian logic”

Geoscientist 20.01 January 2010

In the anti-totalitarian novel 1984, Eric Blair, better known as George Orwell, invented both the language “Newspeak” and, at the heart of the state’s thought-control policy, “doublethink”. Doublethink (a Newspeak word) means the ability to hold two mutually contradictory beliefs. I think this is what the Society has been doing for nearly 20 years.

Since reunification with the Institution of Geologists in 1991, the Society has represented both the science and profession of geology – a fact proclaimed in its strapline Serving science and profession. Many people see this as important, something that puts the Society ahead of most of its counterparts in other countries. I share this view. Yet, while science and profession may appear to be equal, one - science - is decidedly more equal than the other.

This is easy to understand. The Society has been promoting science for the last two centuries, whereas its experience of supporting the profession goes back barely two decades and is still developing. The Society promotes the profession largely through the professional qualification Chartered Geologist (CGeol), which the Society can do because it is a “Chartered” body.

George Orwell (Eric Blair) The Society devotes a great deal of effort to setting and maintaining standards in its professional qualification. Since my involvement with the Chartership Panel I have been very impressed with the organisation and structures for this process, and the hard work and dedication of all involved. Yet today only about 2250 Fellows are Chartered, from a total membership of almost 10,000. By my own reckoning this means that around two thirds of those Fellows earning their living as professional geologists cannot be bothered to become professionally qualified.

This is where “doublethink” comes in. The Society has established and accepts the need for a UK professional qualification for geologists. Yet it is happy for the vast majority of its members who work as professionals to ignore it! This makes the Society the only official UK professional regulator that affords equal status to qualified and non-qualified practitioners. Eric Blair would surely have loved that.

So what is to be done? Ruling out the (truly) unthinkable notion that the Society should give up being a professional regulator, which would downgrade professional geoscientists to technician status beside their regulated colleagues in other professions, what options remain?

I believe the only viable option is to move forward and develop support for professional practice (while at the same time continuing the Society’s excellent work supporting science). This is not simply a matter of “promoting” the Chartered Geologist qualification, important though that is. First and foremost it is about promoting, developing and growing the whole Society - as both a champion for science, and as a UK professional regulator. I believe this would ultimately raise both the Society’s public and scientific profile. It would also result in a greater proportion of professional geologists supporting the Society by joining - thereby justifying the claim we make to represent both science and profession.

BBIWY So - we should have a debate, across all the members of the Society, to decide how this can be achieved – a debate which I hope this article will prompt through the Letters section of GeoscientistOnline. Here are a few ideas of my own, to get the process started. I propose a two-part strategy to increase awareness of the Society’s existence in the outside world and its role in representing the whole of British geology to grow the membership (including Corporate Affiliates). The second part of my strategy would be to promote the Society’s dual role to its Fellows, and encourage all professional geologists to become Chartered.

Employer recognition of CGeol is an important part of promoting us in the outside world. The Society’s Professional Committee already endorses company training schemes. This could be taken further by a proactive approach to large employers of geologists - starting with our Corporate Affiliates. The Society also accredits university degree courses and we should be proactive in developing this area, too.

Through membership of the European Federation of Geologists, the Society is able to grant the title European Geologist (EurGeol) to Chartered Geologists - a qualification recognised by the EU and which has equal status across all EU countries. The Society has also developed mutual recognition agreements with two similar organisations in other countries – namely the Institute of Geologists of Ireland and the American Institute of Petroleum Geologists. Clearly there is enormous potential to extend such relationships in other Anglophone countries (USA, Canada, Australia and South Africa) let alone Russia, India, China, or South America.

It is important for the Society to find more ways to encourage and facilitate chartership applications. Regional Groups already play a role here but this could be strengthened if each group had a designated committeemember to co-ordinate support for applications and organise meetings to assist younger geologists in preparing for chartership.

Here’s another idea. One consequence of doublethink is that it makes CGeol an “optional extra”. This arrangement is topsy-turvy compared with most, if not all, other professional bodies, where being chartered enjoys higher status than basic membership (which our “Fellowship” anomalously is). In my view, raising the status of chartership and offering real incentives (such as higher discount rates) will encourage people to apply. Another practical benefit would be to provide discounted Professional Indemnity Insurance through a broker, as many other professional institutions do.

Existing Bye-laws and Regulations would allow us to undertake these measures. Council and the Standing Committees should take a lead, but members of the Society should now make their views known, and join the debate and help us make changes that are essential, I believe, for the Society’s continued wellbeing. Finally, in 1984 Orwell’s anti-hero Winston Smith fully accepts doublethink. There is no obligation on us to do so. Let us resolve this anomaly once and for all and use the opportunity to strengthen the Society and ensure that it enters its third century truly representing both science and profession.


Read responses to this article in Geoscientist 20.02 February 2012