Sunday, June 24, 2018


We are confronted daily with news of problems that require a solid foundation in science to evaluate. In this course, we explore a variety of geoscience issues that affect the public and are, therefore, also public policy issues. We study the underlying scientific concepts relevant to the problem being addressed, and we discuss how this scientific background needs to be considered as part of the process of making policy decisions. The course also introduces students to how scientists and public policy makers apply the scientific method and the concepts of probability and statistics in the decision making process.

(Note: Posts on this blog have Read more links to continue reading their full text.)

The course has an assigned textbook, which is one of the popular general Earth Science texts for non-majors, such as Earth Science, by Tarbuck, Lutgens, and Tasa. That textbook covers the details of the various Earth processes explored in the course. There are also other assigned readings, either to elaborate on the Earth processes, and/or to add timely, newsworthy topics. But until this writing, the course lacked a written description of my own story line. I would tell that story throughout the semester's lectures, but it didn't exist anywhere in written form. This "blog book" serves as that written version of my roadmap for the course.

Nothing in this course is intended to be an endorsement of any particular political opinion on the topics covered. This is not a forum for partisan politics. The intention is to give us all a better background on the science underlying these issues, so that we can all develop better-informed opinions on these issues.

In any given semester, the topics covered in this course are a moving target: New scientific discoveries, and new political challenges are happening every day. Below is a list of topics that have been typically covered, but given the nature of this course, there are sometimes changes as current events in the world unfold that are relevant to this course:

• Introduction and Overview: Life is Uncertain
• Galileo and the Church: Science, Religion & Public Policy
• How Old is the Earth?
• Radiometric Dating of Rocks
• Evolution
• Introduction to Global Warming
• The Earth's Atmosphere
• Light and Electromagnetic Radiation
• The Greenhouse Effect
• Earthquakes and the Environment
• Examples of Predicted Earthquakes
• Probability and Statistics in Science and Public Policy
• The Haicheng, China Earthquake: Is Prediction Possible?
• Sputnik: A Digression
• The Haicheng Earthquake Prediction & U.S. Science Policy
• 1980s & 90s: Parkfield Earthquake Prediction Experiment
• Earthquake Prediction Now and Beyond ...
• Seismic Hazard Analysis
• Earthquakes in the Eastern United States

The reasons for choosing these topics, and how they fit in with the philosophy and design principle of the course, are described in the next section (INTRODUCTION).