Geoscience — Basic Research or Commercial Prospecting?

Part of the Environment and Assessment book series (ENAS, volume 3)


Kent Larsson in his presentation went directly to the heart of the matter regarding the negative image earth scientists have come to have over the past fifteen years. In his estimation there are several factors responsible for this, among them the earth scientists’ own failure to come forward more aggressively to counter commercial pressures. Instead there has been a lot of opportunism, whereby they have let the image of economic utility become widespread, in the belief that this would facilitate greater funding. In part this has been true, but at a cost to the reputation of the earth sciences. Within the SCAR working group the public image problem has been discussed and Larsson noted how SCAR itself also has been too passive. SCAR should have come forward to formulate a code of ethics for earth scientists and stigmatize their participation in commercial ventures run by, for example, oil companies. Such a step has not been taken until recently as commercial pressures have declined in tandem with the shift to the environmental motive.

Thus it is not so strange that the public image of geologists and geophysicists has been one of the “bad guys” who disguise minerals exploration under the mantle of science. If SCAR had exercized its control function that it has the mandate to exert on behalf of the basic research community, some of this misunderstanding might have been avoided. Now that a fifty year ban has been imposed on exploration and exploitation perhaps it will be easier to defuse emotions and correct the image that has developed. Of course the situation of the earth sciences differs from that of biology, both historically and factually. While the latter have always come in after the industrialists criticizing them, the former have acted as a vanguard for industrial interests and toned down their criticisms. Marine biological resources were exploited very early on, first seals, then whales, and now kiill and fish. The exploitive activities were squarely in the hands of the industrialists, while biologists came in afterwards to assess the damage, set quotas and promote conservationist measures to restore ecosystems. Thus their image has been closely associated with environmental preservation - the “good guys”. With geologists the opposite has been the case, they came in as a vanguard, collecting data that could be used for exploration, thus opening the way for commercial interests. Also when earth scientists have produced scientific reports they have often gone on to assess the commercial potential of minerals and hydrocarbons that have been identified as existing in various locations. Finally, suspicion has been further fed by various commercial exploits, such as Petrobas doing seismic work for Brazil in the Bransfield Strait or Argentinian oil companies having gone into the James-Ross Island region. Japanese and Russian seismic mapping during the past decade have also contributed, especially since these countries have been very much against publicly disclosing their findings.


Earth Scientist Economic Utility Dual Usage Commercial Pressure Commercial Venturis 
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© Kluwer Academic Publishers 1993

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