Is Secretary Zinke a geologist? Scientists weigh in

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Volcano scientist Jess Phoenix challenged Home Secretary Ryan Zinke to a battle of geological knowledge after CNN reported yesterday that Zinke has repeatedly claimed to be a geologist, despite apparently never having worked as a geologist. "The winner gets the job of DOI, the loser never claims to be a geologist again," he wrote on Twitter.
It is a claim that Zinke made "at least 40 times in public environments," reports Sara Ganim for CNN. That includes his efforts to justify the exclusion of Florida from plans to expand offshore drilling. (The "geology of Florida is different," he said in an interview with CNN.) The fact is that although Zinke specialized in geology as a university student, he never worked as a geologist after college, according to Ganim. The Department of the Interior press secretary Heather Swift confirmed Zinke's degree in an email to The Verge, and said she "had college jobs to support that career" before being recruited into the US Navy SEALs. UU But she did not answer two questions by email about whether Zinke worked in geology after college.
The claim irritates some geologists, who are concerned that Zinke's claim to experience adds weight to statements that, in the best of cases, reflect his outdated understanding of geology, and at worst, they are simply wrong. "That's the dangerous thing," says Phoenix, who is running for Congress in California and heads the non-profit organization Blueprint Earth. "Basically it is selling our country to the highest bidder and trying to dress it with the pretensions of a geologist."

For Phoenix, calling himself a geologist requires more than one degree. (Phoenix has a master's degree in geology, did research to obtain a PhD, although she did not finish a dissertation, and has worked as a consulting geologist since 2008, according to her LinkedIn profile.) "It's that real-world work experience that It makes a difference, "she says. "Geology is a really practical field, there is a lot that involves putting your elbows in whatever you're studying."
Probably it was not until half of Sean Gulick's doctorate that he began to call himself a geologist, the professor of the University of Texas at the Austin Institute of Geophysics and the Department of Geological Sciences tells The Verge in an e-mail. . "I would have said before that I'm studying geology." In fact, he says that most geologists talk about their experience in more detail, for example, "I'm a marine geologist and geophysicist".
And despite Zinke's bachelor's degree, some of the secretary's statements suggest that she does not keep up to date on the scientific literature, says Gulick. He has some recommendations for reading material: "For example, the importance of the findings in the International Governmental Panel on Climate Change, which is an extremely well-reviewed document."
The work of geologists can be crucial in keeping people safe
Legally speaking, anyone can be called a geologist, according to Deana Sneyd, executive director of the National Association of State Boards of Geology. (The group writes the national exams that 31 states and Puerto Rico require approved professional geologists to approve.) "Since he has never practiced geology, it is false to call himself a geologist at best," says Sneyd. "He seems to be using the term to provide credibility to himself when he has not won."
The term "professional geologist" is legally protected in states that require licenses, says Sneyd. (As far as Sneyd knows, Zinke has not called himself a "professional geologist" in states that require licenses.) The protection of the "professional geologist" exists because the work of geologists can be crucial in keeping people safe: road design, construction of dams, and work for mining companies requires geology for a good job. "If you do it wrong, it could significantly affect the environment or human health," says Sneyd.
Aaron Johnson, executive director of another industry group that provides voluntary certification for professional geologists, the American Institute of Professional Geologists, is not concerned about Zinke's claims of being a geologist. But he says that a training in geology does not make someone an expert in geosciences, although it could be useful. "I do not know many geologists who have experience in oil and gas, and oceanography, sedimentation and the environment," he says. "But I know many geologists who have extensive knowledge to understand when an expert in that field gives them advice."
Phoenix has some advice for Zinke: "You really should not call yourself a geologist, with no work experience, no advanced degrees, no practical experience in that field."


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