If a scientific topic is “of historical interest”, the topic from the long ago might be cool but it is not likely relevant to today’s world. Reading the work of G.K. Gilbert (1843-1918) convinces me otherwise. Gilbert was a first-rate scientist, with a special ability to solve geologic problems and a drive and personality that led biographer Steve Pyne to call him “a research engine.” Gilbert was however convinced in the fundamental importance of healthy relations between science and the public. Overall, he was certain that his US Geological Survey played a critical role in the life of the nation. On the other hand, he got personally involved in specific communities that he thought were at risk from over- or careless development, especially if based on risks of water shortages or earthquakes. His writing with the Salt Lake City Tribune on the earthquake dangers of the Wasatch Fault (1883) and his description in Popular Science (1906) of the scientific investigation of the San Francisco Earthquake are but two examples that convince me that the past is never dead. Scientists need to find more ways to work with the public. The past is never even past!
Richter, Daniel deB. (2018): Why the history of geoscience is relevant in the Anthropocene: The case of GK Gilbert . American Geophysical Union 2018 Fall Meeting, Washington, DC, 10-14 Dec 2018.
This Paper/Book acknowledges NSF CZO grant support.