If someone chooses you as an object of study, should you worry? Not always! Who would have thought that earth scientists are the object of cognitive studies. We apparently are so damn important that there is a whole field of science dedicated to finding out how we manage to be so downright amazing. Geocognition!
There was a talk announced about it. I looked up the subject and speaker: Heather Petcovic, Western Michigan University,which is, and I'm not joking, located in Kalamazoo. I decided that it could go either in the direction of woolly twaddle, or something really interesting. I took the chance. And it was fun! I'm still fairly confused about the existence of this discipline, but it's great to hear of the results. Especially as it's quite flattering! The lady described her research project, that aimed to figure out things like how geoscientists of various stages in their career rate regarding knowledge of earth sciences (important!), general spatial insight, memory capacity, and such. And later they let them do fieldwork, and figured out who performs how well and how they achieve that. Interesting!
The reassuring thing was: earth sciences know a lot abot earth science. Pfieuw! Good start. And then. It seems we don't have special memory skills. Ah well. But the spatial skills! They had measured them using a standard test, used worldwide, and when the results came in the researchers fell of their chairs. We rock! You may worship us now. And the good thing is: it doesn't get worse with age, even though with non-geoscientists it does.
A funny thing was that they had a test where people were shown block diagrams. Some made sense as schematic representations of geological structures, and others didn't. After a few of these they had to draw them from memory. Disappointingly enough, the geoscientists did not beat the non-geoscientists there. In the geologically nonsensical ones, nor in the geological ones. But they were fast. And, admittedly, sloppy. And if they were not sure they gave up quickly. But they tended to redraw the nonsense diagrams in a more geologically sensible way. We see what we want to see! We're only human.
The fieldwork test consisted of a small geological mapping exercise, where all subjects were tracked by GPS. Their tracks were characterised by things like: how fast did they go, how often did they stop, how long did they stop, how often did they cross their own path, how much running up and down slopes did they do, how long did they stay in the field... The maps they produced were overlain by their tracks, and the researchers looked for correlations between these parameters, their level of expertise, and the quality of their maps. Brilliant! Field work studied. And there was not one best way of gong about, but there were some strategies that exclusively led to crap results. Too bad there were not many fieldwork supervising staff members in the audience!
Maybe for non-science geeks it's normal that there are other people studying who you are and how you do your job, and how, perhaps, that can be improved, but for me it's new. I like it!