Early Earth Science Controversies: Mass Extinctions and Ice Ages

Last Thursday night I presented a public talk to kick off a new year-long series to promote scientific literacy. See the coverage on the front page of the Norman Transcript. It’s a joy to participate in an event with area educators. They got the word out and the auditorium was a full house. After maximum capacity was reached, more than 40 cars, I’m informed, were turned away before they could even park.

Sam Noble Museum auditorium, Rudwick presentation

I recorded this video at home on the Saturday after the event, with extra slides that make it 7 minutes longer (but maybe easier to follow). Download the slides/script (PDF).

Early Earth Science Controversies: Mass Extinctions and Ice Ages from Kerry Magruder on Vimeo.

Questions for discussion:

  1. What is meant by the following conceptions of the Earth’s past? How do they differ from each other? What discoveries, and the work of which scientists, are associated with each?
    • Steady state
    • Cyclical
    • Directionalist Synthesis
      • Developmental views
      • Geohistory (contingent history)
  2. Why does Rudwick argue that the terms “catastrophism” and “uniformitarianism” are limited and often misleading?
  3. Why does Rudwick argue that geohistory was a “radically new” discovery for science circa 1800?
  4. Which of the historical figures mentioned would you like to learn more about?
  5. Which of the historical books mentioned would you like to see for yourself?
  6. Some people today are skeptical of the results of the historical sciences (e.g., the age of the Earth, climate change, etc.). Are the conclusions of the historical sciences reliable and warranted? How would you engage a friend in conversation on this question?
  7. Which work of Martin Rudwick’s might you wish to read next?

From the Norman Transcript, by Emma Keith:

“Science: The Cutting Edge” will explore misunderstood or somewhat controversial subjects through four lectures this spring and four in the fall, each free and open to the public. Spring topics will include ice ages and extinctions, dark matter and energy, climate change and evolution.

Each of the lectures will take place at 7 p.m. at the Sam Noble Museum of Natural History on OU’s campus, and, weather permitting, will be followed by star gazing in the museum parking lot. The first lecture will feature Kerry Magruder, associate professor of the history of science at OU, speaking on “Early Theories of Ice Ages & Mass Extinctions” on Jan. 30.

“This gives people a chance to communicate with the experts and figure out: How do we know what we know? How does a scientific theory get developed? It’s not opinion, it’s based on evidence, and I think these speakers are going to speak to those kinds of topics,” said Eileen Grzybowski, an AP biology & astronomy teacher at Norman North and one of the series organizers…”

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