BUSINESS SIDE OF GEOLOGY
By Peter R. Rose
$hhhhh: $ome Topic$ Are Taboo
Peter R. Rose is managing partner of Rose & Associates, Austin, Texas.
A taboo is a problem everyone acknowledges privately, but no one is comfortable talking about openly.
I think there's an important taboo in geology that holds us back as individuals, and so hurts the overall profession. I call it the Money Taboo -- the unspoken acceptance of the notion that, as a geologist, you are a member of the scientific priesthood and, accordingly, it's really not OK for you to be knowledgeable about (or even interested in) economics and finance, or about making money in one of the many geological business applications.
The problem is that money is one of the essential components of successful applied geoscience. The larger issue, of course, is whether we geoscientists use our knowledge to participate actively in world affairs, or take refuge from the world in our science.
The Money Taboo is why we have so few geoscientists in corporate boardrooms. It -- or its parent taboo -- is why geoscientists have so little influence in current debates about energy policy and related matters, including global warming. It's why geologists have (as Charley Mankin pithily put it) not just a low public image, but NO public image.
And the irony is that it is a self-imposed limitation.
I'd like to explore two topics here:
Origins of the Money Taboo.
How to counter it.
The early geologists -- Hutton, Hall, Lyell, Darwin, etc. -- were natural philosophers interested in mostly cosmic questions, such as the age of the earth, the origin of geologic features and the evolution of life. They weren't interested in economic implications of geologic study.
Their early traditions were subsequently embraced by generations of academicians so cloaked in their scientific zeal that they, too, had no interest in -- or tolerance for -- economic applications. And they passed the taboo on to their students.
Yet, the advanced standard of living for most of the Western world, and part of the Eastern one as well, can be laid directly to the ready availability of cheap energy and mineral products during the last 100 years. We geologists ought to take more pride in our contributions to society!
Some career perspective: Geologists seem to find their science so absorbing that the natural expansion of their career interests into allied fields -- public affairs, management, economics and finance, business ventures -- often occurs later than in other disciplines. Thus, we find MBA folks and engineers wanting to move into management in their late 20s and early 30s, whereas many geoscientists don't begin such career migrations until their 40s -- if at all!
There may be another factor: According to a long-running personal survey, only about 15 percent of geologists come from families who were involved in running a business, so they don't have much "hands-on" experience -- even secondhand -- about making their way in the business world.
Also, I find it interesting that the Money Taboo doesn't seem to infect engineers nearly as much as geologists. What is it about engineering education that neutralizes the Money Taboo?
A second, more general aspect of traditional western education reinforces the Money Taboo. Most students learn almost nothing about money during their primary and secondary schooling, and most BA and BS geological graduates have had, at most, only a one-semester course in general economics.
For a nation that prides itself on being the world's bastion of free-market enterprise, the manifest ignorance of most U.S. college graduates, the general American public and, most importantly, the U.S. press and media about economics, finance and money is simply breathtaking -- and ominous for the future of the most productive and free economic society in history!
How to counter ...
... and eliminate the Money Taboo? Here are a few specific measures that may help:
Read it; you'll like it!