A taboo is a problem
everyone acknowledges privately, but no one is comfortable talking about
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 hel
Locally, parents and taxpayers
can pressure school boards to add practical economics — taught by
talented teachers — to the curriculum. Businesspeople can visit grade
schools, middle schools and high schools to talk about running a business.
Local businesses can set up cooperative intern programs with high
schools. Hire a neighbor kid for a summer job.
In academe — this is a
real toughie, because many geology professors discourage their students
from broadening out into allied business fields — AAPG's Visiting
Petroleum Geologist program should purposefully ask every VPG to include
at least five minutes about economic implications with every single
(Sure, we love the science,
but we're also carrying out these studies to turn a profit!)
The Division of Professional
Affairs could start sending Certified Petroleum Geologists out to
colleges to talk about practical career matters, like interview skills,
networking, career planning, running a business and the concept of
professionalism — a notion most new geology graduates have never
applied to themselves.
What about emphasizing
joint professorial chairs between the School of Business and the School
of Natural Science?
- AAPG's Division of Professional
Affairs has sponsored several short courses on professional practices
and setting up a geological business.
DPA also has sponsored
technical sessions at many recent AAPG annual meetings on the business
of petroleum exploration, however, none of those papers, though very
well attended, received much recognition beyond DPA. Few, if any,
were sought for publication by the AAPG BULLETIN, which has chosen
to focus on other topics.
So it becomes a vicious
circle, and the Money Taboo reasserts itself through the BULLETIN.
This column was established
by Bob Megill in 1984 and sustained by him for eight years. Marlan
Downey picked it up for a while, and yours truly inherited it last
year. We're all doing our bit to combat the Money Taboo.
Starting now, I'm going
to recommend good books on economics, finance and business as a way
to stimulate interest among the EXPLORER readership.
The Commanding Heights, a 1998 book by Daniel Yergin and Joseph
Stanislaw, published by Simon & Schuster. This is a global account
of the succession of the managed economies of the post-war era by
the free-market economies of the 1980s and '90s.
Read it; you'll