Science Book a Day Interviews Naomi Oreskes

oreskesSpecial thanks to Naomi Oreskes for answering 5 questions about her recently featured book – Plate Tectonics: An Insider’s History Of The Modern Theory Of The Earth

Naomi Oreskes is Professor of the History of Science and Affiliated Professor of Earth and Planetary Sciences.  Professor Oreskes’s research focuses on the earth and environmental sciences, with a particular interest in understanding scientific consensus and dissent. – Adapted from her Harvard University profile.

#1 – What was the impetus for Plate Tectonics?

The idea came from the history committee at the American Geophysical Union.  The idea was to get the developers of the theory to write about it while it was still relatively fresh. Also, I had just completed my book on the continental drift debate, so it was an obvious idea to do a second book on the second half of the story, but since so many of the participants were still alive, a multi-authored volume seemed like a logical way to do it.

#2 – While the continental drift theory had been around in various forms for centuries, why did it come together in 1950s/1960s?

Well, read the book! We discuss how a number of factors came together: the original idea, better funding for research, access to the oceans thru navy financial and logistical support, and a few other thing.

#3 – You spoke to many of the important researchers, who were responsible for the modern work on plate tectonics. How did they feel about the work they had done? About their legacy?

Of course everyone is proud of their contributions, although interestingly some people thought they had done more important things that have received less attention, like geophysical inverse theory.

#4 – Who did you write/edit this book for? 

Anyone who is interested!  But primarily: historians of science, scientists, and earth science teachers.  Those were the main groups we had in mind.  Many high school earth science teachers use the book, so that is gratifying.

#5 – Are you working on a new book/project you can tell us about?

I’m finishing a big project on Cold War oceanography. It continues to build on the themes of the plate tectonics work: how did scientists gain access to the sea, and answer so many important long-standing questions during the Cold War.

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