AGI and geo(sciences)-diversity.

Sometimes it’s better to be lucky than smart. This week, happenstance more than logic saw me going to Salt Lake City, in order to attend a one-day American Geosciences Institute (AGI) Member Society Council Meeting. AGI, like AIP, is a society whose members are societies[1]. This was to be AMS’ first meeting as a member society; important that someone should go! But the reasonable, more obvious choices from our leadership had conflicts.

My good fortune! The meeting proved both substantive and eye-opening.


Traveling west a couple of time zones means a messed-up biological clock, insomnia, waking up early, a couple of hours before time for breakfast and the morning meeting. What to do? How to fill the time?

Well, maybe (full disclosure, what I’ve done all my life) cram for my finals. I’m here. Might as well learn something about AGI and not walk into their session cold.

Clicked on the AGI website. Clicked on About.

A lot of stuff there… a sample:

AGI was founded in 1948, under a directive of the National Academy of Sciences, as a network of associations representing geoscientists with a diverse array of skills and knowledge of our planet. The Institute provides information services to geoscientists, serves as a voice of shared interests in our profession, plays a major role in strengthening geoscience education, and strives to increase public awareness of the vital role the geosciences play in society’s use of resources, resilience to natural hazards, and the health of the environment.

 [Hmm. Can see why it made sense for AMS to join. But what’s this?…founded… under a directive of the National Academy of Sciences? Who knew?]

AGI is a not-for-profit 501(c)(3) organization dedicated to serving the geoscience community and addressing the needs of society. AGI headquarters are in Alexandria, Virginia.

 AGI’s Mission:

 The American Geosciences Institute represents and serves the geoscience community by providing collaborative leadership and information to connect Earth, science, and people.

 AGI’s Vision:

 A world that understands and trusts the role of the geosciences in fostering creative solutions for the Earth and humanity.

[Very cool vision statement! Who wouldn’t want to get behind that?] The site went on to list what AGI provides:

-Information Services aggregating research vital to geoscientists’ work

-Education and Outreach for schools and the public

-Public Policy facilitating the flow of information between geoscientists and decision makers

-Workforce Development research and analysis of career paths

-Publications that inform on a range of geoscience topics and news

-AGI’s Center for Geoscience and Society

-News on what’s happening now in the geoscience community.

-Recognition of excellence in the geosciences

-Your Connection to the Geosciences

AGI connects Earth, science, and people by serving as a unifying force for the geoscience community. With a network of 52 member societies, AGI represents more than a quarter-million geoscientists. No matter your individual discipline, AGI’s essential programs and services will strengthen your connection to the geosciences.

Okay! But absorbing this information only managed to kill only a few minutes; it was still dark outside; coffee still unavailable in the hotel lobby. What next? Well, AGI provides links to each of their 52 member societies. Maybe in the 90 minutes or so I had left, I could look at the website of each and every one of the member societies.

What a learning experience/wake-up call! For years I’d been thinking I know the diversity of the geosciences – I can recite the catechism of the AGU sections: seismology, petrology, volcanology, geochemistry, etc. – what else can there be?

Quite a lot, it turns out.

The great awakening started with the very first one: AASP… the Palynological Society. Really? How do they get AASP out of that? And what on Earth – or under the Earth – is palynology anyway?

Turns out, according to the website, that “Palynology is the study of pollen, spores, dinoflagellates, and other microscopic “palynomorphs.” Palynology originated in Scandinavia in the early 20th century and developed in America after World War II, particularly in the area of George Fournier, Third President of AASP petroleum exploration.”

Also happens that the group was founded as the “American Association of Stratigraphic Palynologists, Inc.” In 2008, AASP changed its name to “AASP – The Palynological Society” to reflect AASP’s promotion of all aspects of palynology in academia and industry.

You already knew that[2]? Good for you. In any event, stratigraphical palynology is a branch of micropalaeontology and paleobotany. It offers context for these more familiar disciplines, provides insights into paleoclimates and their variability, and contributes to challenges as diverse as petroleum exploration and crime-scene forensics.

The next couple of hours’ overview held more of the same flabbergasting flavor. Of course several of the AGI members are big-tent, multi-disciplinary groups all of us have heard of – AGU, the American Geophysical Union; AAG, the American Association of Geographers; GSA, the Geological Society of America.

But others specialize: the American Rock Mechanics Association; the Clay Minerals Society; The Geochemical Society; the Mineralogical Society of America; the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology; the National Groundwater Association; and so on.

Many are more than mere science societies. They share the same mix of science and professional application supported by AMS. Their ranks include the Geological Society of America; the American Association of Geographers, the Society of Exploration Geophysicists, et al.

Some are accrediting, standards-setting, licensing groups, operating like our CCM and Certified Broadcast Meteorologist Boards: the American Institute of Hydrology, the American Institute of Professional Geologists; and more.

Some are focused on the state level: take, for example, the Association of American State Geologists and the National Association of State Boards of Geology.

Others have an education slant: the Council on Undergraduate Research; the National Association of Geoscience Teachers; the National Earth Sciences Teachers Association, et al.

Some are based in other countries: the Geological Association of Canada; Geological Society of London; the Mineralogical Society of Great Britain and Ireland.

A few specialize in the history of these fields: the History of Earth Sciences Society; the Petroleum History Institute; and (would you count this one?) the Society of Mineral Museum Professionals.

A few feel exotic, starting with that leadoff group, the Palynological Society. The AGI embrace extends to the International Medical Geology Association, the Karst Waters Institute, the National Cave and Karst Research Institute, the National Speleological Society, the Society of Economic Geologists, and the United States Permafrost Association.

All told, an amazing degree of disciplinary speciation – and a reminder that seven billion people can find richly varied ways to segment and self-identify, in ways resembling a Mandelbrot fractal. (Undoubtedly if we were to go back to atmospheric science and drill down we could find similar fine-structure.)

With this disciplinary diversity also comes a focus on professional diversity. The AGI includes among its member societies the Association for Women Geoscientists and the National Association of Black Geoscientists. And that’s a good segue into another topic…

…The newly-released AGI Community Statement on Harassment. Just as diversity is one of the strengths of any human endeavor, harassment must count as one of diversity’s insidious adversaries. For this reason alone, the full AGI statement merits our careful attention, in all its particulars (and is receiving just that from AMS elected-leadership). To whet your interest, it starts out this way:

Geoscientists guide humanity in the use and stewardship of Earth’s resources, drive the scientific pursuit of new knowledge about the planet, and provide education in all of the earth sciences.  Professionals and students in the geosciences represent all walks of life with a full array of personal attributes and cultures.

The American Geosciences Institute (AGI) expects those in the profession to adhere to the highest ethical standards in all professional activities. This includes the active promotion of working and learning environments free of all forms of harassment, aggression or coercion based on any personal attributes, cultures, or differences in status.  This also includes a firm rejection of those who would harass other geoscientists of any rank or status in a manner that may jeopardize their personal safety or comfort or otherwise potentially impede their professional progress or growth.  The guidelines address shared aspects of this topic across the geoscience community; the professional codes of conduct for individual societies may expand beyond these guidelines.

This statement applies to geoscientists at all career stages, including students through senior professionals.  The statement is designed to allow and encourage comprehensive application within scope and span of member society rules, in the particular situations encountered by geoscientists within their ranks.  This document provides a coherent statement of values and conduct from and within the broader AGI community, and joins the voices of many other major STEM societies internationally in promoting healthy, supportive working and learning environments in our scientific endeavors…

It goes on to describe what harassment (including but by no means limited to sexual harassment) is; and then making recommendations to member societies for action, including intervention and enforcement, and best practices for reporting. The statement isn’t prescriptive, but rather provides a point of departure for member societies, better equipping them to develop their corresponding statements, and cope with harassment more generally.

Thoughtful. Actionable. Resource versus regulation. Helpful. Just one example of the benefits AGI provides member societies, and the 250,000 of us – the palynologists and the cloud microphysicists, the geologists and hydrologists, the oceanographers and space weather experts and all the others who belong.

Expect to see more value from our AGI membership in the months and years ahead: supporting our own AMS actions to advance diversity, such as ECLA, to be sure, but also across the full sweep of our agenda.


A postscript; the exploration of all this on-line material on AGI member societies proved so absorbing that I went from wondering how to fill an empty hour or two to scrambling to capture the last few morsels remaining from the picked-over meeting breakfast.


[1]In this instance AGI was taking advantage of an American Association of Petroleum Geologists (AAPG) conference and exhibition to hold a side meeting.

[2]Certainly Ana Unruh Cohen, a leading figure in our community, knows. Her Oxford Ph.D. thesis was based on dust samples from the Gobi desert.

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