How the world gains understanding of a planet: An Analysis of Scientific Understanding in Earth Sciences and of the Communication of Earth-Scientific Explanation
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Earth-scientific knowledge enables us to make informed decisions on the use and management of important natural resources. Unfortunately, the public seems to possess little geological understanding. The aim of this thesis is to investigate how earth-scientific communication might be improved in order to enhance the public's earth-scientific understanding. The analysis is based on an extensive literature study in philosophy of science, psychology and science communication and education, and an analysis of the current state-of-the-art of science museums. In order to gain earth-scientific understanding, earth-scientists use a broad suite of tools. The earth-scientific toolbox contains at least three categories of geo-tools: objective descriptive geo-tools (such as image, descriptive maps, symbols, and diagrams), subjective descriptive geo-tools (such as interpretive maps, sketches, and cross-sections), and geo-tools involving integrated understanding, i.e. combining theoretical and embodied understanding (such as analogies, simulations, experiments, modelling, and fieldwork). Combining theoretical and embodied understanding leads to the best earth-scientific understanding. Earth Science is best taught through fieldwork, in combination with theoretical knowledge. In order to avoid an overload of information, the focus should be on learning how to access the relevant and reliable factual knowledge. Teaching procedural understanding stimulates the students to seek out evidence, deal with uncertainty and risk, access, apply, and use the relevant conceptual knowledge to critically evaluate the evidence. Earth-scientists should tranfer their process of understanding, instead of merely their factual knowledge, presenting it at age and grade-appropiate levels. When communicating and teaching earth-scientific explanations, the focus should be on the procedure of doing an earth-scientific investigation.