What’s the next big scientific proposal?

We will have to temper reactions when it arrives

In 1995 David Alt and Donald Hyndman published a book called “Northwest Exposures.”

A fat (442 pages) book, it was a physical and historical geologic history of the Northwest states, including scraps of Montana and California and, once, I think, a piece of Utah along with Washington, Idaho and part of British Columbia.

There may have been bits and pieces of others, but these include the bulk of the ground they discussed.

And goodness knows, so much has happened in this so-very-busy area that almost everything that geology can do has been done here: Erosion, deposition, earthquakes, ice ages, floods, mountains deposited, uplifted and eroded away, the movement of continents, humongous fires.

There must be more, but you can name them — all have happened here in the magnificent sweep of time, lots of time.

It is fascinating to look back, even with our limited knowledge and time, and to consider the telling statement contained in the foreword of “Northwest Exposures” in the light of the comment the writers make in the foreword of the book: “If this book is not obsolete within a decade, that will be a sad commentary on the state of geologic research.”

The latter part of the 19th and 20th centuries saw the growth of a series of books for the non-professional, and the fact that they have sold as well as they have argues for the fact that people are interested in geology, in knowing more about what The National Geographic calls “this hot-hearted planet on which we ride.”

As the years and decades have passed, one surprise thing after another has been proposed by researching scientists. One could ask, “What’s next?

And that’s the $64 question. For on all the preceding developments, the non-scientific community could not know what bizarre (seemingly) proposal would emerge.

They came as huge surprises to both the general public and to the scientific community, for none of them had expected the discoveries, and some were shocked and many were resentful, so that the idea had to fight for acceptance.

What would such a new idea be? Who without that special brilliance of the scientist can know?

We can wait and see, for there will be something. And the main thing we will have to do is control our reaction to it when it arrives.

Elizabeth Widel is a columnist for

The Chronicle. This is the 2,863rd column in a series. She may be reached at 509-826-1110.

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