Colorado mountains
From Long-Term Data to Understanding: Toward a Predictive Ecology
2015 LTER ASM Estes Park, CO - August 30 - September 2, 2015

Voices of the Valleys: Putting the science of the McMurdo LTER program into context through oral histories

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Poppie Gullett
Adrian Howkins

When one considers fields of study, generally two categories come to mind: the sciences and the humanities. Science is perceived to be far removed from the emotional pursuits of the humanities, and the humanities are likewise seen as devoid of the ordering logic and reason of science. While this helps to compartmentalize relevant information in publications or experiments, it denies a central fact: scientists are people and are not free from political, social and personal factors simply because they quantify and analyze information. The human aspects of conducting science are often overlooked, particularly in formal publications of findings in which all context is forgotten in favor of results. Our goal in conducting interviews of scientists was to reintroduce the context of the human experience to these results. The interviewees chosen were not just any scientists, but those who had conducted experiments in one of the most unique and challenging environments on earth: the McMurdo Dry Valleys in Antarctica. Our interviewee pool included geologists, limnologists, soil biologists, and more, all of whom had worked with the McMurdo LTER Program or in the Dry Valleys generally at some point between the 1960s and the present day. By collecting the oral histories of these scientists  we aimed to decipher the way the Dry Valleys environment had impacted them personally, but also how the environmental challenges had impacted their experiments. Our results demonstrate a breadth of experiences and made a few key themes apparent: the importance of environmentally-conscious management policies, the presence of an internationally cooperative atmosphere, the tightly-knit social groups formed among Valleys scientists, and the changing focus of scientific work from exploration to environmental problem-solving. While these patterns are all interesting windows into the human experience of doing Antarctic science, the interviews also serve the purpose of bringing oral histories and the history of science to the forefront of scientific theory. Historic context can reveal important things about any discipline, and our hope is that by making these contexts known, current and future researchers can understand the most recent chapters of Antarctic history and the history of science itself.




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