Response to "Some generic issues to consider"

Wed Apr 26 17:19:02 2000

A comment by J. Wright Horton, Jr. about

Some generic issues to consider

by Jonathan C. Matti

(a) Can we really develop common science-language standards on a
continent-wide basis?

* Yes, to the extent that the standards follow established common usage and
are accepted by the scientific community.

(b) Can we really do this at a level deeper than "granite versus basalt" or
"glacial versus deltaic" or "geologic contact versus fault," etc.?

* Yes, but what we "can" do is less important than what we "should" do. 
Don't do anything that isn't clearly (1) useful in a geologic map database
and (2) practical for those who produce it.

(c) What role do regional geologic differences and geologic-mapping
traditions play in the development of science-language standards?

* Universal, authoritative standards should be the goal of negotiation and
compromise.  Irreconcilable differences can be handled case by case.

(d) Should there be one single terminology standard, or multiple standards
linked by translators and equivalency tables?

* The goal should be unified science-language standards that transcend and
supersede current regional and organizational differences.  Organizations
that accept other standards can devise their own translators and tables. 
Standards are not laws, so to be successful, they will have to be
scientifically authoritative and widely accepted.

(e) What kinds of scientific queries should be supported by standard
terminologies at the National, Regional, and Local levels, and should a
single science-language structure support each and all levels?
* A single, standard science terminology should be applied at all levels, and
thus will be limited by the lowest common denominator of agreement and
acceptance.  Organizations developing more specialized databases for their
own purposes can make them compatible with the general standards.

(f) To what audience(s) will the data-model science language speak on behalf
of our various agencies?  Technical only?  Hybrid technical and
non-technical?  One language for technical, a second language for

* All audiences are important, of course, but technical standards must come
first to assure that they are accepted by the scientific community. 
Non-technical translations (not necessarily involving SLTT) can follow. 
"Don't put the cart before the horse."

(g) What does each map-producing agency expect to query (search for and
retrieve) from geologic-map data bases produced by the data model? (agency
point of view)

* Geologists and their agenices are well represented on the SLTT.  Spatial
geologic-information needs of other current and potential "customers" are
identified in the proceedings of regional geologic mapping forums such as
USGS Circular 1148.

(h) What kind of geologic information will the typical geologist expect to
put INTO the data model and retrieve FROM it? (geologist point of view)

* A widespread concern of geologists who make geologic maps (and of users who
need timely information) is that database requirements will become so
cumbersome and costly that they will be an obstacle to the production and
timely release of geologic map information.

(i) What kinds of interdisciplinary science should be incorporated into the
data model science language?  Or, put differently, how should the data model
be structured and populated to ensure its utility to the geophysics,
geo-engineering, earthquake, geochemical, and hydrogeologic communities?

* Scientific users need (1) technical definitions applied consistently, and
(2) clear distinctions between observed and interpreted features.  Engineers
who use geologic maps and reports are commonly frustrated by the lack of
standardization in descriptive terminology.

(j) What kinds of feature-level locational-accuracy issues should be
addressed by our science language, as these bear on agency accountability?

* Variations in location accuracy are not a problem if honestly presented. 
Standards are not laws, and in most cases they should not be legally binding
if court cases should arise involving location accuracy.  Location accuracy
issues are outside the realm of "science language" with the possible
exception of terms such as "approximately located."
* GIS technicians and users should understand what geologists call "the
tyranny of the base map."  For example, GPS locations more accurate than the
base map have to be ignored where it is more important to preserve correct
spatial relations between geologic features and base features such as
topography and drainage.

(k) What kinds of feature-level scientific-confidence issues should be
addressed by our science language, as these bear on agency accountability?

* Scientific confidence issues are commonly addressed by terms such as
"inferred" and "hypothetical."
* Because digital geologic maps are "scale independent," a common misuse (and
temptation even for people who know better) is enlarging the maps beyond
their range of scientific confidence.  How can the language for resolution
or scale of acquisition indicate that blowing up the digital version of a
map originally compiled at 1:250,000-scale to something like 1:24,000
misrepresents the level of detail and resolution?  Terms such as "detailed"
and "reconnaissance" are not uniformly applied, and variations in local
geology preclude rigid formulas based on the density of structure symbols or
number of well logs.

(l) What kinds of feature-level data-origination issues should be addressed
in our science language, as these bear on agency accountability?

* This is not a "science language" issue except for terms such as "compiled
from," "adapted from," or "modified from."
* Standard practices for authorship, acknowledgments, and bibliographic
references in scientific publications, including maps, are well established
and apply to digital as well as printed media.

Context of this discussion

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