One Long Experiment: Scale and Process in Earth History

By Ronald E. Martin | Go to book overview

1
Scale, Measurement, and Process:
An Introduction

Tangibility narrows … vision through prejudice. —Allen and Starr


SCALE AND MEASUREMENT

Everyone is familiar with the term scale, whether it be spatial (meter sticks, for example) or temporal (minutes, hours, and days, up to the billions of years of the geologic timescale). What is not commonly appreciated is that the choice of scale dictates the accuracy of the resulting measurement. In most circumstances this is unimportant, and the scale used is chosen for its convenience. Whether a distance (length) is measured in centimeters or kilometers, say, depends on the size of the object relative to the convenience of the scale of measurement. If we were to measure the coastline of Great Britain (or any other land mass or other natural object, such as a river), for example, we would undoubtedly choose the kilometer as the scale of measurement instead of centimeters, or we would spend many lifetimes measuring the distance. Similarly, if we were to measure a sine wave with a wavelength () of several kilometers, we would not measure with a single meter stick; if we used a meter stick, we would only detect s of about the same length as the meter stick, and we would probably not detect the sine wave because our scale would be too short (figure 1.1).

What if we were to measure the duration of cyclic climate change

-9-

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One Long Experiment: Scale and Process in Earth History
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Preface xi
  • Prologue - Methodology and Proof in Historical Science 1
  • 1 - Scale, Measurement, and Process- An Introduction 9
  • 2 - The Nature of the Stratigraphic Record- Curds and Whey 24
  • 3 - Random Walks in Muck 53
  • 4 - Time and Taphonomy 72
  • 5 - Biological Processes Inferred from the Fossil Record 95
  • 6 - Cycles and Secular Trends 132
  • 7 - Energy and Evolution 163
  • 8 - Extinction 186
  • Epilogue- the Nature of Nature 212
  • References 217
  • Index 253
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