See Like a Scientist:
Legends and Color
In the Geology Module we have been looking at the movement of geological plates and even though most of the maps have been generic locations, it

brings up a new type of visual that we should consider…the map! (concepts we cover in this section could also be used for other types of visuals

such as diagrams, because they both communicate location and relative placement).
What are they? Maps and diagrams are types of representations where you are looking at the relative position of items in relation to each other.

Just as a map might tell you where a city could lie in relation to a river or canyon, a diagram can show you where the cornea is in relation to the

optic nerve. Because you cannot necessarily draw everything to scale, there are often symbols and colors that represent different concepts or

structures. In addition, many times other information is layered on top of the map to show how things are distributed geographically. Here’s an

overview of how to read or think about maps.
Lesson: Just like the Title and Axes, to decode maps you have to look at the Legend to decode all of the symbols and colors used…you might be

surprised what you find.
Visit the following sites and see what they say about the pros and cons associated with this form of visual communication:
Color is not just a way to label…it means something in its own right article.
Along similar lines how might this NASA figure be misinterpreted?
Is this additional ocean picture a problem for you?
In the same sense, is this perspective of Where America Lives image a problem?
Overlap of additional information to communicate a point image.
Think like a geologist
In 2010, U.S. Congressman Hank Johnson made a comment that raised some eyebrows. In a discussion about a plan to add US troops to a base on the

Pacific island of Guam, Johnson stated his concerns that adding more troops could weigh down the island so as to have it tip over and capsize.

Johnson later stated that he was talking about how the extra troops would hinder the island’s limited infrastructure. Read about Johnson’s ideas and

watch a video here.

Look at another possible scenario dealing with California earthquakes. A large portion of California sits along the San Andreas Fault, part of which

has a transform plate boundary that is a very active area for earthquakes. Because of this, some people think that a massively huge earthquake (aka

“the big one”) is in California’s future. Some people even go so far as to argue that this huge earthquake could result in Los Angeles becoming an

island, instantly separated from the rest of the continental United States, while others argue against this idea. Read about the history of Los

Angeles earthquakes here.

1. Would the likelihood of an earthquake shape your decision on where to live? Why or why not? Include your personal experiences or knowledge

about earthquakes in your answer.
2. Knowing what you now know about plate tectonics, is there any scientific validity to Johnson’s initial claim? Is there any evidence to

support this hypothetical scenario presented by Johnson? How could Johnson’s idea shape public policy?
3. Your job is to create an argument about Johnson’s idea. Pick a side of the debate and provide the information to answer the following

• What is your claim?
• What is the evidence to support your claim?
• Why do you think your evidence is reliable and trustworthy?

Speak like a geologist
Watch the Geologists in the Wild video, watch the Speak Like a Geologist Lesson, and listen to the Act Like a Geologist Audio Podcast.
The decoding skill that was discussed in the Speak Like a Scientist is one that I had to use all of the time in graduate school. My field was in

disease evolution and a big part of the discipline is looking and thinking about differential equations. My feelings at the time were if I wanted

to do math I would have been a math major (I was a surly graduate student 🙂 ). One of the things that got me through it was some advice from a

friend who said just write them out in sentence form. Even though this might be commonsense to some of you, this advice was flooring for me. So,


Given that:
• d = change in…
• x = number of rabbits
• t = time
• a = growth rate
• B = attack rate of hawks on rabbits
• y = number of hawks

Becomes this…the change in the number of rabbits over time is equal to the growth rate of the number of rabbits minus the attack rate of hawks on

rabbits times the number of rabbits times the number of hawks. Simplified it means that the population of rabbits will be determined by the

increase of rabbits from the amount of babies they make (growth rate) minus the number that are killed by hawks (attack rate of hawks times the

number of hawk/rabbit interactions you have). And you might be like, “OK, so what?” This equation is a hypothesis that can be used to make

predictions…like how many hawks can be present before your rabbit population goes away. If you take measures of real populations you can figure out

if this hypothesis holds, or if there is another variable you need to incorporate into your model.
Decoding is an essential skill and it involves not being overwhelmed when you see something you do not immediately understand. For this exercise,

find and provide us either a sentence with multiple words to decode or an equation (you can insert a picture of the equation if it is too difficult

to input the symbols). Describe how do you think this need for translation impacts science, the public, and/or policy?