[Paleopsych] CHE: Geology Course Gives Students a Down-to-Earth Understanding of Sherlock Holmes's Worke

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Geology Course Gives Students a Down-to-Earth Understanding of Sherlock 
Holmes's Worke
The Chronicle of Higher Education, 5.1.7


    In the Sherlock Holmes tale A Study in Scarlet, Dr. Watson jots down a
    list of Holmes's various areas of expertise. The sixth item on the
    list: "knowledge of geology -- practical, but limited."
    Students at Smith College who take Lawrence D. Meinert's class on the
    fictional detective, "Sherlock Holmes and the Scientific Method," can
    add some geology to their own lists of proficiencies. Mr. Meinert, a
    geologist specializing in the detection of gold deposits, hopes that
    his first-year seminar can serve as both a writing workshop and an
    introductory science course.
    "This is my subversive effort to get everyone to think about
    scientific reasoning," he explains. "When a student says, 'You tricked
    us. I learned some science,' that obviously makes me quite thrilled."
    As part of the course, students read a number of Sherlock Holmes
    stories and discuss how the detective uses the scientific method to
    solve mysteries. By making observations, gathering evidence, and then
    proposing a testable hypothesis, "Sherlock uses scientific reasoning
    in a romantic and entertaining fashion," says Mr. Meinert. Some
    stories, like "The Blue Carbuncle," involve minerals or gems as
    central plot elements.
    The Hound of the Baskervilles takes place on the moors, amid a variety
    of interesting geological features. In one writing exercise, students
    develop what Mr. Meinert calls "a geologic augmentation" of that
    story, taking its central plot and tying in the geology of the
    Other exercises build toward a final paper, for which members of the
    class devise their own mysteries starring Sherlock Holmes. The story
    must illustrate the use of the scientific method to solve a mystery,
    and must incorporate a geologic phenomenon as a central plot element.
    Mr. Meinert asks each student to read his or her assignment out loud,
    which "has an amazing effect," he says. "The effect of my grading, or
    of their internal motivation, doesn't hold a candle to the
    mortification of reading your own work aloud in front of your peers."
    Reading list:
    Sherlock Holmes: The Complete Novels and Stories, Volumes I and II, by
    Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (Bantam Classics, 1986); Understanding Earth,
    by Frank Press, Raymond Siever, John Grotzinger, and Tom Jordan (W.H.
    Freeman & Company, 2003).
    In addition to writing an original Holmes story, each student writes a
    short paper on dinosaurs. They go on several field trips throughout
    the semester, including a behind-the-scenes tour of a jewelry store
    and visits to dinosaur footprints, a local cemetery, and a quarry.

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