|Geology Professor Emeritus Robert J. Weimer
Graduation Banquet Address: "Thoughts for your Future Professional Activities"
I congratulate tomorrow's graduates and their families on this memorable and enjoyable occasion, and wish you success in your chosen careers. I have been selected as your evening speaker because I will also receive a Mines degree tomorrow, the Honorary Doctorate of Engineering. I share your pride in receiving a Mines degree and am grateful for the honor.
I have been affiliated with Mines since I began my academic career here in 1957, following six years in industrial work. In these 51 years, 80 percent of Mines graduates (about 20,000) have "crossed the stage" and 110 Honorary Doctorates have been awarded. So I am honored to stand here in admiration of your accomplishments, and I am humbled as I accept the challenge to say something meaningful to you when the last thing you need at this point is another talk by a professor. But, such are life and traditions. Because you are a part of the digital generation and I am not, I have selected a timeless intergenerational subject for discussion - professionalism in your future.
I want to convey, briefly, my observations on five topics that will be a part of your professional future, thoughts of activities that will build on the excellent background that you have received at Mines. They are: CSM's Professional Legacy; Ethics and Codes of Conduct; Who is a Professional?; Citizenship and Scholarship; and Present and Future Issues.
To utilize time, I selected from quotations I have used in giving talks over my career, quotes or analogies that make a point and save words.
CSM's Professional Legacy. The needs of society are fulfilled by the availability and sustainability of natural, agricultural and human resources. Without adequate food, water, energy, shelter, materials and environment, much of the world's population as it currently exists would be doomed to a premature death.
You know that CSM has a legacy, a national and international reputation, of serving society by advancing knowledge and skills in natural resource science and engineering. How did this legacy come about? I believe because of the performance and dedication of graduates, the true ambassadors of Mines; the strength of the faculty and curriculum; the dedication of purpose by the Administration and Board of Trustees; and the Mines Press - a publication outlet that no longer exists.
Mines graduates are problem solvers who give reasonable solutions in the time available - they are leaders, workers and doers. You will benefit from, and contribute to the Mines professional legacy. I have always liked the Mines spirit reflected in the current t-shirt: We bust ours (on front), to kick yours (on back); and a slogan of a prior generation: You can lead a horse to water but you can't make him drink, you can lead an ass to knowledge but you can't make him think. Too long for a t-shirt.
Job security as you move forward may be of concern. Here are a few suggestions for your consideration. Always give full allegiance and commitment to your employer. Because employment will change, learn all you can from your job and increase your marketable skills. Start immediately to build an emergency fund for job dislocations. Develop networking with others in your chosen field. You have already started this with your Mines degree, so take advantage of the Mines network offered by membership in the CSM Alumni Association, the host for tonight's activities. Knowledge, skills and contacts in your profession are your security.
Ethics and Codes of Conduct. Nothing will be more important in your professional career than character encompassing the personal traits of integrity and principles that guide you in everyday behavior. Protect and develop them as you face life's decisions. You came to Mines with acceptable traits molded by your parents, family and friends. You were greeted with a Student Honor Code published in the CSM Bulletin. The key sentence is: "I will act with honesty, responsibility, and above all, with honor and integrity in all aspects of my academic endeavors at Mines."
You will now need to extend this creed to your new career by joining professional societies, all of which have codes of ethics and conduct. This should be an easy transition.
Within this framework, you need to be prepared for change in your career and knowledge. The history of science clearly records that at each point in time, mankind accepts as dogma concepts or theories that are incorrect. The challenge to each new generation is to recognize what is incorrect and to make changes. The challenge to the older generation is to encourage change and not to stand in the way. New ideas are indeed the fuel for change, but how do you know they are new? This is determined through peer review so that knowledge can be transferred and accepted in an orderly fashion. By this process, "junk science," defined as false or incomplete theories, is purged from the system. Truth, trust and confidence are foremost in ethics and go together as the key components of change.
Shakespeare, writing in Hamlet, said: "And this above all, to thine own self be true, and it must follow as the night the day, thou cannot then be false to any man." Mark Twain put it more simply: "Always tell the truth and you never have to remember what you said before." Scientists, engineers and other professionals have the "search for truth" as the core of ethical standards. What is truth? A statement conformable to fact, honesty and reality; not erroneous, inaccurate or the like. A crisis of confidence in our society develops when this objective is ignored or diminished in importance.
Who is a Professional? A professional is one who pursues as a business, some vocation or occupation, and accepts and promotes standards of excellence and truth in its practice. The four-year degree that you will receive from Mines was once called a professional degree and, perhaps, should still be. I encourage you to join your chosen profession by taking the Engineer in Training examination and, a few years later, the Professional Engineer examination. This will qualify you as a Registered Engineer to promote standards of excellence and personal conduct and will give you reciprocity in engineering practice in states throughout the United States. In the short-term, this activity may seem to be unimportant to you, but in the long-term, with the possibility of entering a consulting practice, or having your own business, it may be very important. Also, in the future, join the professional and scientific society that provides regular publications, local and national meetings, and continuing education courses, all of which help you maintain competence in your practice. Commit yourself to life-long learning, either formally or informally, which will advance your career and well-being.
Jack Valenti, former advisor to President Lyndon Johnson, wrote the following: "Let me sit in a discussion where decisions are to be made and I can quickly and accurately point to the professionals. They know the issues, have untangled the crossing threads of logic and reaction, understand the facts cold, and can, because they have done the necessary homework, come up with suggestions that may lack passionate intensity but usually make the most sense." Valenti was President of the Motion Picture Association of America for many years. The title of his article was "The Trained Professional: a Vanishing American." Strive to be recognized as this type of professional and to make certain that the trained professional does not vanish.
Citizenship and Scholarship. Scientists and engineers, as citizens and professionals, are called upon to become more involved in public policy formulation, and this is reflected in new course programs here at Mines. Yes, we have a commitment as informed citizens to do more and, in my career, I have testified before national, state and local committees, served as an expert witness in court trials and before regulatory agencies, and volunteered to improve local infrastructure and conservation practices. The activity gives personal satisfaction, although at times can be disappointing for lack of progress. Nevertheless, volunteerism has rewards along the way and, without trying to influence change, one would never know if it can be achieved.
In 1997, Alston Chase, a syndicated columnist, had this to say after a person attending a conference on the environment asked him: "Are you an environmentalist?" He said: "It is my duty not to be an environmentalist. Dedication to impartiality is the essence of my professions - journalism and scholarship. Such impartiality also distinguishes science from advocacy. Once a researcher swears allegiance to a cause, he or she can no longer maintain the necessary detachment. The abandonment of impartiality is a legacy of the 1960s."
I have done research on both present and ancient environments, but, like Chase, have problems with the inaccuracies of activists in environmental movements. I have been a conservationist most of my adult life - defined as a person advocating the wise use of our world's natural resources, new ways of using resources efficiently, and of responsible development. This description fits the Mines model of focusing educational and research programs on earth, energy, materials and environment for the benefit of mankind.
I cannot be a conservationist, having knowledge of the pressure on demand for non-renewable resources by an increasing population, without advocating world population control. During my professional career, the world's population has increased from 2.5 billion to 6.5 billion, and during your professional career, the projected increase is another 2.5 billion. In 1975, I taught at the Bandung Technical Institute in Indonesia and observed first-hand the population problems on the island of Java where 100 million people live in an area the size of Colorado. To maintain sustainability in resources, a control on population growth should be a top priority for all countries.
In our present society, citizens have lost trust in professions that have the most impact in making public policy. A crisis of confidence exists among citizens and institutions. Polls quantify the public's confidence levels in institutions as between 5 and 20 percent for the print and broadcast media, congress and the federal government, and the legal system.
Here are examples of what contributes to the problem of low confidence. Ben Bradlee, former editor of the Washington Post, wrote in a book titled To Tell the Truth: "Our most serious mistakes occur when we relay misinformation given to us by others - presidents, spin doctors, or ignoramuses. We claim to print the truth. We don't cope with the reality that the truth often escapes us. We are unable to admit any of this publicly - someone will pounce on an admission and say, "see I told you so " - the press lies. Letters to the editor can correct mistakes but are generally not very effective, but fortunately other newspapers can correct flaws in reporting or different opinions. And there is always the route of paid advertisements. Another example of lack of trust, a recent editorial stated in referring to class-action asbestos lawsuits: "Politicians and tort lawyers have plenty in common, not least a tendency to obscure the truth with misleading facts." Ward and Stein (economists) reflect: "It ain't what people say that hurts, it's the things they say that ain't so."
The First Amendment Institute at the University of Tennessee, in its book Worlds Apart, described the gap in communication between scientists and journalists, and made several recommendations for improvement: Train communicators; journalists should use peer review and improve knowledge about science; authors should write summaries in plain English; web sites should be used to post information vital to the public and media. Efforts are also under way by scientific and professional societies to form committees to improve the public's levels of confidence in this age of abundant methods of communication. To volunteer in these efforts is an effective way to use your knowledge to assist the public and to make a difference. Despite the difficulties, we should never lose faith in institutions so vital to free society, and should work to improve them, and to stop the decay in confidence. Help from you and other trained professionals is needed.
Present and Future Issues. In your time at Mines, forums and lectures have been held on campus to provide discussion about major problems faced by society. Four of the most prevalent issues are: climate change and global warming; energy; sustainability; and the environment. How do the thoughts that I have expressed before relate to these dominant issues today and in the future? From my background and work in each of these subjects, I believe the challenge to you and other citizens is to separate true facts from false ideas that support junk science. Junk science seems to appeal to activists and alarmists who need support for their own agendas for a variety of reasons. The use of fear can be dominant in attracting attention and money to issues.
You have been educated in the use of the Scientific Method in evaluating and solving problems, simply stated as: Find the facts; filter the facts; focus the facts; face the facts; and follow the facts. And this thought process can be your guide in developing trust and confidence in people and organizations, and in gaining their confidence in you. The approach in analyzing scientifically based issues is to determine if all relevant facts have been collected and related, and if the resulting theory can be tested. Do all facts fit the theory, or have some been shunted aside or ignored? Are multiple, working hypotheses needed to explain complex natural systems? These and other questions should have answers before action is taken to solve proposed problems within the four issues listed above, which affect the welfare of society. For all of these issues, the debate is not over, despite what you have been told.
The Scientific Method has been used by authors and satirists to make certain points in their writings. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, through his character Sherlock Holmes, wrote: It is a capital mistake to theorize before one has all relevant data. Insensibly one begins to twist facts to suit theories instead of theories to suit facts. Or as Mark Twain said: "First you get your facts and then you can distort them at your leisure." His other comment also applies: "There is something fascinating about science - an amazing amount of conjecture from such a trifling investment of facts." And the philosopher Bertrand Russell simply stated: "Even when the experts all agree, they may be mistaken. Scientists should always have a degree of skepticism in their work."
Summary Thoughts. In universities and government-funding agencies, an ongoing debate occurs about the relative importance in education of basic research versus applied research. On this subject, here is my favorite quote from Albert Einstein, who was a theoretical physicist, mathematician and philosopher and regarded as the leading basic research scientist of the 20th century: "It is not enough that you should understand about applied science in order that your work may increase man's blessing. Concern for man himself and his fate must always form the chief interest in all technical endeavors. Never forget this in the midst of your diagrams and equations."
A quote in Arthur Lakes Library here on campus reads: "Science is the base upon which is reared the civilization of today. Let none forget those men who laid the first foundation stones, from Herbert Hoover, U.S. President 1929-33; CSM Honorary Doctorate of Engineering, 1935." Both of these quotes speak well for the culture of CSM that I have described, and your science and engineering education.
On a personal basis, as you embark on your career, here are some "take away" final thoughts: Never stop dreaming and planning: never stop thinking and creating; never stop doing and leading; and never stop being grateful to those who paved the way for your opportunities in a free society.
Again, my congratulations on your success at Mines. Go forward with the wind at your backs.
Thank you for your attention.