Oceans of Opportunity

Oak Island | shedding some light on the value of discovery based science

BLOGICONI am first to admit that I stayed up late last night to take in another new episode of History Channel’s Oak Island. Oak Island itself is fascinating – ranking up there with the Pyramids, crop circles, the Bermuda Triangle, ancient alien theory, Atlantis, ‘the Flood’, and so on. Any of these taboo “science” topics are hot in their ability to capture public attention, but are considered far out there enough to yet justify significant attention from the hard science community – at least their many conspiracy or off-center theories.

I certainly cannot sum up the Oak Island mystery here in one Blog post, so am simply going to use the excitement behind the television show as an excuse to shed light on the value of discovery based science – the type of science that makes us all wonder about the world we live in, and in very big ways. That inquisitive nature is inherent to our human nature, and what ultimately drives progress. While I am certainly a proponent of trekking out ‘in search of’ – which is something we can all do, and should do to further our own personal understanding of the world around us – we must be extremely careful not to let the search for discoveries become a search to validate the untruthful. Discoveries, while certainly out there and just waiting to be had, will manifest themselves through the scientific method and be validated through peer review which unfortunately just takes a lot of time.

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However, that shouldn’t stand in the way of continuing the search.

I like to dream big and think big, taking steps in my own work to carve paths where we may not otherwise go. To me, that’s exploration, and that’s valuable. More often that not we hit a dead-end – be it a business venture, a field project ‘in search of’, or chasing an existing lead – but it’s the process in arriving at the dead-end that provides us the value in the discovery, not necessarily the discovery itself.

For instance, our 2011 discovery of Derilissus lombardii, has been a hot topic with our education collaborators recently. We were definitely out there in the field looking for something ‘new’ to help catalyze our programs. It happened to be a fish. Frankly, this fish is insignificant, and if it went extinct the world would continue to turn. However it represents the culmination of about a decade of work in diving technology and techniques that allowed us to get there. Now, those technologies and techniques have served us well in other ways, and opened some new doors for future discovery potential. That decade was full of immense value and the fish was a capstone moment.

Anyway, my point is this – we should never discount the pursuit itself. Whether it’s Oak Island, the Pyramids, or a deep ocean trench, the value in ‘getting there’ is where progress can be made  – the discovery itself is just icing on the cake.

As for Oak Island – I am a believer in a great mystery that lies therewithin, and will be tuning in again next week!