Geikie's field researches and their geological controversies

Robert W H Butler, Stephen J Matthews, Richard K Morgan

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Archibald Geikie's (1835-1924) field research led to better understanding of geological relationships and, ultimately, earth processes. We consider three pieces of research in Scotland, from his early work on Skye through the execution and impact of his 1860 expedition to the NW Highlands with Murchison, returning to Skye to consider arguments with Judd on igneous relationships. We describe the field locations and place modern interpretations in their historical context. We discuss how methods and approaches for building interpretations in the field were modified and improved through debates. Reliance on a few "critical outcrops" served to anchor interpretation at the
expense of understanding more complex exposures. Similar bias appears to have arisen from using simple exploratory transects which were only mitigated by proper mapping approaches. Significant misunderstandings between protagonists appear to have arisen through the reliance of text description rather than diagrammatic illustrations. The vitriolic nature of debate seems to have anchored misinterpretations, obscured interpretational uncertainty and promoted false-reasoning by inhibiting inclusive scientific engagement.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)149-178
Number of pages30
JournalGeological Society Special Publications
Early online date18 Apr 2018
Publication statusPublished - 2019

Bibliographical note

All of us were introduced to the Moine Thrust Belt and its controversies by the
late Mike Coward. We are indebted to him for instilling a passion for structural
geology, challenging conventional wisdom and for tales of early protagonists. We
also thank the late John Mendum, who kindly shared a copy of his notes on the
Highlands Controversy, together with Robert Neller, Collections Officer at
Haslemere Educational Museum, for facilitating access to Geikie’s field-notes and


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