Palinspastic: Introducing… “The Geology Word of the Week”

So, I’ve decided that it’s *finally* time to return to blogging for Skepchick on a regular basis. I know, I know… I’ve tried (and failed) to do this before. Many of the faithful Skepchick readers have probably never heard of me because I blog so infrequently. My excuse? Graduate school is tough. Obtaining a PhD in science is difficult and, at times, overwhelming. For me, it has been a particularly challenging experience because I have an advisor curse. Seriously. I’m on advisor #3 at the moment. I divorced my first advisor for various reasons and was lucky to find a wonderful new advisor who let me concoct a new thesis project.  The perfect thesis project. My dream thesis project, at my dream graduate school. Just a few months ago, advisor #2 announced that he was leaving Woods Hole /MIT for the University of Wyoming. Yes, Wyoming. I had a choice: stay at Woods Hole/MIT and find a new advisor or buy some cowboy boots (and possibly a horse?) and head west. Wyoming offered me a full scholarship to move, but I declined. I didn’t survive Differential Equations and Linear Algebra with human calcuator MIT undergrads to obtain my degree from Wyoming, a fine educational institution but no MIT.

Fortunately, a third advisor- a woman!- has come to my rescue. This particular woman is a highly-respected  geologist here at Woods Hole . She chaired my general exam and watched me transition from my first advisor to my second. She met with me a couple of months ago and, to my astonishment and delight, offered to become my advisor. We reached a wonderful compromise– I will continue to work on my beloved thesis project but with my new advisor. Advisor #3 will supervise my day-to-day research, which is related to some of her own research, while advisor #2 will continue to provide specific expertise on matters of the project which advisor #3 is not familair with. To compensate for all of this advisor swapping, I have also obtained advisors #4 and #5 who (unofficially) will also guide me with parts of the project. Hopefully, advisors #3, #4, and #5 will not be affected by my advisor curse. But, hey, at least I’m increasing my odds. They can’t all leave… or can they?

I was very concerned over the past few months that this complex advisor shuffling would fail, and I would be shopping for sparkly spurs for those cowboy boots. Remarkably, everything seems to be working out. In January I spent four weeks in Oman, my field area for my thesis research. I’ll write some about that trip in future Skepchick posts. Yesterday I submitted my 20-page thesis proposal. I’ll defend this proposal in two weeks time and after that will become a full-fledged PhD candidate. From that point onward, there will be no looking back. I will carry out my thesis research and obtain that PhD!

Alright, excuses and graduate school woes aside, it’s time for the heart of this post: the geology word of the week!

I’m introducing the geology word of the week for a few reasons:
1. If I call it the word of the week, it will remind (force?) me to post on Skepchick at least once a week.
2. One of the biggest gaps between the scientific community and the public at large is the language barrier. Scientists enjoy making up fancy words for everything. Geologists are particularly bad as they have millions of words for different rocks, minerals, and structures. Reading a geology paper is, even for me at times, much like deciphering a complex code full of “-ites” and “-gys” and “-stones”. I speak geology, at least certain dialects of geology. I’d like to help Skepchick readers learn some basic geo lingo.
3. Sometimes, science words are very, very funny. To the point where you wonder if scientists make up these funny words on purpose. I hope to present some particularly amusing ones.
4. I’d like to learn, too. If you have suggestions for a word of the week, let me know. I’ll start with geology words but perhaps I can expand to science words in general. Do me a favor and don’t post the words– just email them to Skepchick.

With that long-winded introduction, this week’s “Geology Word of the Week” is: PALINSPASTIC

1. Showing the previous location of geological features, correcting for any intervening crustal movements (wikitionary).
2. An adjective describing former Vice Presidential candidate Sarah Palin’s scatterbrained mannerisms and speach.

An example from the geology literature:
“This paper presents a new palinspastic restoration of the Eastern Alps for Neogene time and an attempt to reconstruct the Neogene palaeogeology, palaeotopography and palaeohydrography in connection with the structural evolution. The Eastern Alps underwent radical horizontal displacement during the Neogene due to large strike-slip systems and formation of structural windows. Our palinspastic reconstruction considers: (a) the rearrangement of tectonic units dismembered during tectonic extrusion, (b) the tectonic denudation driven by displacement of the crystalline blocks, (c) geochronological arguments, and (d) the sedimentary record of the syn-extrusion basins.”
From: Frisch et al. (1998). Palinspastic reconstruction and topographic evolution of the Eastern Alps during late Tertiary tectonic extrusion. Tectonophysics, Vol. 297, Issues 1-4: 1-15.

I hope you enjoy this week’s word. I look forward to returning to my Skepchick posting duties!


Evelyn is a geologist, writer, traveler, and skeptic residing in Cape Town, South Africa with frequent trips back to the US for work. She has two adorable cats; enjoys hiking, rock climbing, and kayaking; and has a very large rock collection. You can follow her on twitter @GeoEvelyn. She also writes a geology blog called Georneys.

Related Articles


  1. I was just watching the fine grey volcanic ash building up on my car and it made me think of you, so I came here to see if you had posted recently. Good to see you are back.

    – David

  2. Hey Evelyn, I am new to Skepchick and I am also new to working towards a PhD, in geology too! What is your project on?

    I have herd the advisor relationship can be tricky, I am really pleased with mine (so far) but know these things can change.

    I thought of a good ‘geology word of the week’ how about Fucsite? (Hope I spelt that right).

    Good luck with the study!

  3. I sympathise about the advisor issues! I gave up on any ideas of phud-ness because of similar. Started the year with 3 supervisors, within a few months one left for an industry position, a couple of months later another just sort of stopped talking to me, and the remaining one didn’t understand what I was doing (ahh, the joys of cross-discipline…) I wish you better luck!

  4. Congrats on getting your thesis proposal done! It was probably the most *contentious* part of my PhD.

    Myself, I finished the first draft of my thesis document (in computer science) a bit over a week ago — I’m defending it on Thursday :D The writing was hard for multiple reasons: I hate writing, I was on a shorter time schedule than I would have liked, and my beautiful and wonderful wife is in Massachusetts doing a postdoc while I finish up :( So I was quite glad to be done writing; I’m optimistic about the defense itself.

  5. Graduate school woes are something I can sympathise with. They seem to be happening to a lot of people in my School. I suspect they are universal to some degree.

    As far as geology words go, I don’t think you can do much better than Cummingtonite (I know I can’t).
    It’s particularly good when used in titles of papers along the lines of “Cummingtonite in the North of Scotland.”

  6. As a former geology grad student…

    Oh my god, I had forgotten about the legitimate definition of that word (Geology was a loooooong time ago for me, though it’s still near and dear to my heart). But I think I’m going to thoroughly enjoy using it in its newer, second definition.

    And since I was Geo-geek enough to actually win a Glossary of Geology – that sticks out amongst all my user-interaction tomes – let me know if you want the geeky, geo-glossary definiti0ns :D

    Disclaimer: I had a nightmare advisor experience at UniWyo – nightmare enough to push me out of the graduate school concept. But everyone else was really damn cool there – it was just my advisor (almost two decades ago and long retired) who has horrible. It was an excellent program, but yeah, not Woods Hole/ MIT ;)

  7. Also too, because for some reason, also, I now have that, you know, Shaggy song stuck in my head:
    She call me Mr. Palinspastic, say me fantastic…

  8. “Palinspastic: the effect Michael Palin’s humor has on the audience?”

    Or what about..
    Palinspastic: the negative effect a State Governor can have on feminism and logic.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Back to top button