A 20-year public-education effort triggered by an attempt disprove that the world was formed 6,000 years ago has earned Allison R. "Pete" Palmer the 2006 Pacesetter Award for science.
Palmer, a former U.S. Geological Survey paleontologist and State University of New York at Stony Brook geology professor, arrived in Boulder in 1980 to begin work organizing the Geological Society of America's 40- volume "Decade of North American Geology," for the society's centennial in 1988. It spans eight feet of bookshelf and involved authors and others from more than 100 universities, 20 provincial and state geological surveys and 23 oil or mining companies or consulting firms in 18 countries.
"My friends thought I was mad, but it was great fun," Palmer said.
Palmer said a British biochemist and others with Ph.D.s released in the 1980s a video claiming geological proof for a Biblically young planet. Specializing as he did in trilobites and other creatures and geological features of the Cambrian period that ended 500 million years ago, it made Palmer angry. He happened to be in Eldorado Springs the next weekend, noticed rock formations up to 1.6 billion years old, and created a sort of anti-creationism tour based on the landscape.
It became the basis for the 20-minute 1989 film "The Earth Has a History," which the geological society has sold worldwide. The film was distributed throughout the Boulder Valley School District and remains in use, said former Boulder teacher Donald Leach, who supported Palmer's pacesetter nomination.
Palmer recently donated his papers to the University of Chicago and is 80. But as nominator Clovis Morrison put it, "you would think he was half that age."
Palmer remains active in his pursuit of, as it put it, "trying to educate the public about the critical bits of knowledge from science that are necessary to recognize that we're a fundamental part of Earth's ecosystem."
As opposed, he says, to being somehow above it all, which is how we often act.
He continues to guide his all-day Eldorado Springs geological-history field trips upon request, and has taken to addressing Rotary Clubs with the presentation: "Preserve Planet Earth: Why Bother?" It introduces truths — though commonly viewed as heresies — that demonstrate humanity's role in the ecosystem.
"Nobody's thrown me out yet," he said.