Essential reporting in volatile times.

Click here to stay informed and subscribe to The Charleston Gazette-Mail.

Click #isupportlocal for more information on supporting our local journalists.

Learn more about HD Media

Eric Douglas sig

One thing the last year has shown is that a lot of us have a basic misunderstanding of science. Rarely, if ever, do scientists have all the answers.

They may study a topic for their entire careers, but still have things to learn. And then something new pops up and throws everything they thought they knew into question.

The steps of the scientific method are:

• Question

• Research

• Hypothesis

• Experiment

• Observations

• Results/Conclusion.

Notice that forming a hypothesis (an educated guess about what will happen) comes in the middle. And only then does a scientist begin conducting experiments to figure out if the educated guess was correct.

What would likely help with general scientific literacy would be for more people to get involved in science, and, no, I don’t think everyone needs to return to college and seek a Ph.D.

There are all sorts of “citizen science” programs where we can get involved in collecting information. (I wrote about a couple over the summer run [July 15] by the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources tracking turtles and lightning bugs.)

Just this morning, I read an article on the Smithsonian Magazine’s website titled “Twenty-Four Ways to Turn Outdoor Passions Into Citizen Science.”

My first thought when I read the headline was if there is any group of people interested in the outdoors and nature, it is people from West Virginia.

And then the very first project discussed in the article was called Mountain Watch from the Appalachian Mountain Club. Then I stumbled on another one called A.T. Seasons, which is a project to document seasonal changes in plants along the Appalachian Trail.

They ask hikers “to use their mobile devices to photograph plant life they observe while hiking and share images” through a dedicated phone app. Then they use those observations to “track plant development and gain insight about the effects of climate on local alpine vegetation.”

I have a number of friends who hike and explore the mountains that surround us. I hope they see this and add it to their regular back-country activities.

And, I hope, maybe the idea of getting involved in a scientific project will encourage a few more of us to get out in nature and explore some more. It doesn’t take a gym membership to get exercise. There are trails all over the Kanawha Valley you can use.

And it doesn’t take a trek to the Andes for discovery. There is still plenty we don’t know about our own back yards.

Side note: We’re almost a week into the new year. Are you still keeping up with your resolutions?

Eric Douglas, of Pinch, is the author of “Return to Cayman,” “Heart of the Maya,” “Cayman Cowboys,” “River Town” and other novels. He is also a columnist for Scuba Diving Magazine and a former Charleston Newspapers Metro staff writer. For more information, visit or contact him at