A compilation and review of over 500 geoscience misconceptions

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This paper organizes and analyses over 500 geoscience misconceptions relating to earthquakes, earth structure, geologic resources, glaciers, historical geology, karst (limestone terrains), plate tectonics, rivers, rocks and minerals, soils, volcanoes, and weathering and erosion. Journal and reliable web resources were reviewed to discover (1) the frequency of misconceptions by subject matter, group (primary, middle-school, high-school, middle-/high-school, college, pre-service teachers, in-service teachers, and undefined) and source (journal versus web); and (2) the pattern of misconceptions across age groups and (3) directions for future research. A total of 502 misconceptions were discovered, with over 40% targeting a middle- and high-school audience. Plate tectonics comprised 19% of all misconceptions, with another 14% and 13% associated with weathering/erosion and historical geology, respectively. Over 80% of all the misconceptions were derived from peer-reviewed journals or web sources, the rest originated from reliable sources on the World Wide Web. The supernatural origin for many of the geoscience phenomena listed here is abandoned by middle school, but in other cases, some misconceptions seem robust through adulthood. Examples of such misconceptions include the origin/pattern of earthquakes, thickness of the earth's crust, oil's origin, movement mechanisms for glaciers, co-existence of humans and dinosaurs, water movement within karst terrains, the nature of plate boundaries, the power of water as an agent of geomorphic change, what constitutes a mineral and a rock, thickness of the soil layer, the distribution of volcanoes, and the difference between weathering and erosion.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)31-64
Number of pages34
JournalInternational Journal of Science Education
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2013


  • Earth science education
  • Misconceptions


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