Saturday, May 31, 2008

Think Indiana Jones - in a dumpster!

MSNBC has a feature on the "10 worst jobs in science" available online. And lo and behold, an archaeological subfield made the cut:

No. 4: Garbologist

Think Indiana Jones—in a Dumpster

Archaeologists usually pick through ancient garbage. But William Rathje of Stanford University won't wait. Since 1973 the self-termed "garbologist" has sifted through at least 250,000 pounds of refuse to analyze modern consumption patterns and how quickly waste breaks down. He typically drills 15 to 20 "wells" to the bottom of a landfill, some 90 feet deep, and pulls 20 to 30 tons of material from each well, which he and his students then catalog. What he's learned: Dirty diapers make up less than 2 percent of landfills, while paper accounts for 45 percent. Hot dogs can last up to 24 years in a dump, and there is a correlation between cat ownership (litter) and National Enquirer readers (discarded copies). Rathje looks at other trash, too. One project involved scouring garbage cans in Tucson, Arizona, cataloging candy wrappers and used dental floss, toothbrushes and toothpaste tubes to compare survey claims about dental health with reality. The conclusion: There's far more junk out there than ways to get it off your teeth.

It comes in right behind elephant vasectomist, hazmat diver and... oceanographer?!


Stephen Chrisomalis said...

Ha! That's great. I closed off 201 on Thursday with a discussion of garbology / Rathje (emphasizing of course that we're all garbologists, in one sense).

Maju said...

Wow, that's an interesting profession really. It certainly has the incovenient of a field work that really seems to stink, but if you manage to get the office job, it may become really fascinating.

The results certainly make it interesting.


I wonder why oceanographer is a bad profession. I'd rather be out there on a ship (and I have done it actually enough times to know what is about, even if always near the coast) than disecting corpses.