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Pointcounter point

BayleyHaydon Bailey* was co-author of May’s “Soapbox” article, which gave rise to some stinging criticism of micropalaeontology in our letters. Here is his response.

Geoscientist 22.09 October 2012

‘Recently the self-promotion of micropalaeontology has figured large in Geoscientist’, wrote Cornelia Kohler in the opening line of a letter that was starkly critical of this subject and its practitioners. I would respond that, as no-one else is promoting us, we have to promote ourselves. 

Read Jones and Bailey's original Soapbox piece

Kohler continues: ‘I agree that it is a disappearing core discipline and that it has important applications’ – so far so good: ‘But no one seems to ask why it is losing its significance. Unlike other disciplines, which are becoming more important especially in the petroleum industry, biostratigraphy has failed to enter the 21st Century.’


I would respond that this discipline has not lost significance. If anything, it is as significant as ever - in fact, even more so. Other disciplines need increasingly sophisticated technology to generate their raw data and high-powered systems to manipulate them. While the latter is true also of biostratigraphy, it scores over other disciplines by the fact that generating its raw data involves using a well-trained pair of eyes with an agile brain behind them. These represent a system that very rarely breaks down, even when 21st Century tools do.

Kohler says she strongly believes that micropalaeo ‘needs to reinvent itself and free itself from the past’. Here, I would echo comments by John Athersuch about such new techniques as ‘biosteering’ and the state-of-the-art software tools we now employ to marshal our data. Kohler complains of what she sees as merely ‘saving’ the ‘old ways’. Well, maybe – though that is not, I think, by any means ‘all’ we are saying. Sometimes “old ways” are there for a reason – they work, and reliably. At wellsite, for example, 21st Century technologies are more widely used than ever before, but they are not immune from breakdowns - nor are they, in the end, as intelligent as highly skilled people.

‘By ignoring its shortcomings, as it has done for long time, this discipline will further lose importance and appeal’ Kohler concludes. Well, if this were true I would agree but micropalaeontology has lost neither importance nor appeal - just its support within the broader geoscience community - hence our ‘self-promotion’.
Kohler concludes: ‘There are sadly very few pioneers left and these are usually heavily criticised. So, I plead to micropalaeontologists: stop patting each other on the back, stop thinking it is a perfect discipline and start reinventing yourselves – geology needs you!’


I’m unsure about this point, who these ‘pioneers’ are and who is criticising them. But no- one has been doing any back-patting - quite the opposite. Micropalaeontology is probably one of the most competitive disciplines within geoscience. No-one thinks it a “perfect discipline”; if anything, we are constantly re-inventing the uses, applications and presentation of our data.
But on one thing I believe Claudia Kohler is, finally, correct, and on it we can conclude in a note of agreement. We are needed.

* Network Stratigraphic Consulting Ltd., Harvest House, Cranborne Rd., Potters Bar, Hertfordshire EN63JF. Bailey and Jones’s Soapbox piece was accompanied by an Online Special. E: Cornelia Kohler’s letter appeared in the July issue of Geoscientist (22.06). This correspondence is now closed.