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Bruce Yardley appointed Chief Geologist

Bruce Yardley (Leeds University) has been appointed Chief Geologist by The Radioactive Waste Management Directorate (RWMD) of the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA).

Chartership news

Chartership Officer Bill Gaskarth reports on a projected new logo for use by CGeols, advice on applications and company training schemes

Climate Change Statement Addendum

The Society has published an addendum to 'Climate Change: Evidence from the Geological Record' (November 2010) taking account of new research

Cracking up in Lincolnshire

Oliver Pritchard, Stephen Hallett, and Timothy Farewell consider the role of soil science in maintaining the British 'evolved road'

Critical metals

Kathryn Goodenough* on a Society-sponsored hunt for the rare metals that underpin new technologies

Déja vu all over again

As Nina Morgan Discovers, the debate over HS2 is nothing new...

Done proud

Ted Nield hails the new refurbished Council Room as evidence that the Society is growing up

Earth Science Week 2014

Fellows - renew, vote for Council, and volunteer for Earth Science Week 2014!  Also - who is honoured in the Society's Awards and Medals 2014.

Fookes celebrated

Peter Fookes (Imperial College, London) celebrated at Society event in honour of Engineering Group Working Parties and their reports

Geology - poor relation?

When are University Earth Science departments going to shed their outmoded obsession with maths, physics and chemistry?

Nancy Tupholme

Nancy Tupholme, Librarian of the Society and the Royal Society, has died, reports Wendy Cawthorne.

Power, splendour and high camp

Ted Nield reviews the refurbishment of the Council Room, Burlington House

The Sir Archibald Geikie Archive at Haslemere Educational Museum

You can help the Haslemere Educational Museum to identify subjects in Sir Archibald Geikie's amazing field notebook sketches, writes John Betterton.

Top bananas

Who are the top 100 UK practising scientists?  The Science Council knows...


r6weuThis page has been created to facilitate rapid and timely interchange of opinion. Each month (space permitting) a selection of these letters will be published in Geoscientist Online , the colour monthly magazine of the Society Fellowship.

Correspondence strings are listed in the order that they are begun, the most recent string at the top. Within each string, letters are listed with the first letter of the string at the top, and subsequent letters below.

This page contains letters from the current year.  The archive of letters from previous years are accessible by clicking the links to the left.

If you wish to express an opinion, please email the Editor, Amy Whitchurch.  Letters should be as short as possible, preferably c.300 words long or fewer. You may also write to:

Dr Amy Whitchurch, Editor, Geoscientist, c/o The Geological Society, Burlington House, Piccadilly, London W1J 0BG.
  • Please note that letters will be edited for publication. This particularly applies to versions  printed in the magazine.  The Editor reserves the right not to publish letters, at her discretion. Writers should submit their letters electronically to ensure rapid publication. All views expressed below are the responsibility of their authors alone. AW


EDITOR NOTE: Further correspondence on the matter of anthropogenic global warming and the Society’s climate change statement will be held until Council has deliberated on the results of an ongoing review of the statement.

Problems posed by derived fossils 06 December 2018

Received 29 NOVEMBER 2018
Published 06 DECEMBER 2018
From Jack Wilkin
Dear Editor, Derived or reworked fossils are those eroded out of an earlier formation and redeposited in younger strata. These fossils survived the process of derivation that destroyed the rock in which they were originally enclosed. Derived fossils present palaeontologists and other geoscientists with numerous problems.

Biostratigraphy is the method by which strata are dated via the use of Zone Fossils—those that characterise a particular time period. In order for a fossil to qualify, it must be relatively abundant, easy to recognise, geographically widespread, and have a limited stratigraphic range. If a Zone Fossil is reworked, its presence as a derived fossil would lead to an erroneous biostratigraphic age—it would make the stratum appear older than it is.

Derived fossils can also cause extinct species to appear as fossils in strata deposited after their extinction point, a phenomenon termed “dead clade walking”. The term was first coined by David Jablouski (2002), referring to short-lived survivors of mass-extinctions. One commonly cited example is that of Palaeocene dinosaurs that, according to Sullivan (2003), are presently believed to be Cretaceous fossils reworked into the Cenozoic Ojo Alamo Sandstone Formation of the Midwestern United States, rather than post-Mesozoic survivors.

Some species have narrow environmental tolerances so are used in palaeoenvironmental reconstructions, and derived fossils can screw environmental interpretations. An example of this comes from the Eocene Barton Beds of Southern England. Here contemporaneous and reworked dinoflagellates are present. Unless reworked fossils are identified and excluded, this will lead to incorrect assumptions about the depositional setting or contradictory results.  

Jack Wilkin

Jablonski, D. (2002) Survival with recovery after mass extinctions. PNAS 99 (12), 8139-8144.
Sullivan, R. M. 2003. No Paleocene dinosaurs in the San Juan Basin, New Mexico. Geological Society of America Abstracts with Programs 35 (5), 15.

The complexities of mineral rights 26 November 2018

Received 12 NOVEMBER 2018
Published 26 NOVEMBER 2018
From Richard Shaw
Dear Editor, I think it is important to correct information given in October’s Soapbox (Peter Styles, Whose geology is it anyway? Geoscientist, 2018) whereby it is suggested that we don’t own the land beneath our back gardens.

Unlike many parts of the world, in the UK the situation regarding mineral rights is very complicated. On-shore (above high-water mark) the mineral rights to hydrocarbons, coal and radioactive minerals (including a few stable elements that were important for nuclear weapons construction at the time of legislation) are vested in UK Government under various pieces of legislation, with a few specific exceptions, and Mines Royal (gold and silver) are vested in the Crown (the Crown Estate). Arguably groundwater is also vested in Government, in that abstraction of water above specified small quantities requires a licence.

The rights for all other minerals (such as metals, dimension stone, aggregates, industrial minerals), in theory, reside in the land owner, but in reality, the situation is more complicated. Firstly, there are various ‘traditional’ rights, such as for lead in the Peak District, and coal and iron in the Forest of Dean, which have been enshrined in various Acts of Parliament. Secondly, particularly in mining areas such as Cornwall, the mineral rights have sometimes been ‘divorced’ from land ownership when land was sold, being retained by the previous owner or sold separately. It can be exceedingly difficult to trace ownership today when the separation may have happened several centuries ago and perhaps only applies to the rights to specific commodities.

Off-shore things are somewhat easier. Below high-water mark, apart from the rights to commodities vested in Government noted above, mineral rights are vested in the Crown.

Thus, the situation regarding ownership of mineral rights in the UK can complicate any underground development. Over much of the country, especially in areas without a history of mining, as landowner you do own the sub-surface and everything that it contains (except anything that the Government has nationalised at some point in the past). Elsewhere, as landowner, you may own most, some or none of the sub-surface.

Richard Shaw

Professionalism in the renewals system - reply 16 November 2018

Received 16 NOVEMBER 2018
Published 16 NOVEMBER 2018
From Alex McPherson
Dear Editor, I want to thank Mr. Sims for taking the time to contact us with his concerns and observations. As I discussed with Mr. Sims in our subsequent conversation, the points he raised were reasonable and welcome. At the Society, we are taking the necessary steps to amend the email headers to reduce the perception that communications from us could initially be suspected to be of a spam or phishing nature. Whilst one could argue that the content of the email contained information obviously personal and pertinent to the recipient, I do accept that seeing “Renewals” as the sender in a list of unopened emails could lead to doubt or suspicion. This will be addressed. Regarding our use of colour and fonts in the email communications, the way the text renders in particular email packages may be a contributing factor, but I have undertaken to review how embedded links are displayed. Regarding the use of colours in emails, I am mindful that some fellows may experience colour perception deficiencies, so as a matter of policy I am persuaded to use black on white as the predominant colour scheme. Thanks again for your helpful contribution to this matter.

Alex McPherson, Director of Finance & Operations

Reduce, reuse, recycle 12 November 2018

Received 11 SEPTEMBER 2018
Published 12 NOVEMBER 2018
From Phil Davies
Dear Editor, The Meeting Report in Geoscientist, September 2018 (The ethics of investment, Mark Steeves) throws up some thought-provoking points. One that struck me was the idea of geoscientists as responsible guardians of Earth's riches. What an excellent mindset this would be.

The second point emerges from the de facto consideration of the sustainability of mineral extraction by Mike Harris. With finite resources on our planet, no mineral extraction can be sustainable indefinitely. Playing to the 'guardians' concept we should not simply pursue a responsible approach to mineral extraction. That would be a somewhat blinkered strategy. It's just as important to make the best use of what we have. Rather than focus only on smart approaches to the extraction and processing of fresh copper, iron and so-on, we need to look at minimising consumption and maximising reuse and recycling of metals in particular.

A lot is being done, but how much still ends up in landfills around the globe? This is a complex matter—consider the energy used up in recycling activities for example, at least some of which will come from non-renewable sources. Nevertheless, if geoscientists wish to become 'responsible guardians' I believe that they will need to take on board and promote this holistic, if non-traditional position.
Phil Davies

Professionalism in the renewals system 05 October 2018

Received 04 OCTOBER 2018
Published 05 OCTOBER 2018
From Andrew Sims
Dear Editor, As a Society that includes “to promote professional excellence” as part of its stated aims, we should seek to do just this across all sections of the Society’s business, both external and internal.  I am prompted to write having just received an email regarding this year’s subscription renewal.  Impressions count, first impressions count more.  I’m afraid that my reaction to this email was entirely negative.  Firstly, the sender was “Renewals”, so could have come from anywhere.  In these days of scammers galore, my first thought was to delete the email without opening it, but I went through the laborious process of checking the message headers to establish the validity of the sender.  A well-formed and informative “From” address would have avoided this, and a signed email would have been even better.  Secondly, and much worse in my opinion, the typography and layout of the email struck me as amateurish in the extreme, with unnecessary garish colouring, multiple fonts and multiple line widths.  This is in marked contrast to the printed renewal documentation sent out in former years which, as an aside, was also good enough to provide support for any HMRC allowance claim.

I am fully aligned with the Society’s wish to reduce costs and make renewals easier and more efficient via electronic means.  I regret that the Society’s solution does not appear to be by any means as “professional” as that of all the other professional bodies of which I am a member. 

In June 2016, Mark Godden noted the need for professionalism to begin at home in his letter regarding the absence of the CPD system.  I can only concur with him and suggest that there should be a root and branch review of the Society’s systems to ensure that they achieve a level of professionalism and modernity that we, as Fellows, can be proud of.  I should be pleased to play my part in any such review.

Andrew Sims

Global Warming, Climate Change and Geology 18 August 2018

Received 17 AUGUST 2018
Published 18 AUGUST 2018
From Colin Summerhayes

(Response to letters from Howard Dewhirst, Tony Bazley, and Stephen Foster)

Dear Editor, The controversy surrounding global warming will remain until ALL the protagonists educate themselves with ALL the information about what it is and how it works. Therein lies a difficulty for geologists: much of the relevant literature comes from the worlds of atmospheric science, oceanography, and solar-terrestrial or planetary physics. So, it is not surprising that scientists outside the realm of climate science may be less well informed than they perhaps could be about the complexities of global warming. Siegert and Lack’s critiques of Mike Ridd’s piece showed some lack of tolerance of that realization. In that sense, Stephen Foster was right to request that in discussing the controversy we should ‘engage’ meaningfully and respectfully with the views of others with whom we may disagree. However, when it comes to the ‘balance’ that Tony Bazley seeks in such discussions we must take care to focus on discussing the merits of hard-won scientific data—not the unsubstantiated opinions voiced so commonly on blog sites.

Howard Dewhirst questions the use of the term ‘consensus’ to describe current understanding of the nature and origins of global warming, and goes so far as to suggest there are ‘substantial errors in the GSL position papers’. The term ‘consensus’ as used here refers to the agreement reached by scientists who contributed to the reports of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). It is common practice for groups of experts on a particular topic to review its status from time to time and to publish their opinions as a ‘consensus view’. Those not part of that process may either accept the consensus view or reject it.

We need to carefully determine any basis for rejecting the climate change consensus. Siegert and Lack believe there is little to question—although there is plenty still to do to diminish uncertainties. Dewhirst, Bazley, Foster and Ridd take a different view, but they lack a rigorously tested alternative scientific explanation of global warming. Climate change and global warming are not simple matters, and I find it disconcerting when Fellows tell me that there is nothing to worry about because ‘the climate is always changing’. Clearly, someone who says that has not even begun to delve into the complexity of climate change. I wonder how geological climate sceptics would explain, for example, how it is that warming continues despite the Sun’s energy, as reflected in sunspot activity, declining since 1990.

The Society recognizes that there is a controversy. To assist in resolving it, in 2009 Council asked a collection of palaeoclimate specialists to provide a climate change statement (published in 2010 and updated in 2013). Some Fellows accept the statement. Others reject it, though their grounds are not clear. Council recognizes that the statement will need occasional review, to ensure it agrees with the current peer-reviewed literature. Such a review is ongoing.

Howard Dewhirst states that ‘The GSL position papers claim all the warming since 1900 is due entirely to human CO2 emissions, but fail to explain why the IPCC makes this claim only for the temperature increase since 1951.’ He is wrong. The IPCC position (5th assessment, 2013) is that the atmospheric concentration of CO2 has increased by >40% since 1750 and by 10% since 1990, and that—in response—globally averaged surface temperature has increased since the beginning of the 20th century and warming has been particularly marked since the 1970s, with 1981-2010 being very likely the warmest 30-year period in the past 800 years. The IPCC states that CO2 is the strongest driver of climate change, far outweighing the contribution from natural drivers, and is experiencing rates of rise unprecedented in the last 800,000 years (as seen in ice core data). It is virtually certain, says the IPCC, that the rising temperature, rising sea level, loss of ice, and melting permafrost are caused by CO2 emissions driven by human activities. Dewhirst says the GSL papers ‘fail to explain how it causes climate change’. He assumes that CO2 does not cause warming, but provides no basis for this claim. In contrast, the GSL statement does make clear the source of its statements, referring to abundant geological evidence that increasing CO2 does warm the climate throughout the Phanerozoic.

Stephen Foster reminds us that within the Vostok ice core the CO2 and CH4 curves lag the temperature curve. But he is wrong to state that scientists have brushed this lag under the carpet. On the contrary, it is widely appreciated that Milankovitch changes in insolation (representing changes in orbital properties and axial tilt) were the primary drivers for ice age change. The French Vostok researchers knew that the Milankovitch changes in insolation were quite small in contrast to the temperature changes, so deduced that the release of CO2 from the warming ocean must have contributed 30-50% of the temperature signal. What caused the lag? The original Vostok data relied on an interpretive model to determine the likely age of the gas bubbles in the ice cores. Did they get the age model right? Recently a French group headed by Frederic Parrenin (Science, 2013) used nitrogen isotopes to show that during the last deglaciation the changes in CO2 and temperature were synchronous, which begs the question: what will we find if we re-analyze the Vostok core using this new technique? These matters are openly discussed in the GSL statement, not brushed under any carpet.

I find clear evidence that if the temperature changes first (e.g. via Milankovitch forcing), CO2 will follow, reinforcing the temperature change, while if CO2 changes first (e.g. from a large input of volcanogenic CO2), then temperature will follow, as is predicted from everything we know about greenhouse gases and infrared radiation. Stephen Foster asks for proof. Other geologists do too. Their desires are met in the atmospheric science literature (e.g. see Chapter 4 of North & Kim, 2017, Energy Balance Climate Models, in the Wiley Series in Atmospheric Physics and Remote Sensing; or Pierrehumbert, R., 2010, Principles of Planetary Climate. Cambridge Uni. Press).  

How can Stephen Foster be so confident that the probable cause of most changes in Earth’s past climate was not variation in the composition of the gases in the atmosphere? What caused the Carboniferous ice age, or the exceptional warmth of the mid-Cretaceous? Is it not geologically reasonable to accept, as palynologists and geochemists explain, that the Carboniferous ice age came about from cooling caused by a major fall in atmospheric CO2 (see The Emerald Planet by David Beerling, 2007), and that the massive outpourings of lava that built the mid-ocean ridges of the Cretaceous as the continents moved apart provided a large new source of CO2 to warm the planet? If not, what is his explanation and how rigorously has it been tested?

Colin Summerhayes

Missed opportunities with a misplaced example - reply 2 17 August 2018

Received 07 AUGUST 2018
Published 17 AUGUST 2018
From Stephen Foster

Dear Editor, With reference to the Vostok ice core, Dr E means has made the following observation: “Temperature at Vostok fell by 4.5˚C without any assistance or amplification from falling CO2. [between 130000 and 112000 years ago]. The idea that variations in CO2 amplify orbital effects is basically disproven by this data…. all of the CO2 and CH4 variance in Vostok can be explained by dT causing dCO2 and dCH4 and not the other way around.” (Original bold and italics).

Readers are recommended to read Dr Mearn’s web page ( irrespective of their opinions about anthropogenic global warming and ask themselves how tenable are their views in the light of this important data. I note that much of the “wealth of theoretical prediction” referred to by M. Lack is based on computer modelling, the validity and accuracy of which keeping in mind the many alterations that have had to be made to make them fit the data, is highly questionable. I have asked before for proof that CO2/CH4 concentrations are the cause of temperature change and am still waiting for an answer.

Would Martin Siegert still be prepared to reaffirm his statement that: “The scientific evidence for human-induced climate change is irrefutable” and if so provide us with incontrovertible evidence? Would he explain why he continues to argue for a hypothesis which, as the Vostok data demonstrates, is false. M. Lack is correct that not all opinions are equally valid: only those which fit the facts are and they are not those held by the majority with their antecedent beliefs. From my perspective there are huge controversial issues around climate change, especially the nature of the genuine consensus and the way in which modern climate research has become inextricably entwined with Politics.

Stephen Foster

No controversy - just bogus scepticism - reply 17 August 2018

Received 09 AUGUST 2018
Published 17 AUGUST 2018
From Tony Bazley

Dear Editor, It is a difficult skill being an editor when contentious issues are discussed. Try to ‘present a balance’ and ‘don’t allow abuse’ are a couple of my rules. I suggest the proportion of climate change (0% to 100%) due to humans is a fair matter to debate—and it is important. So, comments in Readers’ letters in Geoscientist, August 2018 that ‘The scientific evidence for human-induced climate change is irrefutable’ and ‘climate change scepticism …. is wilful ideological blindness’ suggest some of the contributors to the Earth Science Ireland magazine that I edit are both stupid and blind.

I have seen it written (C.P.Summerhayes, 2015, Earth’s Climate Evolution, Wiley Blackwell, p2 & 7) that some scientists “display their ignorance by trotting out the mantra ‘the climate is always changing’” and “If you start with an absolute belief that humans do not cause global warming then…. no amount of evidence will persuade you otherwise…. what you hold is a ‘belief’ not scientific understanding”. It immediately signalled to me that there is a serious debate to be had and the answer is not simple.

Perhaps the belief or religion is that of the scientists promoting Armageddon and unwilling to debate sensibly. That may be too cynical but it makes an editor’s job easier if facts are presented rather than bullying assertions, and censorship is surely not an option. Mike Ridd’s example was a good one.

Tony Bazley

Missed opportunities with a misplaced example - reply 17 August 2018

Received 10 AUGUST 2018
Published 17 AUGUST 2018
From Howard Dewhirst

Dear Editor, Martin Siegert claims that ‘the scientific evidence for human induced climate change is irrefutable.’ He seems unaware that there is no consensus on the dangers of CO2’s role in the climate, as shown by the dozens of independent groups of geoscientists and blogs which regularly publish on the many areas that are refutable. There are substantial errors in the GSL position papers that have been presented to the Society for comments by some 40 current and past members, as well as a further 40+ geoscientists and physicists, all of whom do not accept that many of the claims in those documents are irrefutable.

There have been two similar periods of warming since the industrial revolution started adding CO2 to the atmosphere, one from ~1906 to 1943, marking the final end of the Little Ice Age; and one from ~1978 to ~1998, which was accompanied by accelerating CO2 emissions, unlike the earlier one. There have also been two periods of cooling (or lack of warming, depending on which data set one examines); the first from 1943 (when 50% of the post-industrial warming had already happened) and which was accompanied by rapidly increasing CO2 emissions, the second, called the Pause, which began after the 1998 el Nino and which has seen CO2 emissions continue to rise (not exponentially as the GSL claim, but polynomially). This well-documented pause in warming is enough to question the urgent need for Mr. Siegert’s hugely expensive global decarbonization plan. The GSL position papers claim all the warming since 1900 is due entirely to human CO2 emissions, but fail to explain why the IPCC makes this claim only for the temperature increase since 1951. They also fail to explain how it causes climate change. I once worked for ‘big oil’—but as a practicing geologist, try never to let that distort my judgement.

Mr. Lack’s letter shows that he is also mistaken about the mythical consensus; yes, ‘many scientists have already concluded’ and they would agree with his position, but there are a large number of equally ‘peer reviewed’ scientists who would not, and to dismiss them as ‘young earth creationists’ is as offensive as it is wrong, I am surprised this ad hominem attack was not moderated by the editors.

Howard Dewhirst

A new future for publishing? - reply 19 June 2018

Received 19 JUNE 2018
Published 19 JUNE 2018
From Neal Marriott

Dear Editor, I read with interest Rob Wallace’s letter proposing a new web-based resource for the rapid publication of papers that may never see publication in a journal. The Geological Society’s publications are hosted on its Lyell Collection – a collection of high-quality journals, books and special publications. The Lyell Collection accords with the standards of scholarly publishing adopted internationally, the key characteristics of which are that all published articles and chapters are consistently formatted and subject to peer-review. Readers thus have an assurance that all the content they access has been subject to the scrutiny of other scientists with expertise in the same field.

The Society does not publish preprints, grey literature, presentations or extended abstracts on the Lyell Collection. This is not to say that such material is regarded as being without value – rather, the Society acknowledges that there are other, more appropriate homes for such material. For example, sets of data, media files, posters or presentations can be submitted to Figshare; un-reviewed papers can be submitted to one of the preprint servers specialising in Earth science; and extended abstracts can be submitted to services such as EarthDoc or, indeed, AAPG’s Search and Discovery. The format requirements and criteria for submission and acceptance vary, but we do believe there are a range of options already available for the hosting of non-peer reviewed material.

Neal Marriott, Director of Publishing

Missed opportunities with a misplaced example 18 June 2018

Received 08 JUNE 2018
Published 18 JUNE 2018
From Martin Siegert
Dear Editor, I read with great interest the Soapbox piece by Michael Ridd. I fully agree that the Geological Society should be a venue where we can tackle controversial issues of importance within and outwith Earth sciences. However, I feel the use of climate change as an example, is misplaced. The scientific evidence for human-induced climate change is irrefutable. A good source is from the Met Office website: among many others.

From my perspective, there are huge controversial issues around climate change – but not whether it is happening, or whether humans are responsible. Rather, the debate should focus on how we can solve it. And this must involve a far wider pool of people than just climate change scientists. The challenge for us is to decarbonise our global economy by around 50 years’ time. To do this, we need action now, and over the next decade. Having a debate on whether climate change is real or not passes this important opportunity and may contribute to holding up the progress that is urgently needed.

I welcome the Geological Society having a meeting on climate change solutions, including how the oil and gas sector can lead the low-carbon transition. That really could be an important contribution by the Society and its members.

Martin Siegert

Merit of the Coke Medals 15 June 2018

Received 15 JUNE 2018
Published 15 JUNE 2018
From John CW Cope

Dear Editor, The article by Marie Edmonds (Gong-ho! Geoscientist, June 2018) gave a most useful account of the Society’s medals and awards. However, it is guilty of a serious omission, which has been perpetuated in the Society for the past few years.

I was a member of Society Council in 1983 when the Society decided to institute the two Coke medals, following the most generous bequest from Lt. Col. Coke. I clearly recall it being recorded that these two medals were to be regarded as of equal status to the Lyell and Murchison medals; the only difference between them being that in the case of the Coke medals contributions to geology could include factors other than pure research. 

It could not be better summed up than in the words of Gordon Herries Davies on p. 291 of his history of the Society* ‘In an effort to comply with the wishes of its benefactor, some of the income from the Coke Fund was employed in the foundation of a pair of medals — one in memory of each of the Coke brothers — to be awarded annually and accorded a status equal to that of the Murchison and Lyell Medals’ [my italics].

This is totally ignored in Marie Edmonds’ article and the society is equally guilty by referring at the President’s Day of having the ‘three senior medallists’ to speak. 

I trust that the Society will not forget the enormous benefit it received from the Coke bequest and that it will take steps to restore what was Council’s clearly stated intentions in 1983 and accord the Coke Medals their intended merit.

John CW Cope

*Whatever is Under the Earth: The Geological Society of London 1807 to 2007, by G.L. Herries Davies, 2007. Published by the Geological Society, London 378 pp.

A new future for publishing? 13 June 2018

Received 13 JUNE 2018
Published 13 JUNE 2018
From Rob Wallace

Dear Editor, Might it be time for GSL to copy the AAPG and institute a web-based source, similar to the Search & Discovery website (, for the rapid publication of papers that may never reach the Journal or a thematic Memoir?

I attended the recent Aberdeen conference on MER and the future of the UKCS, where almost all the papers were excellent and useful; however, there is no systematic plan to publish these as far as I can see – possibly because the overall number was relatively small and the papers very short and focused.

The AAPG set up Search & Discovery a few years ago and papers are published very rapidly after submission.  The format is variable, some being simply a copy of a PowerPoint, and I doubt they go through rigorous refereeing or formatting.  Most are quite short – almost ‘Notes’ – but contain a great deal of useful information which is available QUICKLY. 

The more heavyweight or themed papers still go into the Journal or into a Memoir.  I doubt there is much leakage from the Journal papers to Search & Discovery – most seem to be written by contributors who do not have the time to work up a major paper.  There is no loss of revenue, as you have to be a paid-up member to access these papers – similar to the Lyell Collection in fact – and a small extra access charge would cover the costs.

Is it not a great shame that much work and information should go unrecorded because our publishing mechanisms remain locked in the past?

Rob Wallace

No controversy - just bogus scepticism 12 June 2018

Received 12 JUNE 2018
Published 12 JUNE 2018
From Martin Lack
Dear Editor, With the greatest of respect, I am afraid Dr Ridd has fallen foul of at least two talking points that former BBC journalist James Painter has proven to be predominantly a feature of right-of-centre media in English speaking countries (see The two most obvious fallacies implied in Dr Ridd’s remarks are: (1) The marketplace of ideas and; (2) Climate Change ‘sceptics’ are like Galileo. With regard to (1) not all opinions are equally valid; and there is no rational reason to doubt the validity of a genuine consensus of expert opinion supported by a wealth of theoretical prediction that has now been validated my numerous independent lines of observational data. With regard to (2) Galileo (and those that came after him) used the genuine scepticism that is the basis of modern science to overturn an archaic and unscientific explanation for the nature of the Universe that was increasingly in conflict with accumulating observational evidence.

As suggested by James Painter, therefore, the significance of the journalistic distribution of supposed climate change ‘scepticism’ is this: It proves that it is not genuine scepticism at all. On the contrary, it is wilful ideological blindness akin to the dismissal by young earth creationists of any evidence that the Earth is very old on the basis that all such evidence must be wrong because it is not consistent with their antecedent beliefs.

Sadly, many scientists have already concluded (e.g. that humanity is in danger of sharing the same fate as the proverbial frog that does not hop out of the saucepan of warming water because the rate at which the temperature is rising is not sufficiently large until it is too late. I hope, however, that they are wrong…

Martin Lack

Watson the walls? 07 June 2018

Received 07 JUNE 2018
Published 07 JUNE 2018
From Richard Dawe

sghDear Editor,  I have been attending lectures in the main lecture theatre of the Geological Society of London in Burlington House for many years. I remember the kafuffle some years ago on its naming, some being conducted in the pages of 'Geoscientist'. Eventually, the theatre became, by popular acclaim, 'The Janet Watson Lecture Theatre', and was graced by a fine Hesketh portrait on the front wall for all to see - of Janet apparently listening wisely to the presentations and deliberations.

Then, suddenly, a year or so ago, she disappeared! Close inspection of the wall shows smoothness ie any fixture damage to the wall has been repaired and the wall looks clean. I wondered at the time 'Has JW gone on a field trip to North West Scotland, or what?'

I was told 'she has been taken down, as has the geological map of the UK that hung beside her.  She will be coming back.  It’s something to do with a review of space within Burlington House, which has also taken on board the matter of location of modern portraits. The plan is to return her to her eponymous Lecture Theatre on a different wall.'

Currently a preliminary sketch of her has appeared in a corner on a side wall.  It is a very nice sketch but not the lovely portrait, nor is it in a prime position. The wall where she resided is still blank. I, and many others who knew her, or simply enjoyed the portrait, would be pleased to see her back. It that possible? If so when?

Richard Dawe

Earth materials and teaching materials 06 June 2018

Received 06 JUNE 2018
Published 06 JUNE 2018
From John Heathcote

Dear Editor, On page 7 of Geoscientist 28.05 (June 2018), I note images of various educational materials on geology, produced by the Society for schools.  They cover some exciting geological processes, but they do not appear to mention the fact that most things that are made are made using materials extracted from the ground, and thus that geology also covers mineral resources that are essential to our way of life.

Although geology as a science in itself, in particular one that applies the 'pure' science, is very worthy of study, the results of geological study are hugely and directly useful to society.  Knowing about something useful is always helpful when finding a job.  I suspect that there are quite a few children who would find usefulness an incentive to study.

I would therefore suggest that the Society produce something on this - perhaps based around something on where all the materials in a smart-phone come from?  Although usefulness only occurred to me later, I've done quite nicely out of commercial geoscience, mainly as a hydrogeologist.

John Heathcote

Sorry, but 'sorry' doesn't cut it 23 March 2018

Received 23 MARCH 2018
Published 23 MARCH 2018
From Chris Milne
Sir, With regards to Jonathan Silk’s response to the ongoing online CPD system debacle, unfortunately, ‘sorry for any inconvenience’ really won’t do to explain two years of delay, even assuming the latest deadline for reinstatement is met. I note that we are now, somewhat richly, being chased for CPD declarations. 

Can I politely suggest that any further rolling out of the new CPD system - and any requests for CDP declarations - be suspended until such time as the Society manages to put in place a modern online recording system?  Alternatively can we all be allowed two years to get things right?  Responsibilities for CPD cannot only be one way.

Chris Milne

When, oh when, will CPD online reporting come back? - reply 27 February 2018

Received 27 FEBRUARY 2018
Published 27 FEBRUARY 2018
From Jonathan Silk
Sir, We had to suspend the original online CPD system back in 2016 due to a serious risk in the way it handled data. It was based on old and unsupported technology that the Society had been planning to replace for some time. Unfortunately, the timing of the old system’s failure did not coincide with that of bringing onstream its replacement, which is part of the complete overhaul of the Fellowship IT system that we have been engaged in since late 2015.

The good news is that we are almost there and that before the end of June this year we will be rolling out the new system including online CPD recording as well as other features. Apologies that this has taken some time but we felt that it was important to get the new system right before announcing its arrival. More to follow – but you read it here first…

Jonathan Silk, Director of Finance & Operations

Still waiting for CPD online reporting 19 February 2018

Received 19 FEBRUARY 2018
Published 19 FEBRUARY 2018
From Mark Godden

Sir, I feel compelled to forward a few sentences in staunch but unhopeful support of the letter recently published in Geoscientist Online by Chris Milne, regarding the Society’s long absent online CPD reporting facility. I can only reiterate the sentiment expressed in my previous (but alas, wholly ineffective) letter of June 2016 on the same subject where I mentioned that I thought professionalism should start at home.

As a Chartered Fellow who lives way out in the sticks, the online CPD facility (along with the ever-excellent Geoscientist magazine) is one of the few tangible benefits I expect to routinely receive for my £319 annual subscription to the Geological Society. Apologies at this point to those who consider it gauche to mention money; please make allowances because I’m a Portlander and thus, luckily, unafflicted by such social constraints.

I too would love to know when I might expect to see the CPD reporting facility’s oft-promised but as yet unfulfilled return. [insert tumbleweed moment here]…

Mark Godden

Peer review problems 15 February 2018

Received 15 FEBRUARY 2018
Published 15 FEBRUARY 2018
From Neil Mitchell

Sir, I agree with John Cope's comments (Soapbox, Geoscientist 28.01 February 2018) though suspect he may even have been optimistic.  There is some (admittedly only anecdotal) evidence of academic staff being encouraged to put less time into reviewing, presumably as there is little direct reward to the university.  Unfortunately, given the increasingly commercial environment of UK universities, solutions to this problem probably involve more direct rewards to employers, though none of the options seems palatable. 

For example, journals could pay for reviews or adopt quota systems (publishers only accepting articles if their host institutions were supporting peer review adequately).  The former option would make publishing more expensive and the latter would be bureaucratic.  One could argue that universities in gathering grants and tuition fees of PhD students on the basis of our research productivity benefit from the free efforts of reviewers at present, so there seems to be a mismatch in our system if peer review is not valued.

Neil Mitchell

When, oh when, will CPD online reporting come back? 13 February 2018

Received 13 FEBRUARY 2018
Published 13 FEBRUARY 2018
From Chris Milne
Sir, Try as I might I can get no answer as to why we no longer have a system for recording our CPD online, more than two years after the mysterious technical issues that took the system offline.  What is going on?  We are told first of all that this would be restored once a new CPD system had been put in place – but this deadline is well passed - and instead we have effectively paper system with guidance documents that cannot be accessed through the website.  Given the added complexity of the new CDP system (now far in excess of even the ICE requirements – but that’s another story), an online version is even more important

I used to explain smugly to members of other professional bodies the simple and useful Geol Soc CPD system, but the situation now appears so embarrassing that no-one in Burlington House can be bothered even to acknowledge my emails on the subject.

CPD records are a vital matter for professional geologists and hence a key function of the Society; I would welcome any attempts to get a proper explanation of this debacle.

Chris Milne

Editing Scientific English 13 February 2018

Received 13 FEBRUARY 2018
Published 13 FEBRUARY 2018
From Frank O'Reilly

Sir, I fully endorse John Cope’s Soapbox (Geoscientist 28.01, February 2018) but would go further than his comments on ‘elementary spelling mistakes.’ In fact in some cases the standard of English is such as to undermine the integrity and comprehensibility of the paper. English is an international scientific language and is often the medium of first choice for foreign conferences, journals and researchers. We may have a scenario where a research paper from a foreign geologist passes through various stages from conference to peer review, editing and publishing in a foreign English-language journal, being ‘seen’ by various foreign experts, who add their own ‘national errors’ to the mix and no native English-speaker in sight. The British are not blameless either as their glib usage of idiom and wit flummoxes many foreigners.

First, we have to accept that English does not belong to the British or Americans and also welcome the growth of scientific journals in emerging economies far from the traditional metropolitan centres. Secondly, we have to decide if there is actually a problem and how great it is. Solving the problem, that’s the hard bit. Certainly, clear precise abstracts in the major languages would help. So would a simplified English. Scholars often write in long sentences with clauses and parentheses and, inevitably, the text becomes blurred by their native grammatical structures. Perhaps international bodies could be set up and books of guidelines of scientific English produced. English language study groups, formal or informal, in the universities would also help. I don’t think we can just sit back and say ‘it will sort itself out’, as scientists mix more. In fact the situation could become entrenched and worsen, aggravated by the acceptable casual language of online research offerings.

Frank O'Reilly

Protecting our data? 08 February 2018

Received 08 FEBRUARY 2018
Published 08 FEBRUARY 2018
From Jonathan Cowie

Sir, In the early 21st Century, post 1984 when information is mouse-click transferred in seconds, most of us are aware of the need for data protection.  However, I accept that few are as quite as concerned as I; perhaps most rely on things like the Data Protection Act of 1998, due to be tightened up very shortly with the introduction of European legislation under 'GDPR'.  Indeed, the Geological Society has a legal duty to protect our data: things like your address and e-mail will not be given to third parties unless you have signed up for access to the Society's partner libraries and publishers.  But there is a difference between 'good' (let alone 'competent') and 'best practice'.

So after many years of attending Society events I was saddened that for some events it was now using a third-party organisation to manage bookings.  So now one has to register with a third party account, and here the least of my worries was that I'd have to create yet another unique password of at least six digits, one of which should be a numeral and another an Elvish rune and which most likely I'd eventually forget.  What really worried me was the third party's 'privacy' or, more accurately, 'data dissemination' policy.  Here, few actually read such statements but simply click 'accept'.  (Such souls regularly get spam and cold sales calls.) To save you the bother, I'll briefly summarise it for you.

Past a few paragraphs of beguiling 'we will never sell your details to other parties' you hit the worrying stuff.  They will freely share your data with their business partners (which, of course, is not selling) and that's the least of it: they will import any data their business partners have on you to create a profile and this they will too share.  At this point some of you may say, 'well, if you are that worried then create a unique e-mail.'  But that will not work as you need to give your name to attend the Geol Soc event, besides it also means creating another six-digit password, with at least one numeral and a Klingon glyph. Even then, that also will not work as the 'privacy policy' states that they will harvest the IP address of your PC terminal or mobile phone. They've got you either way.

Remember, computer system hacks occur daily and that large multinational companies – including major IT providers and high street banks – have had their customers details stolen. Indeed, this January it became apparent the fitness app Strava revealed map outlines of military bases as personnel jogged around perimeters and paths: worse, covert patrols could be identified!  Now, you may not be military but knowing your daily routine would be of use to, say, potential burglars among others.

So is the Geol Soc employing a third party, online event manager undertaking 'competent', 'good' or 'best' data protection practice?  Well, certainly it is not 'best' because it could provide an alternative method of registering. However, it is better than 'competent' as having contacted the Society they quickly registered me for an event without sharing my data.  Well done the Geol Soc meetings staff!  However, the purpose of this article is to alert fellow Fellows to the issue and to encourage the Geological Society to always provide an alternate, data-secure method of registration even if, ideally, I'd like them to desist from using third parties

From Jonathan Cowie FGS whose Climate Change: Biological & Human Aspects is available from Cambridge University Press. He can be found online at

Diphthongs out? (You mean 'digraphs' shurely?) 07 February 2018

Received 07 FEBRUARY 2018
Published 07 FEBRUARY 2018
From David Smith

Sir, I think I may have played a small part in the Stratigraphy Commission’s recent recommendation.  As a contributor to both the 1982 and 1989 Geologic Time Scales of Harland and others, it’s at least 35 years since I accustomed myself to leaving out that redundant ‘a’ in all things paleo.  Imagine then, my horror when editing a recent Special Publication to find that the conscientious staff of the Publishing House were replacing all of my carefully edited instances of ‘paleo’ with the dreaded ‘palaeo’!  (As the topic of the GSSP was stratigraphy, there were a good many of them.) 

Taking up the cudgels of self-righteous pedantry, I insisted that – at the very least – the names of Time Scale units should remain as Paleocene, Paleozoic and so on, this being the form in which they were being defined internationally.  Although I lost the argument at the time (see GSSP 404, passim), I was informed that the Commission would add the matter to their agenda; think of the savings in paper and ink that will now result from this long-overdue reform.  Who knows, perhaps ‘geologic’ and ‘stratigraphic’ (also championed by Brian Harland) will follow in due course.

Meanwhile, I was amused to spot an anachronistic ‘palaeontological’ in the Geoscientist piece by John Cope, directly opposite ‘Diphthongs Out!!’.  From our days together on the Stratigraphy Committee (as it was then), John may remember Alf Whitaker describing my views on stratigraphy as ‘post-modern’ – I took it as a compliment.

David Smith

Diphthongs out! 30 January 2018

Received 30 JANUARY 2018
Published 30 JANUARY 2018
From Chris Vincett

Sir, How can we agree (Geoscientist 28.01 February 2018)  to change 'Palaeozoic' to 'Paleozoic', but continue spelling 'Palaeontology' in this way? In justifying the change as due to “adoption of international spellings”, do we mean 'International', or 'American'? Does the adoption of different rules for 'technical' and 'colloquial' spellings really make any sense?

On the facing page, Professor John Cope vents his frustration about increasing difficulties about reviewing and elementary spelling mistakes from younger researchers. This kind of decision adds to the confusion, rather than helping.

I’m not saying we should never agree to any changes. However, changes should be consistent.  This appears to be highly inconsistent.

Chris Vincett CGeol