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Quarterly dismay

1 March 2021

Dear Editors,

We write, as a former President, Professional Secretary, Editor-in-Chief and Editor of Geoscientist, to express our sadness and dismay that this fine magazine is to become a quarterly, with promises of an enhanced online presence.

You attempt to put a brave a face on it, but beyond that – and some questionable greenwash – we detect two real motives: saving money, and stifling dissent. In the right circumstances in these straitened times, we approve of the former, but never the latter!

Geoscientist is unique among learned body magazines in that it belongs to the Fellowship and not ‘the Society’ (whatever THAT is). It owes this ‘Fourth Estate’ status to its history – being formed from the merger of the Society’s anaemic newsletter and the Institution of Geologists’ far superior British Geologist. In the climate of suspicion, fear and loathing that characterised ‘reunification’, members of the Institution (practising geoscientists) were not willing for academics, who then dominated, with steely resolve, the Old Lady of Piccadilly, to hold any editorial sway. It seems hardly coincidental that this present measure is being taken just as the worst fears of our own times are coming true.

We are sure that the new quarterly will be a thing of beauty; but quarterlies cannot be topical. High production values and long intervals lead to blandness and inconsequentiality. One knows there will never be anything piquant in these organs – even in Letters, assuming there are any.

So where will Fellows, in the last resort, go to voice any objections to the way Trustees and staff or others are misconducting the Society’s business? They will go online, we are told. Result! For where is the danger in that? The power of print is that ‘it comes to you’, so you read it. Online letters, as now, hide in plain sight, free for all the world to read if they can be bothered – and cynically put there in the full knowledge that nobody will. They will go as unread in future as they do now, and for the same reason – one that no amount of web design can ever overcome.

Prof. Emeritus Peter Styles, Dr Ted Nield


Dear Editors,

I am saddened to hear the society is reducing the number of magazine issues per year. From my perspective, all this will mean is that I engage less with the magazine and the Society, as I already receive a torrent of digital communications and offerings – getting the print magazine cuts through this and means I actually read it. A move towards digital provision will result in less of my attention, I’m afraid.

Chris Jack


Prof. Andy Fleet, Editor-in-Chief; David Shilston, Deputy Editor-in-Chief; Dr Amy Whitchurch, Editor; Sarah Day, Editor, Geoscientist magazine, write in response:

In making changes to Geoscientist, we are trying to provide the best service to the full spectrum of Fellows that we can, given the resources available to us, and improve how we provide news and debate in exciting, varied and timely ways.

As Peter and Ted highlight, money was a key factor in making the changes. Like all Society activities, Geoscientist has to be affordable, particularly in these difficult times, and staff were tasked with finding ways to become more sustainable. The editorial team drew up a variety of options for the production of Geoscientist. These detailed options were assessed by the Finance and Planning Committee and agreed by Council, which decided on enhanced online presence and quarterly publication. This decision reflected both costs and the best use of the time of the editors and others producing Geoscientist.

Peter and Ted forcefully argue that having letters initially and immediately online will “hide [objections and dissent] in plain sight”. This may be true for some cohorts of Fellows, but others will doubtless be far more at home finding or expressing views online. We hope that putting more resources into timely online news and debate will serve a broad range of the Fellowship and help attract new Fellows.

Geoscientist continues to be ‘by and for the Fellows’ and, as ever, we encourage our community to voice any concerns and share their opinions – email your letters to geoscientist@geolsoc.org.uk. Indeed, our problems are usually that we do not hear from all sides of a debate, especially those who agree rather than dissent, and in hearing a variety of views rather than the same argument repeated. Dare we end by saying that we have published a fuller response on Geoscientist Online?

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