International, Geological, and other Records

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My friend Mr. Minchin's letter has opened a question that I have been ruminating for a very long time. We occasionally hear of the organization of science, but the very ABC is at present neglected, or carried out in a spasmodic and disjointed manner. Let us take for example geology. We have several attempts at a catalogue and review of its yearly literature, of which I give the following examples. First comes the “Geological Record,” a publication very well in its way, but making its appearance at irregular intervals, and often much behind time. We have in Prof. Blake's Annual the attempt of a single individual to cope with a mass of literature that it is impossible for him to read, and treating of questions that no single person is or can be qualified to deal justly with. The very obvious result of this is careless reviewing, and general dissatisfaction of most authors whose papers are submitted to the abstracting process. I hope Prof. Blake will not take these words as a disparaging appreciation of his attempt, which I think does him much credit as a single-handed worker, but it will not satisfy the geologists in general. Next we have the “Annuaire Géologique Universel,” for which great credit is due to Drs. Carey and Agincourt. Here we have the geological literature of each country treated separately, followed by a subject literature. Each article is compiled by a specialist in his own branch, and one who is able to form a just opinion of the work and appreciate the salient points of it. Altogether the organization of the “Annuaire” is on the right lines, but I understand it is not a financial success, and I have very grave doubts if it will continue, because the supporters of one publication cannot be the supporters of several. The motto “L'union fait la force” is as true in this case as in any other. Then again there is not that official character about it that there would be with international co-operation, supported by governments, scientific societies, &c. As two years' collaborator for the subjects of seismology and vulcanology I can give some of my experiences. In the first place it means a very big slice of time to read (for without this the thing had better be left alone) and review the annual literature of such subjects; for this there is no recompense whatever, but as I shall show actual money out of pocket. It is impossible for the reviewer, unless residing in such towns as London, Paris, or Berlin, to see all the literature of his subject. He, therefore, has to send out circulars, the expenses and postage of which, without counting labour of addressing, I found to come to about 2l. annually. A considerable proportion of these circulars are not even answered by those who have published papers on the subject during the year, and I am sorry to say that in one or two cases I have had a reply insinuating that I had been “cadging” for a copy of the author's paper or book. After the review is published come protests from authors (not many in my case, fortunately,) whom, out of common courtesy, time and money must be spent in answering. Finally, with every care such a work is far from complete. I would, therefore, hazard the following propositions:—A preliminary committee to be formed as soon as possible to study the question of international records of scientific literature. That such committee should determine the language of such records, the methods of organization of each separate subject committee, the means and resources of such, and invite the co-operation of other nations.

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JOHNSTON-LAVIS, H. International, Geological, and other Records. Nature 46, 441–442 (1892) doi:10.1038/046441c0

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