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Comment on:

Review for the Society of Economic Geologists, Inc., Economic Geology, 106, 525–526, 2011
Robert Kerrich

August 4th, 2011, James H. Natland

The papers in Plates, Plumes, and Paradigms (P^3), for which I was co-editor, were reviewed following guidelines of the Geological Society of America (GSA). The list of reviewers is in the book. As editors, we sought to have each paper reviewed by at least one person on each side of the divide in opinion. There are no comments. I have edited a number of books, mainly in connection with drilling, over many years. I am well aware of the perception that these are easy rides, and one can be as derisive about them as one chooses. However, I have always taken my editorial responsibilities very seriously just because of that perception. In the case of P^3, some of the papers had very tough sledding from reviewers and some were rejected. Personally, I find the journal literature, especially the quick-draw journals, often to be very erratically reviewed. And I know that some journal editors have biases. P^3 is better than average.

The second book, Plates, Plumes and Planetary Processes (P^4), had two editors, Gillian Foulger and Donna Jurdy, each representing the two sides of the "debate". The review procedure was the same. P^4 is the book with the comments. P^4 followed a meeting in Scotland at which both sides were well represented, and which was set up, as much as possible, to constitute a "debate". Regrettably, almost all the pro-plume people at the meeting decided to pool their papers into a special issue of Chemical Geology. I was unable to attend the conference, and do not know the details of why this division occurred. But this is why P^4 may seem to be one-sided. Lump the two together and it won't seem that way.

[Note by Gillian Foulger: Prof. Campbell committed to producing this special issue prior to the meeting, in exchange for sponsorship, but the issue could not publish as many papers as attendees wished. Thus, a second book was needed. I was not involved in editing the Chemical Geology issue so I don't know how the matter of representing both sides was handled. For P^4, Prof. Jurdy and I tried to ensure a 50-50 split in opinion, and felt that we achieved this fairly well. Readers can check out the Table of Contents and decide for themselves whether they agree.]

I was to be an editor of that special issue but I had to withdraw to deal with a family medical problem. Nevertheless, I have no question that the special issue was properly reviewed. I doubt that the guidelines were significantly different than for P^3 or the editors (Campbell and Kerr) any less opinionated. At any rate, Gillian and Donna acceded to the wishes of many of the remainder of the people who attended the meeting and who wanted to submit a paper to a proceedings volume, and came up with P^4. The project was reviewed by a committee at GSA before it got under way. Nevertheless, some of the articles in there are definitely by plume advocates such as Godfrey Fitton. He commented on my article and I on his. It was a civil exchange. [Note by Gillian Foulger: A detailed description of the review proceedure are given on p ix of P^4, which I have reproduced here.]

The comment business was an experiment, and modeled after comments one sees at the ends of proceedings volumes of the Royal Society. Those are not reviewed either. The comments are often succeeded by rebuttals, these by additional counter-comments, and those in turn by counter-rebuttals. In all cases, the author was allowed to have the final word. The idea was well intentioned, to provide some sense of the thrust and cut of the difference of opinion. It also added what we hoped would be thoughtful comments that might help readers in ways that went beyond the articles proper. The comments were posted on, and thus were available for weeks and even months to anyone else to add their own comments, and for some of us to provide review remarks to the editors. You can judge from the exchanges between Godfrey Fitton and myself about my article, and about his, to judge whether this approach was successful, and whether we conducted ourselves in a civil manner.

One can always say that the Plume Debate has been marred by opportunism and point fingers about potentially shoddy review procedures. But I disagree that this has happened in this case. We are all trying to make progress.

last updated 7th August, 2011