Two and a half years ago I was invited to write a report for The RECORDER on the state of geophysics in sunny Denver, Colorado. I immediately set to work. After prodigious and diligent labor, I have completed my report, which I now humbly submit. It is a curious history with a timely lesson.

Art Barnes
Undisclosed Location,
North America

Our geophysical leaders have always sung the praises of our profession’s flagship journal, Geophysics; it is a requirement of office. T. Norman Crook expressed it well on the President’s page of the January 1979 issue of Geophysics (the first I ever owned, so I actually read it). He wrote, “More than any other activity of SEG, Geophysics communicates with all our members, and it is the primary documentation for new developments in exploration geophysics. In addition to providing current information, Geophysics is used for reference, and our members keep its copies on their bookshelves for their whole careers.”

I believed him. My hair was brown and my eyes blazed with the fervor of a caffeinated geophysical neophyte – but it was t rue. All good geophysicists did keep their copies of Geophysics their whole careers. And when old geophysicists retired, young geophysicists grappled over their collections. But sadly there were too many young geophysicists and too few old ones, and my collection remained woefully incomplete.

By 1999, thanks to years of determined effort, our industry had fully resolved the problem of too many young geophysicists and too few old ones. Reflecting on this fortunate progress, as I surveyed my haphazard geophysical library, it occurred to me that the times had become propitious for filling gaps in my set of Geophysics. Why not advertise for old unwanted issues? So I did. A retired geophysicist answered the advertisement and offered me his journals. I drove to his house and collected them from his garage.

From this surprisingly quick and easy success sprang my brilliant and noble idea: Open a recycling center for unwanted copies of Geophysics, The Leading Edge, SEG Expanded Abstracts, The CSEG RECORDER, and other fine geophysical literature. Encourage retiring geophysicists to donate their geophysical collections to the recycling center and make these available to young geophysicists eager to absorb the geophysical wisdom of the ages. In this way was the Denver Geophysical Recycling Center born.

I immediately set to work1. I established the premises of the Denver Geophysical Recycling Center in a corner of my office, I ran advertisements in the The Record2, and I waited for my rendezvous with History.

I didn’t have to wait long. Within a month, retired and retiring geophysicists were generously donating their geophysical literature. I visited lofts in Denver, basements in Lakewood, lodges in the mountains, and garages in Wheat Ridge to collect boxes of precious old journals. On office clean-up days, I fastidiously salvaged TLE, Geophysics, SEG Expanded Abstract volumes, and other recyclable material that misguided colleagues were discarding. Such was my exuberant enthusiasm for recycling that on occasion, with scant regard for personal safety, I climbed into cavernous dumpsters, stepping on mangled computer parts, unopened software manuals, busted chairs, and fabulous marketing literature to rescue precious issues of TLE and Geophysics that had been tossed out.

Most people who called the recycling center offered to donate journals, but a few woefully misinformed individuals tried to sell their journals for hundreds of dollars. They maintained I would be getting a good deal because the replacement cost was much greater. I declined these offers, politely explaining, “No thank you, I don’t need your journals because everyone else gives them to me for free. Don’t you idiots know the true value of Geophysics?”

I had fretted I would be flooded with requests for old journals. My fears proved misplaced. I was flooded with journals. I quickly filled out my collection, and even more quickly filled up the corner in my office3. I started a new pile. And then another, and another.

As the piles of recycled geophysical literature expanded, several disturbing trends became apparent. Older journals were thumbed and full of bookmarks and penciled notes, while newer journals were still in their plastic mailing envelopes. Many of the “old” geophysicists who donated material were younger than me. They weren’t retiring, they were house-cleaning. And – the most disturbing trend of all – journals poured in but few were recycled back out. The Denver Geophysical Recycling Center was soon bulging at the seams. What had started as a small pile in a corner quickly took over my entire office. I didn’t give any of this much thought because I knew that in decades past people had a lot more free time. Their lives hadn’t yet been burdened by e-mail, cell phones, web-surfing, safety moments, and other modern inconveniences. Still, I wondered: Where were the eager young minds seeking geophysical wisdom? Students at the Colorado School of Mines and University of Colorado laughed at them, and young colleagues turned and ran when they saw me approaching.4

Two years passed by before my incredulous brain accepted the dismal truth: nobody wanted back issues of Geophysics. Why? I vainly groped for answers. Everyone I knew valued Geophysics.

Mark liked Geophysics for elevating his perspective. A dozen thick issues under his computer monitor raised it to the proper eye level.

Bob needed Geophysics to keep the lines of communication open. A pile of them made an effective door-stop.

Jim appreciated Geophysics for its own sake. Many years worth of journals, neatly lined up on his bookshelves, added an intellectual atmosphere to his office. The atmosphere might even have become ethereally philosophical had he only taken the journals out of their plastic mailing covers.

Everywhere I looked, Geophysics served as handsome disposable coasters for coffee mugs and soda cans. I saw it used as a fly swatter, which is astonishing, since TLE is much better for swatting bugs. I saw an issue of Geophysics under a table leg, skillfully selected to be the perfect thickness for balancing the table.

Once I even found a colleague reading a paper in Geophysics. It was evidently a struggle, and I was flushed with admiration for his rare and valiant effort. “This is a pretty good paper,” he said, “but hard to understand.” I looked closer – it was his own paper.

By this time, the piles of Geophysics and TLE and other journals in my office were stacked on the floor up to the ceiling along all four walls. It was like a sandbagged bunker. I felt safe from geologists. But my security was suspect, for all those paper journals constituted a fire hazard, and had there been an earthquake I would have been crushed by full wave equations and triple-integral gravity anomalies.

Boxes of geophysical journals kept flowing in, and I was fast running out of room to store them. I stopped advertising, but offers kept coming. Worryingly, an increasing number of eager offers came from strange far away places, like Canada and Washington DC. The Denver Geophysical Recycling Center was in danger of degenerating into an international geophysical dump. I scarcely had room left to work, much less take naps. A crisis was fast approaching. I had to do something – but what?

It was at this perilous juncture that my employer decided to move our office across town. The grim prospect of carting thousands and thousands of journals galvanized me into taking bold and drastic action. I set aside three sets of each journal and relegated the remainder – the bulk – to the cavernous dumpster. I blush to recall the giddy exhilaration I felt as I energetically tossed piles upon piles of worthless journals into the dumpster – some of which I had rescued earlier from the very same dumpster. The resonating thud of heavy paper against steel thrilled me, and awakened a vague ancestral memory of hairy cave men celebrating a successful mammoth hunt by pounding on crude drums and dancing wildly. I strained my back in the frenzy, but I did not care, for I was liberated! I quietly and unceremoniously closed the Denver Geophysical Recycling Center, grew a beard, assumed a false identity, and went into hiding.

What is the true value of Geophysics? For most of us, not much. We are happy with on-line journals and e-mail reminders, for they simplify matters. In times past we had to collect our issues of Geophysics from mailboxes and then toss them onto dusty shelves, or into trash cans. Now all we have to do is click a mouse button to delete e-mail reminders. We can’t swat flies or balance tables with online journals, but we can save trees and access any back issue that we want. This is progress. Nevertheless, we read Geophysics less than ever.

What has changed? Geophysics remains invaluable, yet you can’t give it away. Geophysicists no longer keep their copies of Geophysics on their bookshelves for their whole careers, and it is no longer the primary documentation for new developments in exploration geophysics - The Leading Edge is. Geophysics has become all but unreadable except by experts, a gloomy repository of obscure mathematics and dense verbage. TLE remains lively and colorful. Authors prefer TLE because it has faster turnaround time, no page or color charges, no fussy peer reviews, and no one minding that fine line between science and promotion. Readers prefer it because it is readable. But you can’t give TLE away either.

I keep the remnants of the Denver Geophysical Recycling Center stored neatly in boxes. They are free if you want them. But you have to pick them up yourself.

Thus concludes my curious history. I vouch that it is completely, fully, 100% accurate in every historical detail, except for the few dozen parts that did not happen quite as described, though they should have. The timely lesson is plainly apparent, but for people who need things spelled out in full, it is: Don’t expect me to write timely reports!



About the Author(s)


1 Note the laudable pattern: I always immediately set to work. Immediately following my afternoon nap.
2 Denver’s colorful, well-regarded, and semi-defunct sister publication to The RECORDER.
3 I’m still looking for Geophysics issues from 1945, 1946, and 1947!
4 Older colleagues just looked at me as though I were crazy. But they always do that.


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