By Matt Hudson, Publications and Communications Manager, Geological Society of America

This year, the GSA Annual Meeting in Seattle will include an unusual presentation about comedy in the geosciences. Topical session 135, chaired by Anthony D. Feig and Timothy A. Bennett-Huxtable, will take place on Monday, 23 October and include comedic takes on teaching, research, current events, and politics related to the earth sciences. It’s just one more example of the interesting and enlightening research that awaits you in Seattle.

With a nod to their inspiration and other similar blog entries, I thought I’d share a few of the more interesting and humorous GSA publications I have come across over the years. Here, in no particular order and with no attempt at comprehensiveness, are a few of my favorites:

Favorite Image in a Figure
Richard H. Groshong Jr.’s September 1988 GSA Bulletin paper contains a rather unusual image of a “fossil.” The paper also includes a quote from Rob Knipe, who noted that “rocks do not suffer deformation; they enjoy it.”


Runner up goes to GSA Special Paper 487, Mineralogical and Geochemical Approaches to Provenance, which contained a micron-scale image of a ghost, or rather an SEM image of zircon from the middle Chinle Formation, Petrified Forest National Park, Arizona, courtesy of Nancy R. Riggs.


Best Hand-Drawn Figures
Written by Peter R. Vogt and John C. Holden, the figures in “Plumacy reprise,” from Plates, Plumes and Planetary Processes, are notable both for their artistic detail and the humor with which they treat their controversial subject matter. Below are three samples, including the author’s surprising introduction.

We offer a long-overdue reprise (a cognate of reprisal) of Holden and Vogt (1977; reproduced in this book in all its corny details). We try to offend as many authors as possible, including ourselves, but don’t take too many sides between the plumatics (Believers) and the aplumatics (Nonbelievers), who, as this volume and P3 (Foulger et al., 2005b) demonstrate, are mounting the Great Aplumatic Challenge (GAC; pronounced “gack!”). We try to navigate our article (the raft in Fig. 1) through this swamp of controversy. Meanwhile, even plumes are no longer sure of their existence (Fig. 2).




Runner up goes to Dinosaur with Watch, which comes from page 30 of Enrico Bonatti’s chapter in GSA Special Paper 486, titled “Did time exist in the Cretaceous?” To provide context, the chapter also contains the following:

Time remains a mystery, as in the famous quote by Augustine cited by Cervato and Frodeman. My high school science teacher told us that time is what can be measured with a clock, in line with Niels Bohr’s statement (Anonymous, 2011), that nothing exists unless we humans can measure it. I can’t help but feel here a bit of anthropocentrism. Did dinosaurs wear a wristwatch, or did time not exist in the Cretaceous?


Favorite Acknowledgments
Most Acknowledgments include grant numbers and generous recognition of reviewers and science editors, but some authors take the opportunity to express their gratitude for other assistance they received along the way. This quote comes from Ward et al.’s May/June 2012 GSA Bulletin paper.

“We would also like to thank two plainclothes Royal Canadian Mounted Police who released several of us after extensive interrogation about suspected sabotage in the Gulf Islands of Canada while we were sampling for magnetostratigraphy. We also extend our thanks to two local residents of Colonet, Baja California, Mexico, who pulled our vehicle out of deep sand at San Antonio del Mar.”

Runner up goes to Amos et al., who, in their December 2010 Lithosphere paper, remember to thank their local brewing company.

“Hearty thanks go to the Kern Lodge and the Kern River Brewing Company for their hospitality during our stays in Kernville.”

Favorite Cover
2003 marked the 35th anniversary of the Beatles White Album, and Geology science editors David E. Fastovsky and Ben A. van der Pluijm decided to celebrate with an all white, embossed cover in the model of the great album. It’s not a great photo, and the cover has been absurdly stamped with GSA LIBRARY, but here is a glimpse of one of GSA’s most unusual and talked about covers. Note that the cover is a lot more impressive than what appears in the terrible photo I took.

White AlbumGeoy

Ordinarily the table of contents page contains a description of the cover image, but no such description was provided for this cover, leading some readers to contact GSA in confusion and ask if this was indicative of some type of new design or philosophy for the journal. It was not, and we apologize to the authors whose cover submissions were not chosen for that month.

Favorite Submission Date
The Best Submission Date Award goes to A.P. Coleman for the June 1920 GSA Bulletin paper,  which is the only paper we have ever received on 30 February. Double leap year only comes around once a millennia, so it probably won’t be until 30 February 2019 that we receive another one of those.

Feb30Favorite Forgotten Art Form
Many readers today may not even be aware that our journals were once available in monthly or bimonthly paper formats called issues (some still are, FYI). In those days, science editors (some of them anyway) gave a lot of care and thought into creating their favorite teasers for the front cover, many of which spun scientific subject matter into references to Jimi Hendrix, James Bond, classic literature, and more. Here are a few favorites:

All along the Wasatch Tower (May 2004)
All quiet on the Jurassic Western Front (Sept. 2006)
Playing fast and loess with the Chinese eolian record (Oct. 2006)
Dryas actually wettest (Jan. 2004)
A case of 4He said 14C said (April 2004)
Riders on the Stoma (January 2005)
Pillow talk in the Archean of Australia (June 2007)+
The 10Be and end 26Al of piedmont growth (February 2005)
Long-Soufrièring Montserrat (April 2005)
Stony deserts are the 10Be’s 21Ne’s (December 2005)
To be or not to be…Jurassic (January 2006)
North Anatolian fault: Many a slip twixt strike and dip (November 2006)
Read my LIPs: Comparable Ages of Pacific Plateaus (July 2007)

Most Unusual Presidential Address
Following his address “River Channel Change with Time: An Example,” which he delivered at the 1972 GSA Annual Meeting in Minneapolis, Luna B. Leopold took the unusual step of singing a self-authored calypso tune titled, “Better Get the Garbage Before it Gets You,” which, among others, contained the following lines:

Da country is bad but science is worse,
A proliferation of words is our curse,
Nobody ask if ya got sometink to say,
Ya gotta write a paper to get your pay.
Scientific laboratories none but the best,
Never see the field so ya just gotta guess.
And so from a logical point of view,
Ya better get the garbage before it gets you

If you found any of this interesting (or perhaps even humorous), don’t forget to check out topical session 135 in Seattle. In the meantime, please share any other interesting and/or humorous discoveries you have made in GSA’s publications. Thanks, and I hope to see you there.