Oral history of British science

Davies, David (Part 9 of 12). An Oral History of British Science.

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  • Recording locations

    Interviewee’s home, Salisbury

  • Interviewees

    Davies, David, 1939- (speaker, male)

  • Interviewers

    Merchant, Paul (speaker, male)

  • Abstract

    Part 9: Description of effect of developments in seismology during 1960s/1970s on understanding/conception of the Earth. [4:50] Comments on developments in seismic studies of Earth structure/form since own active involvement. [6:18] Comments on continuation of interest in seismology since retirement from ‘Nature’, with related story of recent television programme/use of the internet; reasons for particular interest in the inner core [IC] of the Earth. Story of identification (with Bruce Julian) of seismic phase called ‘PKJKP’, indicating a solid IC, using LASA data. Mentions work of Danish seismologist Ingrid Lehmann. [10:53] Comments on RN’s choice of politically ‘neutral’ scientists for SIPRI report on seismic monitoring. Comments on contributors to SIPRE report, including political neutrality of US seismologists (Gene Herrin/FP), tendency for Russian IP to press for CTB; RN’s keenness for CTB. Comments on neutrality/political use of SIPRE report. [14:58] Comments on effect on SIPRE of Frank Barnaby’s (RN’s successor) leadership; potential effect of pollicisation of SIPRE on supply of US data. [19:18] Comments on extent/nature of own pacifism. Description of Quaker community, MIT, US. [22:26] Story of realisation of organisational problems at ‘Nature’, early 1970s. Mentions contributions to ‘Nature’ as anonymous ‘geophysics correspondent’; editorship of Geophysical Journal. Comments on style/content of JM’s contributions to ‘Nature’; division of ‘Nature’ into separate satellite journals; JM’s journalistic vision for ‘Nature’, in contrast to own; Nature’s international readership. [27:38] Mentions daughters. Comments on Washington (US) office [WO] of ‘Nature’. Story of visits to academic biologists with Mary Lindley of ‘Nature’ WO, involving criticism of ‘Nature’. Mentions end to JM’s editorship of ‘Nature’, encouraged by JH; role of stand-in deputy editor Alun Jones. [32:16] Story of end to activities in US, 1973; journey home; beginning work at ‘Nature’, September 1973. Comments on appraisal of problems in organisation of ‘Nature’, including financial losses/deficit; JH’s research on contemporary perceptions of ‘Nature’. [35:56] Comments on reasons for making promise to stay at ‘Nature’ for 5 years only; relative (to UK) mobility in US between academic, government, military and industrial posts. Brief description of improvements to ‘Nature’ made in first two years as editor. Mentions resignation of academic staff; recruitment of replacements. Positive comments on Roger Woodham. Comments on reinstatement of a single ‘Nature’ journal. Brief description of staff of ‘Nature’ office, Little Essex Street, London. Mentions support of JH. [43:07] Story of end to anonymous contributions, including those of Walter Gratzer [WG]. Story of changes to appearance of ‘Nature’, including covers. Mentions father-in-law’s input regarding typography. Comments on/stories of relations with typesetters. Story of introduction of photo typesetting, late 1970s, including Colin Dawkins view of photo-typesetting as more feminine practice than hot metal typesetting. [50:37] Story of effect of ‘three-day week’, 1973 on ‘Nature’ office, including use of candles; switch to printing in US. [53:40] Further description of/comments on changes to appearance of ‘Nature’. Story of development of emboldened first paragraph of each ‘Letter to Nature’, summarising the content/discovery/achievement. Comments on own concern to maximise content/eliminate wasted space; switch to ‘bible paper’ to reduce price for international readers. Story of production of graph of subscriptions; efforts to increase circulation/subscriptions. [1:04:19] Comments on scientists consulted by JH in her review of ‘Nature’. [1:05:32] Mentions own role as credible scientific editor. Story changes to journalistic ‘front end’ of ‘Nature’, including appointment/contributions of news editor, John Hall. Comments on ‘News and Views’ section; appointment/contributions of new columnists including Kenneth Mellanby, Thomas Jukes, ‘Heath’ cartoonist; whimsical/curious front covers. [1:14:49] Comments on content of Thursday afternoon staff meetings, including contributions of picture researcher Cheryl Hicks, use of Mary Evans picture library, discussion of submitted papers/other contributions. Comments on size of staff, with related story of remarks made by former editor Arthur Gale; recent expansion of ‘Nature’. [1:20:00] Mentions senior scientists/science policy representatives met while ‘Nature’ editor: Sam Edwards (Science Research Council), Ray Beverton (Natural Environment Research Council [NERC]); own criticism of RS. Comments on large numbers of scientists met through ‘Nature’, including few longstanding friends/contacts. Story of ‘Nature’ office lunches, with invited scientists and others, including Margaret Drabble, ‘William Cooper’ (Harry Hoff [HH]), Tony Benn, Shirley Williams, Mary Archer, John Habgood, Dan McKenzie, Richard Gregory [RG]. [1:29:24] Story of HH’s work with CP Snow on recruitment of scientists during WW2 and writing of novels as ‘William Cooper’. Comments on CPS’s combination of writing/scientific civil service, including Beyond the Fringe joke [1:32:20] Story of visits of KR to ‘Nature’ offices; own visit to KR’s office, University of Newcastle. [1:34:55] Comments on ‘Nature’ correspondent on Soviet matters, Vera Rich [VR]; Soviet reprinting of ‘Nature’ with names of dissident scientists removed. Story of unusual/amateur papers submitted to ‘Nature’, including role of sorter of post, Roy Lincoln [RL]. Mentions submitted papers on paranormal activity/unusual sightings; Loch Ness Monster; Yuri Geller’s spoon bending claims. Story of visiting individual claiming to be able to bend spoons unaided; visit with Chris Evans [CE] (National Physical Laboratory [NPL]) to spoon-bender/metallurgist; publication of paper from Stanford Research Institute concerning remote viewing. Comments on James Randi’s debunking of paranormal claims. Story of JR’s visits to ‘Nature’ offices; JR’s debunking of psychic surgery claims. [1:49:46] Story of publication of photograph of loch ness monster submitted by Peter Scott/Robert Rines, with related press conference. Mentions Carl Sagan’s response. [1:52:20] Brief comments on increasing internationalism of ‘Nature’. Story of own interest in scientific employment/’manpower’/tenure in Britain, including shared concerns with Herman Bondi [HB] for effect of ‘job for life’ culture in scientific civil service [SCS]; failure of HB’s scheme encouraging movement between SCS/academic institutions. Comments on static composition of SCS. Mentions HB’s mathematical joke. [2:01:12] Comments on view of effectiveness of scientific civil service, influenced by visits to Admiralty Underwater Weapons Establishment [AUWE], Portland, Dorset, mid 1960s and 1970s; own research on/interest in manpower planning; tendency for mathematicians/physicists to produce best work while young. Story of exception to this tendency: Neville Mott’s Nobel prize winning research. [2:08:45] Description of classified work on sonar conducted at AUWE, 1960s, including ‘bottom bounce’. Story of visit of AUWE to DGG. Comments on relative (to AUWE) openness of BN. [2:12:32] Brief description of visit to AUWE, mid 1960s.

  • Description

    Interview with geophysicist Dr David Davies

  • Related transcripts

    Dr David Davies interviewed by Dr Paul Merchant: full transcript of the interview

  • Related links

    Visit this interviewee's page on the 'Voices of Science' web resource

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