The Sassy Scientist – Key Papers

The Sassy Scientist – Key Papers

Every week, The Sassy Scientist answers a question on geodynamics, related topics, academic life, the universe or anything in between with a healthy dose of sarcasm. Do you have a question for The Sassy Scientist? Submit your question here.

Luca asks:

What is (in your opinion) the key paper in geodynamics and why?

Dear Luca,

There is not one key paper. It is simply impossible to point at one paper and say: “This is the one that changed geodynamics”. Obviously, without the early work of Wilson, McKenzie, Froidevaux, Morgan, Turcotte, and Schubert (and many others, the list is enormous, don’t be offended if you’re not on it) the field of geodynamics wouldn’t even exist. However, unless you are a bachelor student, it should be fairly clear by now that (Earth) science is an evolving beast that can take many shapes and lead to many dead-ends. Well-considered concepts are continually overturned, contradicted or adjusted.

So, it seems to me that you are looking for a shortcut. Unfortunately this shortcut doesn’t exist and you’ll just have to go through the literature. Painstakingly and critically evaluating papers. And you’re right: most of the ones you’ll come across will not be qualified as ‘key papers’. But this is a good thing. It’s better to go through an abundance of small steps to move science forward than to take major leaps while overlooking small but significant details that take you across a decades-long detour…

Still interested in science?

Yours truly,

The Sassy Scientist

PS: This post was written after getting annoyed by stupid questions.

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I am currently employed at a first tier research institute where I am continuously working with the greatest minds to further our understanding of the solid Earth system. Whether it is mantle or lithosphere structure and dynamics, solid Earth rheology parameters, earthquake processes, integrating observations with model predictions or inversions: you have read a paper of mine. Even if you are working on a topic I haven’t mentioned here, I still know everything about it. Do you have any problems in your research career? I have already experienced them. Do you struggle with your work-life balance? Been there, done that. Nowadays, I have only one hobby: helping you out by answering the most poignant questions in geodynamics, research and life. I am waiting for you right here. Get inspired.


  1. You’re correct that the question is ill-posed, but it’d be a better blog post to answer a related one, namely “Could you please point out some exceptionally important papers in Geodynamics and tell us something interesting about the history of the field?”. P.S. This comment was written after getting annoyed by lazy answers.

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      Dear Curmudgeonly Commenter,

      Thank you for your comment. At least someone in the community understands that the whole point of these posts is to spark discussion and get people to interact. However, an erroneous viewpoint like this I will not tolerate! With the astonishingly articulated, awe-inspiring, heart-exploding, mind-blowing and well-crafted questions that magically appear in my inbox, there’s a myriad of potential responses. Whereas you apparently take offence at this week’s writing, I don’t think it’s an egregious blog post. The field of geodynamics is full of salient papers that provide seminal insights on processes with simple concepts to explain various observations. In my opinion (yes, it’s just a humble opinion) it’s a scientist’s job to ravage the (digital) library themselves, not to wait on some sensational blog post to do their job for them. Don’t worry if you think I have not grasped the concept of these blog posts. In the next few posts you’ll receive your fair share of “exceptionally important papers” and I’ll, or at least attempt to, elucidate some facets of “the history of the field”. I suggest holding on to your perfunctory comments as I cannot put forward blog posts that consists of a condensation of a plethora of sundry viewpoints. Maybe, I’ll even revisit your curmudgeonly comment with a separate blog post. Just for you. Don’t worry. I got you.

      Yours truly,
      The Sassy Scientist


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