Dan McKenzie: the first scientific paper on plate tectonics

Dan McKenzie tells the story of writing and publishing in the journal Nature the first paper on plate tectonics, 1967.

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I had been sitting reading … Harry Hess’s publications, because I liked him very much and was very impressed by what he’d done. And I by that stage had learnt that what you should do is, is not read the secondary literature, but go back to the people who you think are good and read their papers, which I did. And I also read Teddy’s paper - from the fitting again and that’s when I realised that the right way to do all this was to think in terms of rigid plates. And the – then everything made sense. And the whole thing was as obvious to me then as it is now to everybody who learns about it, you know, the scales dropped from my eyes really. And one of the things which was actually very important was the thing that I’d done, for me, was the thing that I’d done earlier. Because it meant that I had freed myself from the connection between the plate boundaries and the circulation below, which is such a critical issue. So I did that and we sent it to Nature. Bob Parker was a co-author because he had written a mapping programme, which was absolutely ideal for doing what we wanted to do. And we sent it off to Nature and I remember that the Post Office was closed and so what we’d done was feed quarters into a stamp machine until we got enough stamps and covered the whole of the front of the envelope with stamps pretty much. Sent it off to Nature. And that was the last I saw of it. Never got the proofs, never got any referees' comments. The editor, who was John Maddox, who I talked to about it later on, he had no recollection, but must just have simply said, ‘Publish it,’ and so they published it, and I never saw any proofs or anything. And it came out on I think the last day, or almost the last day, of 1967. So it’s got a 1967 date rather than a 1968 date, which is what every – all the other papers on that. Right. And I think part of the reason why [laughs] you know, it made an impression on my career was by chance it made it into ’67, not into ’68.

  • Interviewee Dan McKenzie
  • Duration 00:02:50
  • Copyright British Library Board
  • Interviewer Paul Merchant
  • Date of interview 8/17/2010
  • Shelfmark C1379/24

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