Spilling the beans on oil pollution

Spill Science & Technology Bulletin
December 8, 1995

This journal, a spin-off from the Marine Pollution Review, has set out on a difficult course. It attempts to bring together research papers and technical product news and thus runs the risk of hitting the rocks of commercial interest or running aground on the more insidious, but equally damaging shoals of inadequate scholarship. Not only that, but there may not be sufficient trade to support employment of the vessel.

The owners, however, have engaged some eclectic mariners to guide the ship in F. Rainer-Engelhardt as editor-in-chief, Mike Champ as United States regional editor and Roly Jenkins as editor, Europe, Africa and the Middle East, supported by a good crew on the advisory board. A third master mariner to be editor for Australasia and Japan is apparently proving harder to get. Perhaps trade is not yet sufficient in those waters: the navigation skills are certainly available.

By way of example of the problems the editors face, one of the first issues, under "Viewpoint", carried a rather impassioned plea for more deliberate releases of oil for experimental purposes. The editors should have ensured that such a view was balanced by an equally forthright piece of advocacy by the opposition. To my knowledge, this was not done. An impression is left that the spill science community at large has little time for the "wimps" that resist relatively large oil releases on their doorstep even when it is for the "good" of the world.

Moreover, in many of the research papers, it is difficult to avoid the impression that products are being sold rather than impartially discussed and more recent copies of the journal offer the second example of the pitfalls for journals that operate near a competitive and lucrative market.

In this case, a contribution to "Research" discussing the efficacy of a beach recovery treatment brought rather stinging criticism of lack of proper experimental controls in the letters section. A further "Viewpoint" appeared that carried all the hallmarks of being commissioned by the editors to educate the community in how to conduct proper studies of the effectiveness of such treatments.

As to the configuration of the journal, there are rather more sections than in the conventional scientific journal. Letters lead off, followed by "Viewpoint". "Review Papers" have their own slot and lead naturally into "Research". "Technical Notes" take their usual place in the wake of the research papers, but they are followed by the more unusual "Technical Product News" where descriptions of products and company contacts are given. Book reviews and a calendar of conferences and meetings bring up the rear, although these are separated from the outer cover by an advertising section.

The subject coverage is very wide. It ranges from spill contingency planning and analysis of the results of various response strategies through the physical behaviour of oil in water to results from cleaning fouled sea birds with a particular product. In all, the Bulletin covers a lot of ground. Its target audience appears to be people who prefer to do things rather than sit around, and that ethic permeates the whole publication. The editors have decided that they will produce something useful or, in their own terms, they have a "focus on solutions rather than impacts" and I believe they are succeeding. Whether they can navigate the Bulletin successfully to port depends on establishing a culture of rigour for their research papers and whether they have sufficient clients to support the trade.

Colin MacFarlane is Lloyd's Register professor of subsea engineering, University of Strathclyde.

Spill Science & Technology Bulletin

Editor - F. Rainer-Engelhardt
ISBN - ISSN 1353 2561
Publisher - Pergamon
Price - £85.00 (instit.), £64.00 (indiv.)
Pages - Four times a year

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