The Abbey Newsletter

Volume 24, Number 1

Conservators' Votes Needed on ASTM Standard

Janet Gertz is calling for conservators to join ASTM Committee D-6, which will be voting on new test methods for paper permanence in 2001-2002. The only way consumers and users can have a voice in the outcome of this vote is to be a member and cast a vote when ballots are mailed out. It is not necessary to attend meetings. The membership fee is $65/year.

Since the last ASTM paper permanence standards were approved in 1996, there have been major changes in raw materials and manufacturing methods, including the use of recycled and lignin-containing pulp. As a result, we can no longer rely on the usual tests for permanence, which are based on one easily measurable characteristic (pH), two components (lignin, calcium carbonate) and one performance measure (tear). Age testing now seems to be the only reliable way to estimate the lifespan of paper—and this will now have to include aging with light and pollutants as well as with heat and moisture. Some progress is being made in controlling the tendency of such papers to yellow and embrittle with age, but so far no satisfactory control method has been found; and even if it is eventually found, we could not assume that all mills would use it.

A word from the Editor: The international research project to develop aging tests that can identify long-lived papers is certainly a large one, involving research labs that have good reputations, and we can expect good reliable results. The press releases and other updates describing the project, however, sound to me rather like advertisements for aging creams and patent medicines, intended to appeal to a gullible, nontechnical audience, and exaggerating the value of the as-yet-unseen product.

It is hard to ignore these press releases and related papers, because they are the only source of information on the project. None of the research centers can publish a report until all their work is done.

We can, however, ask for explanations, gather our own facts, and form our own opinions on the significance and application of the research as soon as more information becomes available. A good way to get facts and explanations would be to go the meetings of ASTM D-6, and not only take notes during the meetings, but meet people, ask questions and find other sources of information.

Here are some phrases to look out for:

"Scientific certainty," a phrase which first appeared in 1994, in an ISR request for a research proposal. There is no such thing as scientific certainty. Scientists are specialists in exploring the unknown, they like being on the frontier. They never claim to be 100% certain about anything, though they will often disagree with other scientists. They know that their results will stand only as long as they are confirmed by further work.

Developing "scientifically sound test methods" for predicting paper life, said to be the purpose of the ISR multi-year research program. (ASTM Standardization News, Aug. 1998). This is a contrived phrase, which may be undefinable by anybody's standard. Science is science, and test methods are tools of science. The use of a certain tool, however sound it is, does not say anything for the results. Research on cold fusion, remember, used only "scientifically sound test methods."

"Development of credible, reliable test methods for the accelerated aging of paper" and other phrases that imply the absence of standards and test methods in the past. Ever since the 1960s, the ASTM standards for paper permanence have been developed under the leadership of conservation scientists, with democratic input from users and producers alike. They did use "credible and reliable test methods." (Real scientists give credit to their predecessors; they do not pretend to be the first to make significant advances in a field.)

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