The Society's 70 glorious years: the 1970s - a time of change for the journal
Bernard Donovan | Features
As someone much older than the Society for Endocrinology, who has enjoyed membership for more than 50 years, I can add to the reminiscences of past Officers in the Spring issue of The Endocrinologist.
A TIME OF WONDER
Endocrinology at the time I joined the Society in 1953 was a wonderland, despite the fact that hormone assays were difficult, expensive and almost always indirect. Assessment of the potency of an extract of an endocrine organ, such as the testis, ovary, adrenal or pituitary gland, usually involved its injection into a series of animals surgically deprived of the organ of interest. Blood levels of hormones could not be measured and immunoassays had still to be devised.
Accordingly, research into endocrinological problems generally involved experimental surgery and there was little sophistication in the equipment employed, other than the need for good microscopes for histological purposes. Electronic equipment, techniques and procedures had still to be developed, and computers were unknown.
Scientific research then differed little from the way in which it was run before the Second World War, although change was on the way. There were more grants for would-be research workers, but few jobs for them after graduation.
I was lucky in that I managed to secure an MRC Scholarship with Geoffrey Harris at the Institute of Psychiatry in London. I prospered, and came to succeed Hans Heller as Editor of Journal of Endocrinology in 1974. Having done much refereeing and been a member of the journal’s Editorial Board for some years, I was familiar with the refereeing and editorial processes and enjoyed tackling the associated problems that arose.
Logically, accepting the Editorship was a silly thing for me to do, for I was busy with research into brain–endocrine relationships and time was already precious. But I had long been interested in scientific writing and publishing, and regarded this appointment as an honour. It was also a challenge.
The first problem posed was to where to base the journal staff. Like many academics, Heller had been able to use departmental space in the Department of Pharmacology at the University of Bristol for this purpose without charge. However, stringencies now meant that the purse strings were being tightened. In my case, there was no spare space available at the Institute of Psychiatry, and none was likely to arise. The future of the staff in Bristol also needed to be considered, for their expertise was highly valued and it made sense to have a permanent base for them.
We accepted that the provision of dedicated accommodation would be expensive and lead to a significant jump in journal production costs, and an analysis of the viability of the journal with the Executive Editorial Secretary, Jean Gardner, proved fascinating.
The pent-up demand for publication of research findings generated by the Second World War had meant that some publishers enjoyed times of plenty, although the librarians, as major purchasers of this material, were beginning to complain of inadequate budgets to pay for the ‘outrageous’ costs of scientific journals.
'We set to work with an enthusiastic staff, and produced the first new issue on our own in January 1975 ... the financial benefits were immediately apparent'
We tried to limit price rises by, for example, trying to negotiate reduced prices for the shipment of printed papers by the Post Office, with little success. And with the advent of electric typewriters that had a quality of output approaching that of typeset material, we tried to get our printers to use our office-generated pages without fresh typesetting. But union pressure was such that printers refused to adopt this technique.
Another factor was that the price of a subscription had to be fixed long in advance of publication. That was because time was needed for the subscription agents, who acted for librarians, to advise their clients of upcoming costs in budget planning. Paradoxically, the more successful a journal became in attracting papers, the harder it became to ensure viability, for the printing of more pages generated extra costs that could not easily be recovered. Even so, the demand from researchers to see their papers in print meant that journal publishing, as a commercial activity, thrived.
A major factor in our considerations was that our publishing house printed and distributed our journal, along with others, on a commission basis. Remarkably, the publisher found it difficult to separate the cost of publishing our journal from that of others in its stable, and preferred to total all of its costs and charge us an appropriate proportion. Since the staff moved from work on one journal to another in the course of a day, it was hard for them to itemise their charges.
BENEFITS FROM BEING IN CONTROL
When Jean Gardner and I put our findings to the Editorial Board, it was agreed that, despite our inexperience, we should set out to manage all of the production processes ‘in house’. While it would be necessary to recruit a printer and distributor to our cause, the overall responsibility for publication would be ours, as would be the rewards (if any).
We set to work with an enthusiastic staff in a house near the centre of Bristol, and produced the first new issue on our own in January 1975, although we did not dare to change the printer until we had settled down.
To our surprise – and delight – while few noticed the change in publisher, the financial benefits were immediately apparent. Rather than being a burden on the coffers, Journal of Endocrinology soon became a major source of income, with revenue from the journal increasing substantially between 1974 and 1977 (after transitional costs had been absorbed). Our success did not pass unnoticed, and our procedures were soon adopted by other societies. That was an immensely satisfying outcome.
Bernard Donovan was Professor of Neuroendocrinology at the Institute of Psychiatry, London, and Editor of Journal of Endocrinology from 1974 to 1980. His book, A Life Scientific: the Memoirs of a Natural Scientist, has been published by Mereo Books (2015, paperback, £12.99, 407pp, ISBN 9781861515148) and is widely available.