Science, the magazine known by its founder -- Thomas Alva Edison -- as "A Weekly Record of Scientific Progress," celebrated its 100th birthday last night in the gothic circumstances of the Smithsonian Castle.
Science80 (about to be Science81), Science magazine's thriving infant sibling for the layman (half a million subscribers before the end of its first year), lent the celebration an additional fillip of something akin to (heaven forbid) self-satisfaction. But it should be noted that the current editors of the sister publications are far from complacent -- about the future of the United States, the world, energy resources, man, the universe, science . . . much less about their respective respected publications.
And if Edison or Alexander Graham Bell, who bought the magazine from Edison three years later, were to pick a pair of helmsmen for their 100-year-later successors, they might well have lit upon the two men who, in fact, are. Science's editor (for 18 years) is Philip H. Abelson, 67, nuclear, geo-, bio-physicist, geo-, paleo-, biochemist, microbiologist and a few other scientific compound specialties. And Science80s is 37-year-old engineer/geo-physicist editor Allen Hammond, Abelson protege and admirer and publishing Wunderkind.
In a joint interview this week in the space-age Massachusetts Avenue digs of the magazines' current owners, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the editors looked back a little and ahead a little more.
Science, the magazine, it seems to them, may not have changed nearly as much as has science. "It has its own special niche," says Abelson, "for those scientists who are broadly curious and want some feeling of broader connections.
The 1980 Science quotes Aristotle in Greek, happily cum translation, and bemoans the failure to find a non-malarious, un-befogged site in Washington for the Naval Observatory.
And Abelson points out that in one of the earliest editions there was considerable concern about a possible Russian invasion of Afghanistan . . .
Abelson is not a man to dwell on regrets, but there is one early report he accepted which comes as closed as anything to causing this arbiter of scientific thought for nearly two decades to, well, to almost lose control.
"You know," he recalls. And giggles. Yes, that was definitely a giggle. "When I took over 18 years ago, we sometimes had a hard time finding articles . . . got maybe six manuscripts a week [to today's 75 or so scientific reports, not counting letters or other articles]. So we were really looking for things to publish. Well, we got in this report from a fellow seeking to study the 'must' phenomenon in male elephants [The state of elephant frenzy causing stampedes]."
The researcher, it turned out, had administered LSD to the subject pachyderm. Now this, explained Abelson, was long before anybody had heard much about LSD. The result, described in the report was this: "The elephant trembled, fell over (feet up), defecated and died."
"Now all this sounded to me like a very interesting thing," says Abelson. Another giggle.
"So we published it.
"Oh, the response out there! We still have a file on it." First, he says, there was a telegram from a religious group in San Francisco charging sacrilege. LSD, it seemed was part of their ritual. Then a letter came in about "the report in Science describing the assassination of the elephant . . ."
The trouble was, bemoaned the scientist-editor, "the fellow had calculated the dose wrong. If I'd known anything about physiology, I'd have caught it . . ."
Some of the AAAS centennial literature proclaims that "1958 Nobel Laureates have contributed 470 editorial pieces to SCIENCE," and lists them.
Abelson admits to about 1,200 manuscripts in various states of readiness at any given time.
Science has, he says, 1,500 subscribers in Japan.
Judging by the number of citations, Abelson and Hammond estimate that as many as 240 million people have been exposed to, at the very least, quotes from Science.
Special editions have ranged from gene engineering to moon rocks. The energy crunch was predicted in Science long before the politicians caught on.
"Think what's going on in biology, for example," says Hammond. "We're starting to understand the cell, and there are already gene engineering companies and yet, if you realize the proteins in a single human cell number in thousands, and we've identified and characterized and understand maybe 15 or 20, it's an appalling state of ignorance at which we're just beginning to scratch.
"It's an incredible sort of arrogance to think that we actually understand very much at all."