Indeed, it was always clear that the magazine was a risky venture, Garfield recalled:
In 1988, when I sold control of the Institute for Scientific Information to JPT Publishing, the deal included The Scientist. I was led to believe they would make an earnest effort to make it a success. Within a few months they reneged and gave me the opportunity to buy back The Scientist for $1. Again, financial advisors cautioned against keeping The Scientist alive; again, I chose to ignore them.
Although The Scientist never became “the researcher’s daily newspaper” that Garfield had dreamed of, he explained, it did go on to cover many “seminal events in the sciences: the rise of HIV, the completion of the Human Genome Project, the dawn of cloning and stem cell technologies.”
Garfield closed his rumination on a thought that now seems more poignant than was perhaps intended: “It’s not possible, however, to put a statistical finger on just why I chose, at various points in The Scientist’s life, to keep on going. Just attribute it parental love.”
It was a love that others felt as well. Reuters Health executive editor and Retraction Watch co-founder Ivan Oransky, who was a senior editor at The Scientist from 2002 to 2008, said he was dismayed to be talking about his former employer in the past tense.
“The Scientist was a terrific magazine,” he said. “It was a rare bird that combined hard-hitting reporting, a trade journalism sensibility and sense of responsibility to its community of readers, and a literary sensibility. It won all sorts of major awards and punched well above its weight, and it was also a great training ground for lots of outstanding science journalists who have gone on to very illustrious careers.”
“We are of all the work that we’ve done there,” said Bob Grant, who has been an associate editor at The Scientist since 2007. “In the most recent years, we really stayed true to Dr. Garfield’s vision for the magazine, and that was best illustrated by the fact that we were able to stay on top of cultural issues within the scientific community. By that I mean, funding issues, policy issues, misconduct cases, etc. If you followed our coverage, we really paid attention to what was going on within the community that affected scientists.”
The twenty-fifth anniversary issue was an especially gratifying accomplishment, according to Edyta Zielinska, who also worked as an associate editor at The Scientist since 2007.
“It’s so wonderful that we were able to put out that issue, with all of the big names coming out to write for us - Eric Kandel and E.O. Wilson, and all those great people. It was nice to be able to put that together before we shuttered,” she said. “We’re all broken up about this. It’s really hard to see this magazine go down. It’s something that we’ve all really believed in and felt had a very unique place in the scientific community, so it’s really sad to see it go.”
The outlet did fill a particular niche in the community. Mary Beth Aberlin, its editor-in-chief, who couldn’t be reached before press time, wrote in the editorial of the final issue: “we remain dedicated to spotlighting research news; publishing scientist-written articles that explain complex topics in jargon-free language; profiling both established and young researchers; covering innovative lab tools and the biotech industry; and addressing the issues faced by scientists over the course of their careers.”
The piece was headlined “ And Many Happy Returns.” In hindsight, it’s an unfortunate title, but nothing is so unfortunate as the loss of yet another top-tier publication in the world of science journalism.