EDP Sciences

Astronomy and Astrophysics: A European Journal

The two major countries for which problems existed were Germany and Great Britain. The situation in these countries was similar in the sense that both had existing astronomical journals. There was an important practical difference however, since the ZfAP was owned by its publisher while MNRAS was owned by the Royal Astronomical Society. This difference was, at least to some extent, responsible for the way in which the German and British astronomers viewed the situation. The German astronomers who were most active in this matter are: the chairman of the Council of West German Observatories, L. Biermann, the Director of ESO and the Hamburg Observatory, O. Heckmann, and W. Fricke. All were strong proponents of a European journal. They all felt that it was not an important priority to try to incorporate the ZfAp into the European journal. They felt that the German ministry would financially support the new journal and that the ZfAp would eventually disappear. The British astronomers looked at the situation differently. The most important contact was D.H. Sadler, director of the Greenwich Observatories, who was very sympathetic to the idea of a European journal. Another was F. Graham Smith. The subject was discussed at a meeting of the Council of the RAS on 13 October 1967, after arguments were assembled by letter. A merger of MNRAS with other journals was rejected. The arguments given were (1) that MNRAS was an old journal with a long tradition, and (2) that the Royal Astronomical Society would have little function if MNRAS were given up. This last argument probably weighed heavily, since the sale of MNRAS was by far the largest source of income for the R.A.S. This decision was painful because the MNRAS was highly regarded by the continental European astronomers.

This had been the second painful event that had occurred in 1967. The first was the announcement by Z. Kopal (in a letter dated June) that a new journal had been formed. Besides Kopal, very few astronomers were involved in its formation. The financial basis for this journal was the willingness (perhaps desire) of the Reidel Publishing Co. to do the publishing. Reidel was at the same time owner of the journal. The new journal, called "Astrophysics and Space Science" was not the only astronomical journal published by Reidel, and there was some suspicion that it was formed on Reidel's initiative. Though this has been denied, the project was kept completely secret until Kopal's announcement, for what Reidel called "commercial reasons". It was hard for astronomers to see in this new journal a replacement for the existing national journal for several reasons. First of all it was seen as a commercial undertaking in which the wishes and desires of the astronomers were subordinate to those of the publishers. Furthermore, there were no checks on the scientific quality, since the editor was appointed for an indefinite term by the publisher. For these reasons various astronomers (among them J.H. Oort and J.C. Pecker) wrote letters to Reidel and to Kopal protesting the formation of the new journal, and using as argument the ongoing discussions on the merger of the European journals. Kopal's answer was interesting. In a letter dated 7 August 1967 addressed to Oort, Kopal says "As to the possibility of an European journal, I heard the idea being mooted about at least for 10-15 years now - usually to forestall some other budding development; and when this aim has been accomplished the project went back again to slumber. I am afraid Great Britain will sooner join the European Common Market than all west-European astronomers will agree on a joint journal; neither you nor I may alas live long enough to see it happen."