The 1970s

  • description of imageThe 1970s was a decade of success and failure for Nature. In the early 1970s, the magazine ambitiously split into three publications but the experiment was not a lasting achievement. Perhaps too bold a move and ahead of its time, the magazine was reunited shortly after David 'Dai' Davies took on the sixth editorship in 1973, closing the first Maddox era. The Nature community was also saddened by the death of Arthur Gale co-editor from 1939–61, in 1978. Other activities brought more cheer. The magazine's first base in America proved both a scientific and commercial success and manuscripts were received from around the world that led to at least three Nobel Prizes. In 1970 there were about 12 Nature staff, including production staff, of whom half were scientists. The office spent a quick sojourn at Canberra House, Maltravers Street, London, but by 1972 was back at Little Essex Street (pictured). In 1974, the classified advertising account, which had been run by T. G. Scott since at least 1932, became an in-house operation. Image courtesy of Mark Gerson, FBIPP.

International offices; international influence

  • description of imageThe beginning of the 1970s saw Nature expanding its global presence. Always an international journal, Nature's first office in the United States opened in a small room (10 by 20 feet) in the National Press Building in Washington, DC (pictured). The office was first run by John Maddox and his right-hand person Mary Sheehan and had the dual purpose of increasing Nature subscriptions in the United States and bolstering the flow of manuscripts from American laboratories. But the move undoubtedly increased awareness of the journal and perhaps even its influence. Nature was said in the 31 August issue issue of TIME magazine to have influenced the resignation of Lee DuBridge, President Nixon's science adviser (see Whom Does the Science Advisor Advise? and All Change at the Top). After Maddox returned to the London office, the Washington office was run by the deputy editor Nicholas Wade. Image courtesy of CaryScott.com.

The discovery of reverse transcriptase

  • description of imageFor just over ten years, Francis Crick's 'central dogma' of molecular biology held that DNA made RNA, and RNA made protein, and that was how the information of life flowed in a cell. But there is always an exception in biology: the RNA viruses (such as HIV, pictured) magically spin RNA into DNA. The discovery was a classic story of different researchers cracking the same problem at the same time — but by different means and each oblivious to the work of the others — and has led to major advances in molecular biology and drug development. Both Howard Temin (with Satoshi Mizutani), and then David Baltimore independently found the enzyme we now call reverse transcriptase in particles of tumour-forming viruses, rather than in the infected cell. The accompanying article, Central Dogma Reversed tells of how "if there was ever a man to say I told you so", it was Temin, for he had advanced the idea in 1964 and been widely doubted, even ridiculed. Temin and Baltimore enjoyed the last laugh by sharing the 1975 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine. Image courtesy of National Institutes of Health.

And then there were three

  • description of imageAs the volume of scientific work produced around the world increased and became more specialized, it became feasible to publish more than one edition of Nature. In January 1971  Nature split into three separate publications: Nature Physical Sciences, Nature New Biology (pictured) and Nature, which were published on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, respectively. Editor John Maddox talked of a day when Nature would be a daily publication, like a newspaper, and each day would specialize in different areas of science while always carrying the strong news sense so close to his heart (some said he had printers' ink in his veins). However, the venture cannot be judged a success. Within two years, John Maddox was no longer editor and the journals were reunited from the first issue of 1974. That the Nature reunification announcement coincided with Maddox's departure and Davies's entrance tells its own story.

A new Editor — David Davies

  • description of imageOn 20 August 1973, a new Editor took the helm — he was only the fifth person to hold the position in more than 100 years. Macmillan News (page 2) described David ('Dai') Davies as no stranger to Nature as he had been geophysics correspondent for many years. Davies' first leader, Nature in the Future, candidly admits that readers might be confused to find him suddenly in the driving seat; he quotes Maddox's last editorial to wave away past controversies: "It ill becomes a journal to waste too much of its space on introspection." Davies goes on to discuss what makes a Nature paper: "...something which sets it apart as helping to see the world through a new and better window". Before joining Nature, Davies spent his last few years in the United States heading the Seismic Discrimination Group, undertaking work that could be utilized in the detection of underground nuclear-weapons tests valuable experience that would filter through to his leading articles in Nature during his editorship. See the 'Editors and Eras' section of this website for a special essay on Davies' Cold War editorials.

New editor; new ideas

  • description of imageThe journal, now reunited into one entity, gave new Editor Dai Davies the chance to exert his influence on the structure and content. His experience in the study of detecting underground nuclear-weapons tests flowed into Nature's editorials, the first of which (after his introduction), Nuclear Defence: the need for Debate was one of many on nuclear weapons and power. These included early research into a so-called 'Star Wars' defence shield that was tackled in The Next Generation of Weapons. Davies also refined the modern journal by bringing Correspondence to the front of the journal at the expense of Book Reviews. The unwieldy Maddox-era division of news into 'Old World' and 'New World' was replaced with a more politically palatable 'International News', accompanied by a new section - 'News in Brief'. Davies also introduced new columnists (see below), newspaper-style sketch cartoons (pictured), review articles, and markedly improved the quality of front covers.

Nature hoaxed?

  • description of imageWhen "Monster hoax by Sir Peter S" was splashed across British newspapers, Editor David Davies must have wondered if it had really been a good idea to publish Naming the Loch Ness Monster a paper based on sightings of a prehistoric monster at Loch Ness in Scotland. Peter Scott and Robert Rines coined the scientific term "Nessiteras rhombopteryx" (Greek for "The monster/wonder of Ness with the diamond-shaped fin"; an imagined sketch is shown) to protect the Loch Ness Monster, just in case it did exist, because species need formal naming before they can qualify for protected status. The 11 December papers' cryptic (but compelling) blurry photos caused a sensation, which thrust Nature into the media spotlight. Unfortunately, by the end of the year the bubble burst when Scottish MP Nicholas Fairbairn anagramed "Nessiteras rhombopteryx" into "Monster hoax by Sir Peter S" and wrote to the New York Times with his foible. In Macmillan News Dai Davies explains the controversy (see page 15), pointing out that the decision to publish the paper had not been difficult and that he "went along with it entirely". Davies went along with other colourful publishing decisions too, such as a test of spoon-bending and then all-the-rage Uri Geller's self-proclaimed telepathic powers.

A letter from America

  • description of imageBy the end of the 1970s, Nature's first outpost in America was making a good return on the investment - a third of subscriptions and half of all manuscripts received originated in the United States. The thriving Washington office had increased to three staff: David Dickinson (news correspondent, pictured later), Sandy Grimwade (biology editor) and Mary Wade (office manager). In February of 1978, Nature hosted its first stand at the American Association for the Advancement of Science conference to push its new US $48 subscription rate (down from $98). The US focus in the 1970s was part of a bigger picture too: Nature had been printed in the US (see page 3) for many years, but since 1973 the journal's typeface was set as well as printed by the William Byrd Press in Richmond, Virginia.

Discoveries of the 1970s

  • description of imageScientific progress in the 1970s was marked by the first fruits of biology's golden age, which earned several Nature authors Nobel Prizes in the physiology/medicine category. A major advance in immunity was how the body's T-cells kill virus-infected cells in the body, which earned Peter C. Doherty and Rolf Zinkernagel the 1996 Nobel Prize. The application of molecular biology to medicine took a leap forward with the creation of the first monoclonal antibodies — target-specific 'magic bullets' that can be used against cancer cells, for example — which led to the 1984 Nobel Prize. Work on the ion channels in and out of cells claimed the 1991 Nobel Prize. The incredible diagnostic power of magnetic resonance imaging was revealed in 1973. A bacteriophage (several are pictured) was the first organism to have its entire DNA sequenced (in 1978), and heralded an era in which the complete genetic blueprint of a living creature was within grasp — how long would it take to get from microbe to man? Image courtesy of Nanoworld.

A new columnist

  • description of imageThe 1970s saw regular, named columnists in Nature for the first time. Following long-standing contributor Kenneth Mellanby came Thomas H. Jukes (1975–80), a British-American biochemist who took a sceptical line against pseudoscience. Funk Therapy a treatise on vitamins, is typical of his erudite style: "Vitamins go through periods of fashion...Vitamin B12 is popular, probably because it is injected and red". Jukes commented on many environmental issues from a biochemical perspective, calling for a ban on using certain growth agents in cattle (he had researched growth effects of adding antibiotics to cattle feed), and pointing out the biological hazards of ozone-depleting aerosol spray cans and the pesticide DDT. Jukes also took on health fads and argued against Linus Pauling's vitamin C megadosage therapy and against apricot kernels as a source of the much-vaunted anticancer agent laetrile, pointing out that the active ingredient amygdalin could be obtained more easily from other, more palatable foodstuffs. Image shows he was paid a whopping £50 for two-thirds of a page in the journal.