50 Years of Plant Pathology
MAFF, BMS, AAB, FBPP, BSPP and Blackwells
In 1966, to meet the clamouring desire by British plant pathologists to have their own learned society, the Federation of British Plant Pathologists (FBPP) was born under the parental control of the Association of Applied Biologists (AAB) and BMS, with Joan Moore as its first Chairman. By 1971, FBPP was considering producing its own journal and a dialogue took place between the FBPP and ‘Path Lab’ concerning the future direction of Plant Pathology. FBPP wished to see it expanded and proposed greater involvement, including financial backing. This was not initially received favourably by ‘Path Lab’ as FBPP was concerned only with plant diseases and not pests – half the subject area of Plant Pathology.
In October 1979, as part of the policy of privatisation favoured by the government of Margaret Thatcher, the Ministry was in discussion with private publishing houses as to the part they could play in publishing Ministry material. Robert Campbell of Blackwell Scientific Publications expressed particular interest in Plant Pathology as he had been looking into the possibility of launching a British journal of plant pathology following a proposal put forward by FBPP, principally through Bryan Wheeler, Chris Rawlinson and Peter Scott. This proposal now received a positive response from ‘Path Lab’. On 3 December 1979, John Jenkins, a committee member of the FBPP and an ADAS Regional Plant Pathologist, wrote to the Director General of ADAS (Dr Keith Dexter) proposing a meeting to discuss the respective interests of the Ministry and FBPP in publishing Plant Pathology as a commercial venture. ‘Path Lab’ was now generally supportive of the proposal, providing ADAS had a permanent representative on the Board of Editors, ADAS members of the Board had a final say on the standard of papers published by ADAS, and the journal was open to papers from the ADAS entomology discipline.
On 19 December 1979, Blackwells made a formal proposal to MAFF to acquire Plant Pathology from HMSO. This proposal had been developed with members of FBPP, who would provide the editorial skills required.
In January 1980, the retiring Chairman of FBPP, Tom Preece, wrote to members seeking their views on whether FBPP should have a journal of its own. At the same time AAB and BMS (‘parent societies’ of FBPP) were approaching MAFF to see if they could take on the role of publishers of Plant Pathology. On 24 March 1980, MAFF received a formal proposal from AAB that it should publish Plant Pathology.
While all this was going on there was much discussion and negotiation on who was to edit the journal and with what objectives. It was generally agreed by all parties that there was no place for two British journals of plant pathology. There was an obvious desire on the part of British plant pathologists for a scientific journal that would be a focus for publishing original scientific research on plant pathology in the UK. The FBPP did not consider the current editorial policy of Plant Pathology met that need and AAB was concerned to preserve the position of the Annals of Applied Biology. The Presidents of the AAB and BMS wrote to the Ministry requesting a moratorium on the sale for four months so that negotiations could continue. The Ministry were by then getting increasingly weary of the whole process and were wishing to close a deal. All of this elicited the comment from a senior MAFF official that ‘Our scientific brethren seem adept at weaving inextricable webs’. This put pressure on the FBPP to come to a speedy agreement with the AAB and BMS.
On 22 December 1980, Bryan Wheeler (Chairman of FBPP) wrote to members stating the position that FBPP wished to see a new international journal of plant pathology published in Britain by a commercial publishing house. AAB and BMS were opposed to this. However, FBPP saw an opportunity to achieve this end by developing Plant Pathology into an international publication. An initial proposal to MAFF was that AAB publish Plant Pathologyand FBPP provide the editorial board. It was always Blackwells’ intention that editorial responsibility for an international plant pathology journal should be in the hands of a learned society and it had been in negotiation with FBPP for some time. In an attempt to meet the aspirations of FBPP, AAB and BMS made an offer that there could be an ‘off-shoot’ of the Annals of Applied Biology or the Transactions of the British Mycological Society that FBPP could edit.
The FBPP was faced with three options for a plant pathology journal, (i) an ‘off-shoot’ from the Annals, (ii) an ‘off-shoot’ from the Transactions and (iii) editing Plant Pathology for Blackwells. The third option was clearly preferred and FBPP proposed this course of action to the Councils of AAB and BMS. In a letter of 8 February 1981 to the Ministry, Dr Chris Rawlinson (Secretary of FBPP) indicated that the Committee was determined to proceed with the signing of a publishing agreement with Blackwells. However, as the FBPP had no legal or financial identity outside its parent bodies it was seeking to make the necessary arrangements with them for independence so that the agreement could be signed. If that was not forthcoming, members of FBPP would found a separate society in order to sign the agreement. In a letter dated 6 February 1981, Blackwells indicated that they would be happy to sign the publishing agreement with FBPP or its successor.
On 10 February 1981, John Jenkins, Chairman of FBPP, sent an urgent message to members proposing that FBPP enter into agreement with Blackwells to develop the journal Plant Pathology. He indicated that if the Councils of AAB and BMS would not release FBPP from its dependence on them arrangement would be made to found a new body which would sign the agreement. The Presidents of AAB and BMS also wrote to members indicating that they were against the agreement and seeking members’ comments. To resolve the impasse, a referendum was held of FBPP members. The result showed a substantial majority support for signature of the agreement with Blackwells by a new body. There followed a period of protracted negotiation between MAFF, AAB and Blackwells (acting with FBPP). Much of the negotiations for MAFF were handled by Dr Geoffrey Burgess (Head of the Biology Division of the Agricultural Science Service of ADAS). As it became clear to MAFF that both AAB and Blackwells/FBPP would alter the nature of the journal the Ministry decided to go for the most profitable option. By a narrow margin this was to be the sale to Blackwells for £6000 of the title and subscription list. The sale was completed on 9 April 1981 and Blackwell Scientific Publications assumed responsibility for publication of Plant Pathology from the first issue of Volume 30.
A new society was therefore formed to sign a publishing agreement with Blackwells and the FBPP ceased to exist. The new society was the British Society for Plant Pathology (BSPP) and it came into being on 8 April 1981. Bryan Wheeler, as Chairman of the BSPP Steering Committee, wrote to prospective members setting out details of the ‘new’ Plant Pathology and inviting former members of FBPP and others to make a financial donation to fund the new society, and so become Founder Members, and also to take out a subscription. Plant Pathology was to be a quality international publication, developed from the MAFF journal and maintaining the sequence of volumes. Under the terms of the publishing agreement with Blackwells, BSPP would receive the greater part of any surplus made by the journal, thereby providing a financial platform for the development of the Society. With a streak of confidence, BSPP negotiated a clause that would give it the right to buy the journal from Blackwells after five years at half its market value. At the time, with negligible funds available to the Society, the likelihood of this materialising must have seemed remote.
Thus, through the rough and tumble of this intriguing piece of scientific politics, a new international journal and a new learned society were born. Each depended on the other. Furthermore, the whole deal depended on the interplay between scientists and the commercial publishing sector. Since the scientists themselves had no capital to work with, this relationship was essential to initial progress. The key players in this ultimately successful bid to break away from previous constraints were Robert Campbell for Blackwell Scientific Publications, and Bryan Wheeler, Chris Rawlinson and Peter Scott for the scientists.