From the Archives / History of The JI

What’s Old is New Again: Early Editors of The JI and the Challenges of Peer-Review

by John S. Emrich and Bryan Peery
January/February 2014, pages 6–8

The initial challenges of financing and operating The Journal of Immunology (The JI) are well documented in the surviving records from the first two decades of the journal’s history. Unfortunately, those records shed far less light on the inner workings of The JI. Details concerning such important issues as the responsibilities of the editorial staff, the manuscript submission procedure, and the peer-review process remain less than clear.

Minutes of the First Editorial Board Meeting of <em>The Journal of Immunology</em>, March 24, 1937Minutes of the First Editorial Board Meeting of The JI, March 24, 1937
AAI Archive
What is known is that when The JI was founded in 1916, AAI Council elected an editorial staff consisting of an editor, a board of editors, and an advisory board. The editorial process was overseen by Editor Arthur F. Coca (AAI 1916, editor-in-chief 1916-48), who managed the journal singlehandedly from its founding until 1925 when a second editor, John C. Torrey (AAI ’20), was named to help alleviate the strain of a growing workload. The members of the board of editors—usually around 30 immunologists from the United States and the United Kingdom—were responsible for reviewing and editing manuscripts. The advisory board was primarily of older, prominent scientists who had little to no editorial function but served to advise and lend prestige to the nascent journal.

The structure of the editorial staff remained unchanged for almost two decades, even though its workload nearly doubled in that span of time. In its first five years, The JI was published every two months, averaging approximately 37 scientific articles and 525 pages per year. Between 1929 and 1934, however, the journal was published monthly and averaged approximately 79 scientific articles and 1,035 pages per year. Not only did the number of submissions rise steeply, they also became increasingly specialized and diversified, reflecting the growth of the burgeoning field of immunology. The editorial staff, as initially established in 1916, was no longer able to review and edit the influx of new submissions efficiently and effectively.

On Friday, December 27, 1935, a special meeting of the AAI Council convened in New York City to discuss the restructuring of the editorial staff and peer-review process of The JI. A select committee, comprised of Drs. Thomas M. Rivers (AAI 1921, president 1933–34), chairman; Stanhope Bayne-Jones (AAI 1917, president 1930–31); and Arthur F. Coca presented a “plan of reorganization.”

The committee proposed restructuring the editorial staff to more efficiently review and edit the greater volume and breadth of manuscripts submitted to The JI. Under the new plan, the journal would be managed by an editorial staff consisting of “an Editor in Chief and at least three Associate Editors, with the advice of a Board of Editors,” whose members would now be required to reside in North America. The proposal also specified a new process for handling, evaluating, and editing manuscripts. The following is the language used to specify what was to become the first official peer-review process approved by the Council:

  1. All papers to be sent to the Editor in Chief.
  2. Minutes of the Second Editorial Board of <em>The Journal of Immunology</em>, December 28, 1937Minutes of the Second Editorial Board Meeting of The JI, December 28, 1937
    AAI Archive
    Editor in Chief to send each paper to a specialist on the Editorial Board, or elsewhere if necessary, for acceptance or rejection. If accepted, the specialist should comment on changes necessary.
  3. Paper is then sent back to the Editor in Chief.
  4. From the Editor in Chief, the paper goes to the proper Associate Editor for careful editing and approval.
  5. The paper is returned to the Editor in Chief.
  6. The Editor in Chief returns the paper to the author with all the changes made or suggested by the Associate Editor.
  7. Paper comes back from the author to the Editor in Chief for final approval, who then sends it to the publisher and handles the proof, etc.

The Council approved the reorganization and peer-review process at this special December 1935 meeting, voting also to limit papers to 20 printed pages; authors would be required to pay for any pages in excess of the limit.

After accepting the reorganization plan, the Council sent letters of thanks to the 25 outgoing members of the board of editors and to the advisory board for their service. The new “editorial board”— the term adopted by Council to refer to the entire editorial staff—would consist of Coca as the editor-in-chief, three associate editors, and a 21-member board of editors. The new staff began its work in January 1936. Of the 25 editorial staff members, 17 had been or would become president of AAI.

The first meeting of the new editorial board occurred on March 24, 1937, during the twenty-fourth annual meeting of AAI in Chicago, Illinois. Discussions at the meeting focused on the challenges in handling rejected manuscripts and determining the amount of revising and editing necessary to prepare papers for publication. Unable to resolve these concerns at a single meeting, the board met for a second time on December 28, 1937, in New York City specifically to address the burden of “correcting—often practically rewriting—papers.” Evidently, these problems were too big to resolve in 1937, as they continue to cause sleepless nights for editors and authors alike.

Annotated versions of the March 24, 1937 and December 28, 1937 meetings are also available.



  • Procedures as recorded in the minutes of the special meeting of the AAI Council on December 27, 1935. AAI Archive. Rockville, MD.

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