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The Founding of JEAB
JEAB and JABA Banners

Founding of the Journal of the Experimental Analysis of Behavior

In the early and mid-1950s, the group of psychologists who had been attracted to the study of operant conditioning found that the journals that seemed most appropriate as outlets for their work were not hospitable toward it. Both the Journal of Experimental Psychology and the Journal of Comparative and Physiological Psychology did publish studies by some of the most creative contributors to the new field. But, by and large, few members of their editorial boards had much sympathy toward an approach that stressed the behavior of individual organisms and eschewed formal design and explicit hypothesis testing, both hallmarks of most of the work being published in the older journals.

The founding editor was Charles B. Ferster, who had earned his Ph.D. in 1950 at Columbia University. He then spent five years with B. F. Skinner at Harvard and then two years at the Yerkes Laboratories in Orange Park, Florida, where he was in early 1957. Ferster circulated among a number of his friends a document entitled "Proposal for the Establishment of a New Journal" just before the 1957 meeting of the Eastern Psychological Association (EPA) meeting in New York. It started:

Because the editorial policies of existing journals make it increasingly difficult to publish the experimental work of a growing number of psychologists and because of the long publication lag, there has been considerable interest in establishing a new journal to meet the needs of this group. I propose therefore that discussions should be undertaken by those individuals who require a new medium for publication, as to 1) the format of the journal; 2) method of financing; 3) selection of individuals for the management of the journal; 4) enumeration of criteria for acceptance of papers; 5) policy with regard to number and length of experimental reports that could be published.

After discussing format and financing, Ferster turned to policy. A gentle man who believed that editors should never punish the behavior of authors, he described his vision of a revolutionary editorial process that was never to be implemented.

Selection of individuals for management of the affairs of the journal.

In the first instance the individuals responsible for the management of the journal should be selected in conclave by a small group of those most vitally interested in a new medium of publication. A managing editor would be appointed to be responsible for overlooking the business arrangements, providing a clearing house for correspondence, and supervising the production of the issues for the journal. Editorial power will reside in a large number of editors, perhaps 20 who would each be authorized to accept or reject a munuscript for publication. Since the existence of a new journal of this sort reflects the needs of a specific group of psychologists, it is important that the editors who are chosen reflect this point of view and that methods of election of new editors be designed to continue to reflect the needs of the group. This could be done by allowing each editor, alphabetically in turn, to nominate individuals to fill vacancies. If a second by 20 percent or so of the remaining editors is required, it will assure that no patently ill conceived choice will be made while at the same time it will not perpetuate unrealistic criteria or restrict the representation of new points of view and changing methods of research.

Editorial policy

An author will be free to submit an experimental report or comment to any editor of the journal who will have the authority to accept or reject the paper. If the paper is rejected the author is free to submit it to a second editor. Acceptance of a paper should be on the basis of whether the author has achieved a significant effect on the behavior of an individual which can be ascribed to an experimental condition and that this result would be of interest to the subscribers of the journal or should be preserved in libraries. Since the basis for selection of the paper is at such a basic level no comment need by made by an editor in rejecting a paper. The rights of the author are safeguarded in that he is still free to submit the paper to a second or third editor. The quality of an experimental report should be the sole responsibility of the author. The editor's opinion as to clarity of expression, method of presentation of data and interpretation of findings should not be a factor in the acceptance of the paper. These matters are the responsibility of the author and allowing an editor to coerce them provides a potential control of the behavior of the author by the editor, which in the long run will interfere with original research and thinking. Suggestions for improvements can and should be made to the author by the editor but the disposition of these is entirely at the discretion of the author. These safeguards will undoubtedly produce some papers which are not clearly written or of no interest to some readers. These disadvantages must be weighed against the deleterious long term effects of absolute editorial power. In most cases authors will be disposed to examine carefully the suggestions of the editor, since it is clearly to the best interest of the author.

Since an editor's comments would be accompanied by an acceptance of the paper, the author's disposition to them would not be colored by an implicit threat to the acceptance of the paper.

Some control over the quality of papers would be gained by printing a brief critique following each printed paper. The critique would be written by editors in turn other than the editor accepting the paper.

The decision to go ahead with the new journal was made during the EPA meeting in a hotel bedroom in the Statler Hotel on April 12, 1957. Because operant conditioning was largely a Harvard and Columbia University activity, it is not surprising that those who met to consider starting a journal were almost exclusively associated in some way with these two schools. This can be seen in the academic backgrounds of the members of the initial Board of Editors of JEAB. [This link also contains their photographs.]

Because this group had decided to assume complete responsibility for the business as well as the editorial aspects of the enterprise, they founded the Society for the Experimental Analysis of Behavior (SEAB) and served as members of its first Board of Directors.


A month or so later, a second document was circulated by Ferster, this one called "A Plan for Establishing a New Journal." It had been drawn up by Peter B. Dews, Ferster, W. N. (Nat) Schoenfeld and Murray Sidman, and showed considerable movement away from Ferster's original conception of editorial policy. Prospective authors could no longer choose which editorial board member would judge their paper. Gone also was the associated idea that the authors could react to rejection by resubmitting a paper to a second or even third editor. Also absent from the new draft of editorial policy was the "author's rights" section quoted above, which started with remarkable statement that "The editor's opinion as to clarity of expression, method of presentation of data and interpretation of findings should not be a factor in the acceptance of the paper."

Further changes in editorial procedures occurred as manuscripts came in after the call for manuscripts that was sent out in August. During Ferster's three year term as Editor, the process gradually came to resemble that of most other journals that also used an author's peers to help the editor accept or reject submitted manuscripts. However, the nurturant spirit shown by its first editor as he approached the difficult task of choosing which manuscripts should be published still informs similar decisions today.

The Eastern Psychological Association met in Philadelphia in 1958. Ferster had the pleasure of displaying a copy of Volume 1, Number 1 to the members of SEAB and proudly exclaiming: "The Journal speaks for itself!"


More details on the early years of JEAB can be found in Laties (1987), the complete reference for which is given in References on the history of JEAB and JABA. Many who were active during the early development of the journals reminisced about their experiences in essays that appeared in special sections of the November, 1987 issue of JEAB, "Anniversaries in Behavior Analysis" (Volume 48, pp. 439-514), and the Winter, 1993 issue of JABA, ("Celebrating JABA's 25th Anniversary" (Volume 26, pp. 513- 630).


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Revised June 7 1996 (rap); January 22 2004 (vgl)