'Irreproducible' team clones a rival.

San Francisco.

The American staff of The Journal of Irreproducible Results (JIR), the oldest and best-known satirical science journal, has left to set up a competing magazine after several years of disagreements with its British publisher. The 40-member board of scientists, which includes seven Nobel prizewinners, went with them.

The first electronic issue of the new Annals of Improbable Research (AIR), including news of what it described as the "revolt of the mad scientists," appeared on the Internet last week. The first paper edition is expected in the autumn.

But Jon Conibear, deputy managing director of Blackwell Scientific Publications in Oxford, England, which publishes JIR, denies claims that the future of the original journal is uncertain beyond the next edition. "The journal will continue to be published as before," he says, claiming that the launch of AIR is not seen as a threat to JIR.

According to editor Marc Abrahams, the split is the result of long-lived antagonism with Blackwell. "It made them very uncomfortable that, of all the journals they publish, this one was intentionally funny," says Abrahams, who claims that a largely volunteer staff was carrying out all marketing and publicity for the journal with no help from Blackwell.

"It finally seemed clear to us that there was no reasonable way we could either improve that situation or buy the rights to the name, " says Abrahams. "We all therefore decided to do the only reasonable thing: start a new magazine--one that has no legal connection to the magazine we left behind, on which we all worked so hard and loved so much.

But Conibear says that Abrahams asked to leave as a result of irreconcilable editorial differences with JIR''s Chicago-based owner George Scherr. Ownership of JIR is due to revert back to Scherr after the June issue. Scherr is expected to announce a replacement editor later this month.

JIR was founded in 1955 by Alex Kohn, a virologist at Tel Aviv University, best known for his scientific paper proving that the North American continent is likely to sink under the accumulated weight of stockpiled National Geographic Society magazines. He eventually sold the rights of JIR, but remained as editor until 1989, when Abrahams took over. He and Abrahams are the co-founders of AIR.

At the time of the revolt, JIR had a circulation of 17,000, including the electronic issue. Abrahams claims that it was once as high as 40,000, although Conibear disputes this figure.

The new publication takes with it the infamous Ig Nobel Award, given out each year to people whose achievements in science "cannot or should not be reproduced." The awards ceremony will henceforth be sponsored jointly by AIR and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Museum, where the award ceremony takes place.

Joel Shurkin

NATURE - VOL 369 - 9 JUNE 1994