In his paper on the story of Addiction, Griffith Edwards (2006) demonstrates as much skill as an historian of science as he did as the editor of a scientific journal. Addiction has had a long and varied history, one that reflects the changing context of addiction studies and the changing trends in alcohol and drug-related problems both in the United Kingdom and in the broader world. In some respects, the Journal has been a creature of its times, as when it emerged at the end of the 19th century as the natural product of a marriage of convenience between neophyte addiction specialists and a coalition of Temperance advocates. As addiction problems waxed and waned over the past century, so too did the fortunes of the Journal. But the Journal has also been both the victim and the benefactor of its editors, whose leadership, vision and energy (or lack thereof) have determined whether Addiction would respond passively to changing times or seize the moment and become a catalyst for change.
In addition to historical circumstances and its leaders’ qualities, Griffith Edwards’ paper shows how Addiction was affected by its relationship to the Society for the Study of Addiction, and by its partnership with the broader community of scholars who contributed to and read the Journal. The Society provided a stable base of support, but if that was the only audience for the Journal it would have neither the importance nor the influence it has achieved today. As Griffith Edwards has shown, to realize its potential as an organ of scientific communication in the modern world a journal needs to cultivate a special relationship with its invisible college. The term derives from Robert Boyle, the 17th-century chemist, who met weekly in London with an informal group of scientists and philosophers, in contrast to the more formal meetings of the Royal Society at Grisham College. Whether visible or invisible, groups of scientists need an organ of communication such as a scientific journal, and within its pages the communication needs to be both formal (scientific papers) and informal (letters, commentaries, editorials, news) if a journal is going to fulfill the promise of the Enlightenment, which is to use science not only to understand the natural world, but also to change it for the better. Another role of scientific journals, especially those ‘of the second kind’, is to question basic assumptions about the nature of addiction, assumptions that too often have been derived from persuasive but erroneous ‘self-evident’ principles and authoritative sources. A first-rate journal, like the one whose coming of age is described in Griffith Edwards’ essay, is one that follows the Royal Society's motto (Nullius in verba), which admonishes its members to question authoritative as well as conventional wisdom. Isaac Newton, a member of the Royal Society, wrote that ‘If I have seen further, it is because I was standing on the shoulders of giants’. If we do indeed see further into the mystery of addiction problems in our present age, it is in part because of the role of journal editors such as Griffith Edwards in shaping our specialist field of inquiry.
However, we must also be mindful of the social forces that shape discovery, and at times deny scientists the opportunity to pursue it. As this essay has shown, a journal is a bellwether of the broader field it represents: sometimes the field is the center of attention, at other times it is neglected by society and the patrons of science. Without an attentive editor, a sense of purpose and an open dialogue with its constituents, a journal could easily perish for want of things to publish, for lack of interesting things to report and from a vote of no confidence from its invisible college. Fortunately, Addiction has had the right editors at the right time; people who, like Griffith Edwards, understand that the glue that holds a specialist field together is more than simply the findings reported in a monthly collection of scientific articles.