Independent or Proprietary Dental Journals

Independent or Proprietary Dental Journals, Present and Future


  1. A.     T. Rasmussen, D.D.S., F.A.S.S.

LaCrosse, Wisconsin

      The subject of independent or so-called proprietary dental journalism has been severely criticized by certain individuals connected with some of the “official” journals. Prominent among such critics, and probably the leader in this movement is Dr. Williams J. Gies. While not a dentist he is, nevertheless, editor of the Journal of the American College of Dentists and president (1935-6) of the American Association of Dental Editors.

Some months ago Dr. Gies sent to editors and editorial board members of independent dental journals a form letter inviting statements pertaining to independent or proprietary dental journalism, present and future, the same to be published in the Journals of the American College of Dentists.

The writer’s first thought was that no good purpose would be served by so doing, but after further consideration decided that courtesy demanded compliance with the request. Accordingly such a statement for publication was written and offered.

Inasmuch as the writer does not concede all of the editorial changes suggested, the article was withdrawn from that Journal and is here offered to the profession for such value as it may have.

(In order that those not already familiar with the situation may gain a clear understanding of it, the letter of invitation from Dr. Gies is printed of page 18.)

In accepting the invitation of the editor of the Journal of the American College of Dentists to “state for publication” in that Journal, my views on the subject of proprietary dental journalism, present and future, I do so assuming that the invitation was extended in good faith; that the real purpose is to present both sides of a question upon which there is a difference of opinion. By no stretch of imagination is this communication to be interpreted as an accounting of the writer’s activities to any self appointed censor, or group of censors, nor that I hold any brief for anyone who would sell his professional self-respect, or honor, for a “mess of pottage,” be it place, power or money.

I note with some amusement the indictment, consisting of thirteen counts, pronounced against all editors of proprietary dental journals. At first glance this might appear to be an action of the American Association of Dental Editors, but it is not. The writer is officially informed that it is merely a statement made by Dr. William J. Gies at a dinner meeting of abut thirty-five (members?) of the above Association, which, according to Dr. Gies letter boasts a total membership of 144. This is significant, and a fact not to be lost sight of.

Again the writer is officially informed that the “allusion” to the subject made at the “Louisville meeting of the Omicron Kappa Upsilon Honor Society, last March” and quoted by the editor in his letter “is substantially in accord with remarks made by Dr. W. J. Gies at that meeting and not, a part of the President’s annual address.” It is interesting to note that both the indictment pronounced at the meeting of the American Association of Dental Editors, and the “allusion” to the subject at the meeting of Omicron Kappa Upsilon emanated from, and are only the expression of opinions held by Dr. Gies. Presumably it is modesty that prompts him when he refers to his opinions as “responsible professional opinion” rather than call them his own.

Just as all others are entitled to their beliefs so Dr. Gies has a right to his, but in the opinion of this writer that indictment s so emphatic, and all-inclusive, that it loses all forcefulness and what value a more charitably worded one might have had. Again, in the writer’s opinion, it ill befits some members of the American Association of Dental Editors to so unmercifully criticize all editors of independent or proprietary journals when they themselves have so recently changed from the class now condemned to the one with the self-constructed halo about its head. Evidently Dr. Gies allowed his emotions to over-ride his better judgment.

Admittedly there is much to be said on both sides of the question. That the group composing the American Association of Dental Editors should be interested in the success of their journals is quite natural. That theirs, like other journals, are largely dependent on revenue from advertising is a well known fact. Their desire to eliminate competition for this revenue is a trait of human nature, but that they will ever succeed in this is very questionable. That this phase of the question is in the mind of Dr. Gies is very evident from the Count No. 6 of the indictment referred to above. Furthermore, not so long ago it took a lot of effort on the part of some of us to prevent our “official journal” from carrying questionable advertising. The only argument then raised in defense of so doing was the financial returns that would accrue. Mention is made of this merely to show that both groups of journals have management of both types of journals realize that unless sufficient revenue is forthcoming, there will be reductions in salaries or no jobs. It is quite natural, therefore, to put forth every effort in making it advantageous for advertisers to use their particular journal.

Thus far, no fault can be found. If, however, the business management of any journal resorts to dishonest methods, or knowingly permits dishonest advertising to appear, such management and journal is unworthy of the respect of professional men and women. Further, if any editor permits his editorial policy or writing to be influenced by dishonest motives, be they his own, or those of commercial interests (here might be included some interests masquerading under the cloak of professionalism), he is most certainly untrue to his professional responsibilities and unworthy the respect of his colleagues, or any decent person, but the author of the indictment only makes himself ridiculous when he so emphatically condemns without exception –uses the same rough comb on all “non conformists” –for while there may be those who are untrue to their professional obligations in this respect, as there are individuals who violate their marital obligations, certainly not all editors of independent, proprietary dental journals can rightfully be so classified. How much better then, to unequivocally and specifically condemn where condemnation is called for, and as freely give credit where credit is due.

Let us not forget that only recently, comparatively speaking, have we had an “official journal,” owned by the American Dental Association, while most of the other society publications are still younger. The writer worked hard in the organization of the present American Dental Association, which resulted in the starting of the “official journal,” of which I have complete files from the first to the current number. Yet, I am not unmindful of the fact that prior to that time, proprietary journals served as “official organs” for dental societies from their very beginnings, and some of these journals did a noble work. To them we must go for information concerning our profession and the work and writings of those pioneers who laid the foundations for and built our profession up to the time we “became of age,” figuratively speaking. The writer has been subscriber to a number of these proprietary journals for thirty-two years. Much valuable material has appeared in them throughout these many years; and in justice to both publishers and editors I cannot suddenly turn my back upon “the base degrees by which we did ascend,” and condone accusations hurled at them to the effect that they have been, and are untrue to professional ideals, or their work degrading in its effect. It has been my privilege to know some of these editors personally, while other I have known only professionally or through correspondence. Taken as a lot, I believe they have measured up well as compared with the profession at large.

Concerning the advisability of the continued publication and support of independent, or proprietary dental journals, it may be truthfully said that it would be a sad day when and if all dental literature were controlled by one individual, a small group, or from a single source. Absolutism or bureaucracy in scientific literature will breed the same conditions and difficulties as in all other walks of life. I do not believe we have, ever have had, or probably ever will have, any individual, group, or class of individuals, big enough to be entrusted with such autocratic powers or responsibilities. Therefore, in my opinion, there is room for independent or proprietary dental journals just as long as the quality of the material is presented therein is worthy of a place in the literature of our profession. Especially is this true until such time as the American Dental Association is equipped financially, and in other ways, to publish all contributions to the literature that are worth while.

To be specific let me mention just two of the older proprietary or independent journals. The Dental Cosmos now in its seventy-eight year has been of value to the profession, and indirectly to society at large these many years. I submit that much valuable material has come to the profession through the pages of that journal. In his letter Dr. Gies makes a somewhat misleading reference to “the transfer of ownership of Dental Cosmos to the American Dental Association.” It should be noted that although that publication was offered to the American Dental Association at its last annual meeting, the House of Delegates did not accept it, but in the end authorized the Board of Trustees to further investigate the offer. This presumably has been or is being done, but on October 7, 1936, no “transfer of ownership” had taken place. Evidently there was some question in the minds of member of the House of Delegates as to the advisability of discontinuing this old and honored independent journal, as well there might be.

Then we have Dental Items of Interest, now rounding out fifty-six years of life, and I offer no apology for saying service to the profession. Not so many years ago this journal published the proceedings of the International Dental Congress held in San Francisco. That this journal has been, and is being read to advantage by many , I believe few will deny. For one I am not ready to believe, or admit, that the editors of these two journals have been untrue to professional ideals, or been governed by dishonest motives. I have not the slightest doubt that a majority of those familiar with these journals will agree with me in this. Shall we then suddenly turn machine guns on them and exterminate them like rabid animals? No, they fill a place that needs filling, and if they have, or now make mistakes, let us in a kindly manner try to correct it.

Now if this is true of these two older publications, why may it not be equally true of other and younger journals? I am satisfied it is true of some of them, thought I am fully aware that some publications may be inclined to carry advertising, the honesty of which might be questioned. That a certain amount of mediocre of worthless “stuff” does appear in dental and medical publications is admitted, but that is true not only of the independent or proprietary journals, but also of all publications, regardless of who the publishers or editors are. Chaff and wheat grow together, and to always expect editors to do a perfect job of separating one from the other would be asking, or demanding too much, I fear.

Nutrition and Dental Health is an independent and privately owned journal. The owners, publishers, and editors are Drs. Carl J. Grove and Carl T. Grover, his son, both members of the American Dental Association, who have made valuable contributions to dental literature in the past. The writer, on invitation of Dr. Grover, is a member of the editorial board. Needless to say, I believe, there is no salary or pay of any kind or description connected with my position thereon. I am consulted at times on matter of editorial policy, and give of my best when so asked. I have contributed to the journal upon request editorially, and on subjects pertinent to the purpose of the publication. Not once have I been approached by outside, commercial, or selfish interests in any effort to influence my advice, or writings, nor I have seen the slightest intimation of it with any other member of the board. When asked to serve on the editorial board of Nutrition and Dental Health I was assured that it would be conducted and published in a strictly professional manner, with no commercial interests or has been done. I believed then, and still believe there is room for such a journal. Therefore, until such time as I shall find that the publishers-editors violate this principle and promise, I shall feel that I owe no apologies for my connection with that journal, and further, that if in this manner I can assist in bringing to the highly important subject of nutrition and health the attention it deserves, it will be well worth the effort, and I shall be adding a little to the sum total of present day knowledge as it pertains to this phase of the healing art –the practice of medicine, of which ours is an important specialty.

211-212 Linker Bldg.

LaCrosse, Wisconsin.




Office of the Assistant Secretary and Editor

July 27, 1935.

Dr. A. T. Rasmussen,

La Crosse, Wisconsin.


Dear Dr. Rasmussen:

Occasionally, for some years, the American College of Dentists has formally expressed the conviction of its member that proprietary dental journalism is neither more desirable nor more respectable, professionally, than proprietary dental education. At the New Orleans convocation, last November, the College adopted, by unanimous vote in an open general session, the following minute:

“The Secretary is hereby instructed to inform our entire membership that the College notes with disfavor and regret that some of its members hold positions on the editorial staffs of proprietary dental journals.”

The International Association for Dental Research, at its annual meeting last March, adopted a similar resolution. The following statistical data indicate the current general trend in dental journalism in the United States:

General Types                               1928 (Jan. 1)         1932 (Jan. 1)         1935(Nov. 1)

Non-proprietary ……………………………..        61                               89                               105

Proprietary ………………………………………        22                               26                               18

Unclassified ……………………………………..         0                                 1                                 1             

Total …………………………………………….         83                               117                            124

The foregoing summary does not include important recent developments, such as the creation of the non-proprietary Journal           of Dental Education by the American Association of Dental Schools, about to begin publication, and the transfer of ownership of Dental Cosmos to the American Dental Association. The growing American Association of Dental Editors, now having a membership of 144 editors representing 73 non-proprietary journals, doe not admit proprietary journals or their editors to membership, following in this respect the example of the American Association of Dental Schools, which in 1923, by constitutional provision, barred from membership all proprietary dental schools, of which now there are none. A formal statement of objection to proprietary dental journalism at the recent San Francisco meeting of the American Association of Dental Editors (July 11), included the following items (1-7);

  1. Commercial owners conduct their journals primarily for financial profit and only secondarily, if at all, for the advancement of the dental profession.
  2. Editors and managers are responsible to, and their terms of employment are dependent upon, the commercial owners who pay the salaries. The private requirements and commercial interests of the owners cannot be successfully disregarded.
  3. Editors and managers are obliged to bring the contents of the successive issues into conformity with the private commercial aims and expectation of the proprietors. The editors are not free to make up the successive issues without adjusting selections as well as rejections of material to the private commercial requirements on which the editorial salaries are based. These commercial requirements lose none of their effectiveness as to detail, if stated to editors and managers in general terms.
  4. Acceptance of advertisements must accord with the commercial purpose to publish those that collectively yield, directly or indirectly, the largest income or the greatest private advantage. Usually the advertisements that are accepted by proprietary journals include the least worthy types of commodities, devices, or services, and their publication not only violates the profession’s honor and integrity, but also is harmful to the public.
  5. Since editors and managers are not free to exercise judgment or “independence” beyond the scope of commercial restrictions, nor to place public and professional obligations above private commercial preferences, “freedom of the press” among proprietary dental journals is, in reality, “freedom of the proprietors to exploit the dental profession.” Editorial independence” in a proprietory dental journal does not attain either intellectual freedom or personal independence, instead it is commercial independence of the profession.
  6. The financial support that proprietor journals receive in subscriptions from ethical dentists and from reputable advertisers, tends, in a kind of competition that is against public and professional interests, to reduce the resources available to the worthiest non-proprietary journals.
  7. Public appreciation of, and respect for, dentistry as a profession is impaired by lay observations of proprietary control of dental journals, especially as illutrated by the “throw-aways”.

The same formal statement included these general allusions to the harmful influences of proprietary journalism in any profession (8-13);

  1. The aims of commercialism and the purposes of a profession usually conflict.
  2. A profession that is true to its ideals, and to its public protestations, will not permit the voice of commerce to speak its views, nor the objective of commerce to guide its behavior.
  3. Journals in a profession portray its character and indicate its quality.
  4. Commercial control of journals that purport to represent professional thought and action when that control is approved or tolerated implies deficiency in professional character is professional responsibility, and in professional self-respect.
  5. Free proprietary journals, which are always conducted primarily as floats for advertisements, do not gain the respect, or receive the support, of truly professional men, for they know that behind the free distribution lurk private commercial objective that always degrade, and often dishonor, the profession.
  6. The disabilities of a non-proprietary journal –they may be numerous and glaring –are curable not by injections of private commercialism, but by adequate nourishment to sustain professional vitality and to promote pubic function.

The annual address at the Louisville meeting of the Omicron Kappa Upsilon

Honorary Society, last March, contained the following allusion:

Trade-houses, one by one, have wisely yielded to the pressure in the dental profession for a journalism that is professional in fact as well as in name; and it is evident that trade-house control of dental journals, like proprietary control of dental schools, will soon be extinct. The objections to commercial perversities in this field have lately been concentrating upon the dis-service of the so-called “throw-away” dental journals, which as masks for unprofessional purposes and as rafts for advertisements of unworthy products and services, not only misrepresent dentistry as a profession but also degrade and dishonor it. The disservice of these periodicals may easily be indicated in a variety of practical ways. Thus, no one wishing to interest a layman in making a generous gift to a dental cause –say to a dental school –would be tactless enough to present copies of any of these tawdry publications to show the intelligence, the esthetic comprehension, the professional gumption, or the public responsibility, of the dental profession. On the contrary, seeking to impress a philanthropic lay prospect with dentistry’s merits, one would carefully ignore all such misrepresentative dental periodicals. If the layman asked about them, one would surely insist that they are unwelcome intrusions into dentistry; that they are not accepted by the profession as worthy of it; and that the most earnest and devoted dentists are ashamed of them, decline to cooperate with them, and are endeavoring to bring about their discontinuance.

The foregoing facts and quotations –a few of many that might be indicated –are presented not to suggest that the stated views must be right because they cannot be wrong, but instead, to show the crystallization of responsible professional opinion and preference now actively in progress; and also to serve as an introduction to the remainder of this letter.

Despite the steady growth of desire among dentists that proprietary dental journals, like proprietary dental schools, be discontinued, or converted into non-proprietary agencies for responsible professional and public services, a few influential dentists continue actively to serve, or lend the use of their names to, commercial organizations engaged in proprietary dental journalism. We assume that the position of all such dentists is based upon convictions and that, in disagreeing with prevailing professional opinions, each such dentist will welcome an opportunity to indicate publicly and frankly, at this time the foundations of his preference. Accordingly, you, as a dental member of the editorial staff of a proprietary dental periodical, are hereby invited to state, for publication in an early issue of the Journal of the American College of Dentists, your views

(a)             on the present justification of proprietary dental journalism as a system; and also

(b)            on the desirability of future dental support for the proprietary journal, or type of proprietary journal, with which you are identified.

It is our desire –in justice to all editors who participate in proprietary journalism and in order also to promote fair discussion –to present an opportunity for direct public comment in support of the proprietary position, so that such approval s in the opinion of proprietary dental editors, their views deserve, will be given due to attention by the dental profession.

A copy of this letter, a list of those to whom it will have sent, and copies of the responses, will be published together. A reply at your convenience before September 25 would be appreciated, and published exactly as presented.

Yours sincerely,

            William J. Gies.