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Just the Facts

Flom, Merton C.

doi: 10.1097/01.opx.0000185124.76287.6b
Guest Editorial

Tucson, Arizona

When police Sergeant Joe Friday (of the decades-old television series, Dragnet) questioned a witness, he often admonished, “Just the facts, ma'am.” He was dead serious. He meant it. No embellishments. No stories behind the facts.

Well, Sergeant Tony Adams, here are “just the facts” about the early years of the Academy and its Journal. I am sure you will remind me if I stray.

Between 1901 and 1921, all 48 states passed laws legalizing optometry. In those days, most optometrists practiced as businessmen in jewelry and optical stores, where materials were sold and profits were derived from the goods. Optometry was largely an “occupation of a group of skilled artisans”.1 Few optometrists practiced in an office or charged a fee for service. One could not say optometry was a profession.

Only a small minority of optometrists was interested in establishing standards of practice, providing education, or forming organizations devoted to education and research. Numerous organizations, some called academies, were formed—always with considerable debate and resistance and with little ultimate success.2

On January 11, 1922, Morris Steinfeld, an optometrist from Paducah, Kentucky, met all day at the Planter's Hotel in St. Louis (at a meeting of the American Optometric Association) with seven of his invited optometrist friends. The central question of their discussion was whether optometry should be a business or a profession. By the end of that day, Steinfeld and his seven colleagues answered the question and formed the American Academy of Optometry. Steinfeld was asked to serve as chairman.3 Their vision was to transform the entire body optometric to a profession with a scientific base.

This new academy, with some additional charter members, met 5 months later in Indianapolis on June 29 (elected Carel Koch as secretary and created a constitution and bylaws committee) and then met again in St. Louis on December 9 to 13 (issued 40 fellowship certificates, and heard and discussed 11 scientific papers). They also adopted a constitution with the purpose of affording opportunities for educational advancement, establishing a standard of optometric practice, and encouraging optometric research.3

In 1924, Carel Koch, at age 28, founded the Northwest Journal of Optometry, which, after 19 months, he renamed the American Journal of Optometry—it was then the official journal for 11 states. The Academy was separately publishing the Transactions of the American Academy of Optometry in 13 hardcover volumes. In 1934, Koch's American Journal of Optometry no longer represented individual state associations and was the official Journal of the Academy.1

Koch owned the Academy's Journal for 39 years (1934–1973); he was its editor for 34 years (1934–1968). In 1941, he changed the Journal's name to the American Journal of Optometry and Archives of the American Academy of Optometry. In 1953, Koch appointed Monroe Hirsch as his associate editor. (Hirsch had a PhD from Stanford University in physiology, practiced optometry in Ojai, California, owned and was editor of the Ojai newspaper, was the mayor of Ojai, was president of the Academy in 1966 and 1967, was dean of the Berkeley School of Optometry from 1973 to 1978, and was the Academy's Prentice Medalist in 1978.) After 15 years, in 1968, Koch turned over the reins as editor to Hirsch. Grace Weiner, librarian at the Los Angeles College of Optometry, served as associate editor. John Schoen, an optometrist practicing 75 miles south of Minneapolis in the small town of Owatonna, had been advertising manager for Koch and continued this work for Hirsch—as well as being the Journal's secretary.4

When Koch and his wife, Gigi, died in 1973, the Academy purchased the Journal and renamed it the American Journal of Optometry and Physiological Optics.5 For approximately 2 years, the Journal was published by the Professional Press, which also published Optometric Weekly. Since 1976, Williams & Wilkins in Baltimore, now Lippincott Williams & Wilkins Company, one of the most prestigious medical and scientific publishers in the world, have published the Academy's Journal.

When Hirsch became ill in the spring of 1976, Merton Flom filled in as editor and maintained the editorial office at Berkeley. (Flom was on the Berkeley faculty with Hirsch, served on the executive council, chaired the editorial council for the previous 8 years working closely with Hirsch, and was later President of the Academy in 1981–1982.) In December 1978, Hirsch's illness continued, and it became evident that he would be unable to resume the editorship. Flom offered his resignation and President Bradford Wild appointed a search committee for a new editor. Flom was editor for approximately 2½ years.

In 1979, William Lyle, a professor of optometry at the University of Waterloo, became the Journal's fourth editor. In his 17 years as editor, Lyle and his associate editor, David Williams, were responsible for numerous changes to the Journal, including, in 1989, a large-page format, a modern seafoam green cover design, and a change to its current name, Optometry and Vision Science. They gathered a group with knowledge of statistics to review papers containing statistics. Williams upgraded the cumulative indexing of the Journal to 1993. Lyle created an Editorial Board of nine Topical Editors.4

The Academy's Executive Council had been regularly discussing steps to move the Journal to a new level. In November 1992, it funded a special meeting at the University of Houston of approximately 20 key Academy persons, chaired by Karla Zadnik, head of the Academy's research committee. The history of the Journal and its present status were critically reviewed. New ideas for the Journal were proposed, discussed, and reported to the Council. The search process and editor's term of service were among these ideas.6

In July 1996, Mark Bullimore, on the optometry faculty at The Ohio State University, took over the reins as the Journal's fifth editor with assistance from Kurt Zadnik as managing editor. An extensive search preceded the selection. Under Bullimore's 8 years of leadership, an imposing new cover was designed. Submissions of papers increased by 30%. Tighter publication criteria were adopted. Acceptance rates were reduced by approximately 20%. The Journal's impact factor improved from 0.12 in 1996 to 1.36 in 2004. During that same period, Optometry and Vision Science became the top-ranked optometry journal in the world. Since late 2003, submission and review of papers has been carried out online. A few years before, all papers were made available to members and subscribers through the Academy's web site.

In keeping with the Academy's policy of regularly changing Journal editors, a widespread search was carried out in 2003. In July 2004, Tony Adams took over as editor-in-chief at Berkeley. Adams was a past president of the Academy (1998–2000), former dean of the School of Optometry at Berkeley (1992–2001), and Prentice Medalist (2003). The managing editor continues to be Kurt Zadnik at The Ohio State University College of Optometry.

Carel Koch was one of the founders of the Academy, the original owner of the Academy's Journal, and its long-time editor. Carel Christian Koch was born in 1896 in Norwood, Minnesota, in a flat above a U.S. Post Office. His father was a physician who served the three neighboring towns by horse and buggy. He died of appendicitis when Carel was only 2. He and his mother moved to St. Louis to live with his maternal grandfather who was a leading architect. At 10, Carel was sent to the Alton Military Academy in Illinois, where he graduated high school. He took courses at Washington University in St. Louis until he decided on optometry as a career. He enrolled for 2 years in the DeMars Optometry College in Minneapolis; however, it was interrupted by a stint in the Army in World War I in 1918. He received his OD degree in 1919 and was licensed to practice optometry later that year in Minnesota.1

Although Koch was elected the third Chairman of the Academy in 1928, his greater contributions to the Academy were as editor and publisher of the Academy's Journal—and his greatest contributions were his incredible work as secretary for more than 30 years. During the many years he was secretary, the Academy was operated out of Carel's professional optometric office.

Until his death in 1973, Koch possessed virtually the entire institutional memory of the Academy. To say he ran the Academy during his tenure as secretary would be only a slight exaggeration.

Despite Koch's enormous work in creating and nurturing the Academy from 1922 to 1973, the Academy's very existence as a professional organization was threatened in the late 1970s to mid-1980s. The U.S. Supreme Court had recently ruled that professional societies could not exclude qualified people from membership because they advertised—because advertising was protected by the First Amendment to the Constitution covering freedom of speech. The U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) followed soon thereafter with a general investigation of restrictions of advertising in various professional organizations, including medicine and many of its specialties, and then dentistry and optometry. Several medical specialty societies initially reacted by legally resisting the intrusion of the FTC and incurred millions of dollars in legal fees—only to capitulate when it became clear that the FTC, backed by a Supreme Court decision, would eventually prevail.2

The alternatives facing the Academy were to remove advertising as a prohibition to membership or to fight threatened legal action by the FTC. At the December 1981 Annual Meeting of the Academy in Orlando, a special meeting was held on Friday night to discuss the relevant issues. In a packed room of approximately 300 people, a vigorous and emotional discussion consumed slightly more than 3 hours. At the end, a nonbinding or straw vote was taken. Approximately 25% of those in the room (or approximately 75 people) voted not to approve the new wording in the proposed Bylaws that permitted truthful advertising and instead wanted to resist the actions of the FTC. Many in this vocal minority said they would personally raise the millions of dollars needed to fight the FTC. They argued it was likewise their constitutional right to choose the kind of professionals (namely, nonadvertising ones) they would invite into the Academy, so long as selection was not based on ethnicity or gender. The attorneys at the meeting acknowledged the logic of the minority argument but opined that even with huge amounts of money, the chances of winning were negligible.

The FTC's Bureau of Competition remained suspicious of the Academy, believing that despite wording changes in its Bylaws and other documents, the Academy was nonetheless restraining truthful advertising. The FTC issued a Consent Order.2 Academy President Melvin Wolfberg (a past president of the AOA and of the Pennsylvania College of Optometry; recipient in 1989 of the Carel C. Koch Memorial Medal) met frequently with the Bureau, arranged for additional wording changes in Academy documents, and finally, in 1985, signed a report of compliance. Threat over!

Well, Sergeant Adams, these are “just the facts” about the Academy and its Journal from the beginning in 1922 to the end of the FTC threat in 1985. As you well know, you can sure learn a lot from “just the facts”—but not everything! Sometimes, the stories behind the facts reveal more.

Merton C. Flom

Tucson, Arizona

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1. Hirsch MJ, Weiner G. History of the American Journal of Optometry. Am J Optom Arch Am Acad Optom 1968;45:43–57.
2. Gregg JR. History of the American Academy of Optometry, 1922–1986. Washington, DC: The American Academy of Optometry; 1987.
3. Report of the 4th and 5th Annual Conventions of the American Academy of Optometry, vol 1. Minneapolis: American Journal of Optometry; 1925.
4. Hirsch MJ. Special editorial. Am J Optom Arch Am Acad Optom 1968;45:3–6.
5. Hirsch MJ. End of an era. Am J Optom Physiol Optics 1974;51:226–7.
6. Zadnik K. Optometry and Vision Science Task Force Report. December 4, 1992.
© 2005 American Academy of Optometry