It has become fashionable recently to praise the work of Robert Maxwell as a great innovator in science publishing. Articles and memoirs have pointed out how he capitalised upon a wider public interest in science as well as greater spending on scientific research to create and commercialise the modern world of science journal publishing. It was typical, though, of Maxwell, not just to have discovered an opening, but to have discovered at the same time, a man who could capitalise upon the opening. The genius behind Robert Maxwell’s genius was Ivan Klimes, who died on April 20 2024 in Oxford. As Publishing Director at Maxwell’s Pergamon Press, he was the mastermind behind the so-called “salami slicing“ of journals to create new specialised outlets for the rapidly growing subdivision of disciplines in the sciences, especially in the life sciences. His broad range of scientific interests ensured the coverage of new topics as well as the commissioning of review articles and books, which brought researchers up-to-date, and in a position to review all aspects of controversial topics. The great monument to Ivan’s work at this time lies in the continuing market dominance of Elsevier, the final home of the Pergamon Press titles that he had created. The debt that they owed him was never acknowledged by the seller of these journals, or indeed by the buyers.

Ivan’s fascination with science, and science communication, came early and remained throughout his life. He started his career as a science journalist in his native Prague, becoming, in those days behind the Iron Curtain, a member of the Czechoslovakian Academy of sciences, and the leader of the union of science journalists. In 1968, he was speaking at a conference in Copenhagen, attended by himself and his wife, when the Prague Spring turned into a Russian invasion. He described driving out of Denmark and across the German border. Turn left for home – or turn right for the English Channel. All of us  who knew him are grateful for the choice that the couple made. In England, he found employment with the IPC Magazine group, working on New Scientist. It was here that Robert Maxwell found him.Two Czech speakers bent on changing the course  of global science publishing in English.

Life was always turbulent at Maxwell‘s Headington  Hill Hall, Oxford, headquarters. Ivan left prior of the sale of the company, dismissed by Robert, and Kevin, Maxwell, then, respectively, chairman, and chief executive of the science publisher. Whether or not this was because of the industrial indiscipline of speaking Czech to the father in front of the son (who did not understand the language) is uncertain. More certain is the fact that they had dropped the pilot who guided them to this point. Soon after they sold the company and embarked upon the frenzy of acquisition and disposal that became the story of Maxwell Communications Corporation.

For a moment, Ivan was lost, and felt deeply isolated. To their great credit, the International Thomson Organisation (now Thomson Reuters) came forward and a plan was developed to create a new science journal publisher with an entirely new look. Rapid Communications of Oxford would not only move quicker to fulfil the niches that Ivan still saw as worth  developing, but it would publish science research far more quickly and get  information back into the hands of researchers with revolutionary speed. Far from  taking the normal 12 to 18 months, the new company promised publication in 6 to 8 weeks. This breakthrough was enabled by the use of a new technology, the fax machine. Typescripts would be faxed to peer reviewers with the request that they were to be returned the same way. As an advisor to Ivan, both in his previous company, and now in this one, I was privileged to watch at  first hand the enthusiasm that he applied, and the enthusiasm that he  engendered in others as they watched him apply it. His openness and his anxiety to serve the science that he loved were infectious qualities. He founded his new company in one of Oxford, oldest habitable office buildings, a mediaeval bakehouse. at the very edge of the river. Standing upright in his first floor office, inevitably meant cracking one’s head against its ancient beams. Yet there, he continued with a succession of new launches, including a groundbreaking, neuroscience journal, until the folding of his company into the Thomson corporate group, and then it’s resale to Wolters Kluwer presaged his own retirement.

In addition to his great skills as an innovative publisher, Ivan was a man of huge, personal generosity, with a real capacity for mentoring and friendship. I can testify to both, having served with him when he was a Director of the British Publishers Association cooperative venture, Publishers Databases Ltd, and having enjoyed his company, and his vision and sagacity while he was a non-executive director of my own company, Electronic Publishing Services Limited. And as a dining companion he left nothing to be desired, especially in the days when he was a routine diner at the Hungarian restaurant, Gay Hussar, where his knowledge of central European cuisines was an education in itself. We should remember a pivotal figure in the creation of the modern science journal,in a  publishing world that has now transitioning into scholarly communications, and for those who knew him, the loss of the most companionable, knowledgeable and empathetic of friends.


Name (required)

Email (required)


Speak your mind