McConnell, James V. (ed.) | The Worm Re-Turns: The Best from the Worm-Runner's Digest

  • First edition, first printing. The Worm Re-Turns was the first collection of articles from the "extraordinary and subversive" Worm Runner's Digest. As the editor James McConnell writes, "If you haven't heard of this notorious, semi-scientific journal, it's your own fault... By now, almost everybody knows that the Digest is an odd compilation of very serious and quite technical research reports and theoretical articles, mingled with splendid (if occasionally sophomoric) spoofs on science and education, cartoons, and what Arthur Koestler knowingly has called 'poems of marginal printability'".

    The Digest was originally created in 1959. McConnell's ground-breaking research on neurobiology in planarian worms had been widely publicized by the mainstream press, resulting in a torrent of letters asking for details about his findings and also how to breed and manage the worms for school science projects. So McConnell and his students wrote a short guide and, firmly believing that "anyone who takes himself, or his work, too seriously is in a perilous state of mental health", he gave it the name Worm Runner’s Digest. "Adorning the front page was a crest that one of his students designed, complete with a two-headed worm... and a motto, ignotum per ignotius which, loosely translated, means ‘When I get through explaining this to you, you will know even less than before I started.’ To top things off, McConnell labeled it Volume I, No. 1." (Stern, Looking Back: The Worm-Runner's Digest, The Psychologist, April 2014). Soon unsolicited articles "for the next issue" were being forwarded, and the Digest became a semi-regular publication, combining serious research papers with humour pieces by reputable scientists, including B. F. Skinner. (McConnell regularly got in "hot water" because it was difficult to distinguish the satire from the real research, so in 1964 the journal was split into two halves, with the comedy at the back.)

    "As might be expected, responses to the Digest were mixed... While admirers hailed the Digest as a ‘scientific Playboy,’ reveling in its wit, McConnell’s more austere critics referred to it pejoratively as a ‘scientific comic book’, arguing that science is not the place for such sophomoric humour. McConnell, in fact, believed that the Digest cost him research grants. McConnell’s bottom line – that science could and should be fun – is perhaps as important today as it was when he began to champion the cause in 1959... As Arthur Koestler opined, ‘One of the last Palinuran joys of civilized middle age is to sit in front of the log-fire, sip a glass of brandy, and read the Worm Runner’s Digest’ (Stern).

  • Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1965. Octavo. Original tan boards, titles to spine in dark brown. With the dust jacket. Endpapers slightly tanned. An excellent copy in the jacket that is tanned along the edges and spine panel with a few tiny nicks and short splits.