A History of Scientific Journals

A History of Scientific Journals: Publishing at the Royal Society, 1665-2015 by Aileen Fyfe, Noah Moxham etc 2022

About the Authors
Aileen Fyfe is professor of modern history at the University of St Andrews.

Noah Moxham was a postdoctoral research fellow at University of Kent’s Centre for the History of Sciences.

Julie McDougall-Waters was a postdoctoral research fellow on the “Publishing the Philosophical Transactions” project at the University of St. Andrews.

Camilla Mørk Røstvik is a professor of art history at the University of Aberdeen..

About the Book
Modern scientific research has changed so much since Isaac Newton’s day: it is more professional, collaborative and international, with more complicated equipment and a more diverse community of researchers. Yet the use of scientific journals to report, share and store results is a thread that runs through the history of science from Newton’s day to ours. Scientific journals are now central to academic research and careers. Their editorial and peer-review processes act as a check on new claims and findings, and researchers build their careers on the list of journal articles they have published. The journal that reported Newton’s optical experiments still exists. First published in 1665, and now fully digital, the Philosophical Transactions has carried papers by Charles Darwin, Dorothy Hodgkin and Stephen Hawking. It is now one of eleven journals published by the Royal Society of London.

Unrivalled insights from the Royal Society’s comprehensive archives have enabled the authors to investigate more than 350 years of scientific journal publishing. The editorial management, business practices and financial difficulties of the Philosophical Transactions and its sibling Proceedings reveal the meaning and purpose of journals in a changing scientific community. At a time when we are surrounded by calls to reform the academic publishing system, it has never been more urgent that we understand its history.

‘In this study, four historians recount and analyse the society’s publishing history up to 2015 — including the journal Proceedings, launched in 1831 — with erudition and acuteness.’

Summary of Introduction (excerpt)
In 2015, the Royal Society of London celebrated the 350th anniversary of the Philosophical Transactions, the world’s first and longest-running scientific journal. In this book, we use the Society’s archives to uncover the story of how the Transactions developed from a speculative commercial publication in 1665 to one of the most influential learned societies in the 19th century. In 1665, Henry Oldenburg proposed a way of disseminating and verifying new scientific discoveries. Philosophical Transactions established the four principles still in use by the almost 30,000 science journals today. But science publishing has remained almost unchanged until a few decades ago and the introduction of the internet.

Recognising this is important not just for historians, but for all those involved in thinking about academic journals. The editor of the Philosophical Transactions, published in 1665, was William Oldenburg, an unpaid administrator for the fledgling Royal Society. The journal’s subtitle revealed that he aimed to report ‘the Present Undertakings, Studies and Labours of the Ingenious in Many Considerable Parts of the World’. It lacked most of the functions that are now associated with scientific journals, such as pre-publication peer review and archival record-keeping.

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