How international was the Philosophical Transactions?

The early Transactions under the first secretary and editor, Henry Oldenburg, had a strong international orientation. Oldenburg was a polyglot who relied on his international networks to provide information on scientific developments around the world, which he published in the Transactions. The international nature of Transactions changed considerably in the nineteenth century. The number of submission was growing, but in the mid to late nineteenth century, the majority of these submissions came from British Fellows (rather than non-Fellows). The number of authors who were not Fellows increased as the twentieth century progressed, but authors were still predominantly British. The reason for this was that since the early nineteenth century, the Royal Society and its Transactions was no longer one of a few options for authors of scientific papers. Those conducting research on the continent were now more likely to submit their papers to their national learned societies or to commercial journals published in their native language.

What is the role of refereeing?

Refereeing is a form of gatekeeping, or a way to manage what papers get published. It relies on the voluntary work of individuals who are thought to be knowledgeable in the topic of a paper under consideration. The Royal Society’s gatekeeping practices have not solely relied on refereeing as a way to safeguard against publishing papers thought unworthy of consideration by the Society and its members. From 1752 (?) all papers to be published had to be read before the Society. Only papers received from Fellows were accepted. A non-Fellow could ask a Fellow to communicate a paper for them. Communicators were therefore responsible for ensuring that submitted papers were suitable. All papers that were ‘read’ at a meeting of the Society were mentioned in the report of that meeting in Proceedings. So the Communicators role was very important to ensure appropriate papers got through. Even before reading, the Secretaries, and sometimes the President, decided if a paper was appropriate for reading. The Society’s ‘rejection rate’ – in terms of papers formally received and read, but not subsequently published in either periodical – was, consequently, very low (usually, below 10%). Despite the role of communicators, and the President and Secretaries, and the Committee of Papers, in 1832 the Society added an extra element to the process of choosing papers. Papers were to be sent to at least one, later two, individuals (referees) who were to be Fellows of the Society, in order for them to write reports on their suitability for the Transactions. These reports were then set before the Committee of Papers who decided on the outcome of papers. Papers were either published in Transactions, or not published (thus appearing in Proceedings only). The use of referees was instigated as a result of a series of criticisms the Society was facing over how the Committee of Papers chose papers to be published in Transactions. Referees presented a way for the Society to rely on individuals who were considered knowledgeable in the topic covered by a paper. Refereeing became standard practice, increasingly relying on two individuals. From the mid-nineteenth century, refereeing was increasingly used to allow for revisions to be made to papers, rather than simply as a process to protect the Society from criticism of unfair judgement on papers. Papers for the Society’s publication from 1830, Proceedings, were not systematically referred until much later in the twentieth century. In fact, refereeing was not widespread among many other publishers. It was largely used by learned Societies, commercial publishers relying on the expertise of the named editor(s), or on close acquaintances. On in the 1960s and 70s was refereeing adopted by commercial publishers, eventually becoming “peer review” as we know it today.

Who edited the Philosophical Transactions?

For most of its 350 years of existence, the Royal Society’s Philosophical Transactions had no named editor. Only in the late twentieth century were editorial positions assigned. Yet, throughout its long history the Transactions was almost always managed by one or more of the Secretaries to the Society. As the ‘advertisement’ in Transactions for 1752 stated: ‘the printing of them [Transactions] was always, from time to time, the single act of the respective Secretaries’ (Phil Trans 1751, 47, Advertisement, unpagenated). This tradition started with Henry Oldenburg, who was Secretary in 1665 when he produced the first issue of the Transactions. Oldenburg was the proprietor and editor, paying for the Transactions from his own pocket. After him, his successive secretaries carried on the tradition of the running the Transactions, without direct financial support from the Society, although often operating out of the Society’s rooms and receiving an honorarium as Secretary. Only after 1752 did the Society take official responsibility for the Transactions. The Society was facing criticism over its running and contents, despite not being officially associated with it. The decision was made to claim ownership in order to control it more directly. Secretaries continued to take charge of the journal, despite there being little direct instruction to. The definition of the secretaries’ duties in the statutes of the Society focused on arranging and keeping the records for Society meetings, and dealing with its correspondence, with just a brief mention of ‘the charge (under the direction of the Committee of Papers) of printing the Philosophical Transactions and correcting the press’ (Record of the Royal Society, 194?, Statutes for 1847, p.??). One of the most influential, in addition to Oldenburg in the seventeenth century, was Charles Blagden, who worked closely with the President, Joseph Banks, in preparing the Transactions in the eighteenth century. Presidents had varying degrees of involvement, but by the mid nineteenth century they rarely took much interest in publishing, except by default as members of the Committee of Papers. Another important secretary-editor was physicist and mathematician George Gabriel Stokes, who was Secretary for thirty-one years in the mid to late nineteenth century. During this time he moulded refereeing into a process that involved revision, rather than simply using it as a way to protect the Society from claims of unfair practice. Stokes was close to a named editor, calling himself the ‘editor of the Transactions’. Yet, he still operated within the Society’s collective editing model; the Committee of Papers still had to be consulted on publishing decisions.

1934: Questioning the quality of paper, printing, and engraving

Printing the Society’s publications fell to a relatively small number of printers in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The Society tended to stick with a printer for several decades before changing, sometimes in order to get a reduced price, or on some occasions to receive better quality productions; the interplay between cost and quality was never clear cut and was often complicated. It is thus significant that in 1934 the Council of the Society appointed a Publications Committee to enquire into and report on the paper, printing and engraving of the Society’s publications. The Committee’s report was based on considerable research into the production processes and materials used for the Society’s publications by the Committee members. As indicated, this was all based on interviews with printers, paper-merchants, and event visits to the production sites in some cases. The report sent to Council addressed paper quality for text and images; the quality of blocks for printing images; processes used for printing and engraving; types of ink; the quality of wrappers for binding publications; and typographical styles.

As well as suggesting that the portraits for obituaries should now be done by the photo-litho-offset process (cheaper than photogravure process), the Committee suggested better quality paper should be used for the Society’s publications, including for printing images, which would cost an extra £150 per annum for text and 20-25% more for images. In fact the Committee were privy to knowledge that there had been complaints (presumably from authors) that the reproduction of images was unsatisfactory. The problem was partly related to bad printing, for which the Society’s printer of 56 years, Harrison and Sons, was responsible. But bad printing blocks were also to blame, as well as poor quality drawings. Yet, Harrisons ‘frankly admitted that some of the printing has been unsatisfactory, and “would assure us that every care will be taken to maintain a high standard of production”’. With Harrisons’ assurance, and a promised 7-8% reduction in costs for the Society, Harrisons were kept on as printer, but the ‘quality of their work’ was to be reviewed a few months later. The following year saw a permanent Publications Committee formed to meet annually to discuss and report on the text, paper and printing of publications.

The dissatisfaction with Harrisons is perhaps unsurprising when we realize that Harrisons was not particularly skilled in scientific printing. It is known most for the printing of H. M. stamps, and for acting as official printer to a number of government departments [ref to Harrisons biog.]. In this way it contrasted with the Society’s previous printer, Taylor and Francis, which was a major printer-publisher of scientific print throughout much of the nineteenth century. By transferring printing from Taylor to Harrisons in 1877, the Society was compromising quality for the reduced cost that Harrisons, as a much larger printer, could offer. But by 1934, the Society was beginning to question whether the quality of printing offered by Harrisons was sufficient. In fact, despite continued struggles with the rising cost of publishing, the Society adopted the Publications Committee’s somewhat costlier recommendations, showing that quality trumped cost in this case.

Even though the Society had stuck with Harrisons for almost sixty years, by 1937, in fact, the Society had moved printing once again, this time to the Cambridge University Press. Cambridge University Press had considerable experience printing scientific books by its University lecturers, and could meet Harrisons costs.

Source: CMP/14, 5 July 1934, p. 151-153, Royal Society Archives, London.

What is the role of the Council of the Royal Society?

The earliest statutes (or laws) of the Royal Society in 1663 (just three years after the first meeting of the Society) referred to the election of the ‘Council and Officers’. The Council was to consist of eleven members. These members included an elected President, two Secretaries, Treasurer, and Vice-President, as well as ordinary members. The Council was to oversee the activities of the Society, and to govern according to the statutes. Council meetings were held weekly throughout the Society’s season (November to November), with a long break in the summer months. Before 1752, the Council was not officially associated with the Philosophical Transactions, which was started by its Secretary, Henry Oldenburg, in 1665. It did, however, engage with Oldenburg on the publishing of the journal, even aiding its production inadvertently by honorary payment to Oldenburg as Secretary, who was solely responsible for production costs. Yet, in January 1752 George Parker, the Earl of Macclesfield and one of the Society’s Vice-Presidents, introduced a set of proposals that would formally establish the Transactions as a Royal Society publication, run ‘for the sole use and benefit of this Society’ and under its financial and editorial control (RS JBO/22 pp. 22-3, 23 January 1752). This transformation meant that the Council’s interest and involvement in the Transactions was now official. The editing of the journal was to be done directly by the Council, acting as the new ‘Committee of Papers’: ‘it was thought advisable, that a Committee of their [the Society’s] Members should be appointed to reconsider the papers read before them, and select out of them such, as they should judge most proper for publication in the future Transactions; which was accordingly done upon the 26 of March 1752’ (Phil Trans 1751, 47, Advertisement, unpagenated). The Society was adopting a collective editorship model of editing that meant there was no direct responsibility on the President or Secretaries. These reforms followed the publication of a series of brutal satires on the Society that had flagged the Society’s editorial process as arbitrary and lacking in transparency. The Society was keen to maintain neutrality, and to avoid responsibility for any claims made in its journal.

In the first volume published under the new editorial regime, the Society included an advertisement that would be printed until the late twentieth century. The statement made clear that the Society held no responsibility for facts given in its journal: ‘it is an established rule of the Society, to which they will always adhere, never to give their opinion, as a body, upon any subject, either of nature or art, that comes before them’ (Phil Trans 1751, 47, Advertisement, unpagenated). The Committee of Papers met weekly. They voted on papers by closed ballot. This was to ensure there could be no claims of unfair practice in choosing papers. There was therefore no discussion of papers, at least not officially; but, of course, papers were likely discussed over coffee or dinner among Council members.

Over time, the editorial process changed slightly. By the mid nineteenth century, the Council decided that papers for Transactions should be sent to at least one referee, and later two, who was often on the Committee of Papers (Council), at least initially. In addition, in 1896 the Sectional Committees were established to reduce the burden of the Council by administering papers, selecting referees, collating referee reports, and reporting back to the Committee of Papers with recommendations for publication. The Council rarely questioned Sectional Committees’ decisions on papers. As a result, the Council became less central to the publishing of the Transactions, and the Society’s other journal, the Proceedings. After 1896, the Council was largely rubber stamping decisions made by the Secretary and Chairman of the respective Sectional Committees. By 1868, the Committee of Papers was dismantled, to be replaced by an editorial board. The editorial board was chaired by the named editor of each journal.

1925: Printed referee report forms (used since the 1890s)

In the 1890s, the Royal Society had introduced a set of 7 questions for referees, in the hope of structuring the reports (which were sometimes extremely long-winded!). These were originally hand-written into the covering letter, but were quickly turned into a printed standardised report form, sent to each referee with the manuscript to be evaluated. Referees were encouraged to return their reports within 14 days – a deadline that was routinely breached.

By the early twentieth century, these report forms included clear instructions for referees, including advising them of the confidentiality attached to the papers referred to them (see image). It was routine for the author’s name to be written on the form: refereeing was single-blind, not double-blind. At this time referees were always Fellows of the Society (and their names and reports were kept confidential), but the majority of papers came from those outside the Fellowship.

The report forms made it possible for a referee to present an extremely succinct report, as was the case with Professor H. Lamb’s report on this 1925 paper by ‘Mrs. H. Ayrton’. Hertha Ayrton’s work in electrical engineering had previously been published with and exibited to the Society, but her status as a married woman had prevented the Royal Society accepting a fellowship nomination certificate in her name in 1902. (Her husband was also a well-known electrical engineer, and Fellow of the Royal Society, William Ayrton.)

The printed forms were also an attempt to standardize the refereeing process, or to at least advise referees on how to write an effective report. The Society never officially instructed referees until this date; referees were automatically expected to know how to write a report. Guidance on this continued to develop. By 1926, ‘Instructions to Referees’ was part of the Society’s Standing Orders.

Source: Box RR, 1925-1926, Royal Society Archives, London.

Who could submit a paper to the Society?

Until 1990, to submit a paper to the Society one had to be a Fellow or be acquainted with a Fellow who was willing to communicate a paper on your behalf. The communicators’ role was therefore the first check whether a paper was appropriate for the Society, both to be read and potentially to be published. The Society was therefore not accessible to everyone.

Potential authors who were not (yet) Fellows needed to find a sponsor or patron among those who were Fellows. Prior to the 1847 reforms, such patronage links were often social or familial, and communicating a paper implied vouching for the social credentials of the author. After the reforms, with an increased emphasis on active scientific research, Fellows tended to communicate papers for other people in their fields – junior colleagues or, latterly, PhD students and research fellows – and the act of ‘communicating’ a paper came to imply approval of its contents.  By 1900, over half of the papers submitted to the Royal Society were authored by non-Fellows, all of whom had managed to find a contact at the Society to submit it.

This system was clearly easier to navigate for those who were well-networked in British scientific circles, but some international authors (especially colonial authors) and some women certainly did manage to submit papers to the Society.

The earliest paper by a woman is a short letter in 1787 from Caroline Herschel to Charles Blagden describing her observations of a comet. Herschel was acquainted with Blagden, then the Society’s secretary, through her astronomer brother William (FRS). The mathematician Mary Somerville also had a paper published in the Transactions in 1826, but it was not until the 1880s that a small but steady trickle of papers by women were submitted. These women were mostly either related to Fellows, or else graduates of the Cambridge women’s colleges (and thus connected to Cambridge’s scientific networks).

No woman was able to act as a communicator for other authors’ papers until the first female fellows were elected in 1945 (the biochemist Marjory Stevenson, and the crystallographer Kathleen Lonsdale).

1920: Emergency Finance Committee

In 1920, the Society was once again anxious about the cost of publishing, and the ongoing deficit in the publishing account. This year it was particularly heightened owing to the aftermath of the war, which meant increases to printing costs and salaries, whilst the income of the Society remained static. As a result, the Council appointed an Emergency Finance Committee.

Several Fellows were appointed committee members, including James Jeans, who was current Secretary of the Society (1919-1929). The suggestions to counter the impending deficit on the Society’s general account that were adopted by Council included: transferring unexpended balances from government research grants to the general account; raising Fellows’ annual subscriptions to £5 (from £4); increasing new Fellows’ entrance fees to £20, (from £10; £1 covered by Fee Reduction Fund), £10 of which to be covered by the Society’s Fee Reduction Fund; allowing Fellows to receive A or B of Transactions and Proceedings only (except when approved by Council), rather than both A and B; raising the cost of public subscription to the Society’s publications by 50%; cutting the list of institutions receiving Society publications for free; limiting the expenditure for the Library Committee (for purchasing books); and making ‘an appeal to private generosity’. One of the biggest pressure on the Society’s finances was printing. This was partly owing to the work done on the International Catalogue, and on the Catalogue of Scientific papers – both of which involved collating a record of scientific papers alphabetically [or chronologically?], and were extremely expensive in terms of printing. Yet, the Society’s journals were also to blame. The Emergency Committee therefore suggested that ‘every possible economy be effected in the Society’s publications consistent with their maintaining their present scope and character’. The Society was unwilling to drastically change the Transactions, for instance by imposing strict page limits; this was seen as an unnecessary risk to the purpose and scope of the journal.

This episode in the Society’s history is important, not because of the effect these changes had on income – the Society continued to lose money on its publications – but, rather, because it signified a slight change in the Society’s attitude to finances. While the Society had historically relied almost completely on donations and grants in order to cover costs, never paying much attention to its income stream, it was now attempting to increase its income by raising Fellows’ contributions and the sale price of its journals. The results were not enough to propel the Society into an income-generating model, but they were a sign that some at the Royal Society were willing to think more commercially about the Society’s publishing activities. Commercial agendas would not have any great effect on the Society’s finances until much later in the twentieth century.

Source: CMB/86b Emergency Finance report, 20 July 1920, Royal Society Archives, London.

Crossword puzzles and gee-whizz factor: The Royal Society and BA journal Science and Public Affairs in the 1980s and 90s

The history of the Royal Society’s publications in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, has been one of immense fiscal growth.[2] From a publication system that did not concern itself much with the finances of its journals, the Society is today concerned with optimizing its “products.”[3] Like the histories of so many scholarly journals in these decades, the Society’s journey from benevolent publisher to professionalised semi-commercial status has followed the pace and direction set by commercial publishers in the West. It is a history of changing ideologies and perspectives, of experiments and risk-taking, but it is also a story of exploring public engagement through publishing. Today, the Royal Society actively tweets and emails about its published material, ensuring large coverage in the mainstream media. But it was before this time, that the seeds of its modern interest in communicating with the public were sown through the experiment that was Science and Public Affairs, a journal with direct support from COPUS. In this essay I explore the behind-the-scenes story of the journal, edited by Sir Walter Bodmer, which became a magazine.

A new journal and a makeover

As the Society explored commercial ventures in the late 1990s, it had yet to start competing by way of creating new products. This became a problem in the late-twentieth century, as commercial publishers flooded the market with exactly this.[4] The last time the Society had created new publications had been in the 1930s, first with the Biographical Memoirs of the Fellows of the Royal Society (containing mostly obituaries and annually published) in 1932, and the science historical journal Notes and Records in 1938 (containing mostly history about the Society and its fellows). Both were aimed at the fellowship, and did not carry scientific content. As the millennium approached the Society became more interested in competition, and started to explore new product avenues. Like before, it did so with a non-scientific journal, but this time it was aimed towards the general public and policy-makers. The first new product to be created since the 1930s was Science and Public Affairs (SPA) in the mid-eighties. At first SPA was a depositary-style journal for material that did not go into the Society’s other journals for various reasons, and was published jointly with the British Association for the Advancement of Science (BAAS; British Science Association since 2009). Its first editor was Bodmer, who had chaired the committee that wrote the Royal Society report “The Public Understanding of Science” (sometimes known as the Bodmer report) in 1985.[5] At the time, a committee that was semi-independent from the Society’s Council, the Publications Management Committee (PMC), oversaw the general development and finances of all the institution’s journals, whereas a dedicated SPA editorial committee met to discuss the future of the journal. It was in the years between 1985 and 1990 that the Society decided to revamp all of its published journals, including editorial processes, finances, staff, and the visual look of each volume. As part of this makeover, it was suggested that SPA could perhaps take on a new role, from small depository journal to glossy magazine for the educated masses.

Not the the New Scientist

The PMC envisaged the new SPA as a widely available publication, possibly even sold through newsagents, a first for any Society publication. Older society publications dated back to the 17th century, when the flagship publication the Philosophical Transactions was first published. Since then, the Transactions had been joined by the shorter-format Proceedings. However, both publications were distinctly research-focused, and developed for and read by academics. The Society had seldom before been concerned with public engagement by way of journal or magazine publishing, which makes the case of SPA so unusual, and possibly is also an explanation for its short-lived status. During discussion of what would become the makeover of SPA, the Publications Management Committee at the Society emphasised “that the intention was not the popularization of science in the sense of New Scientist, but that the journal should be seen more as a quarterly (or, eventually, monthly) review of science, with the emphasis on public affairs.”[6] One slightly sceptical member of the committee stressed the need for impartial factual articles, not based on opinion, for the benefit of major decision-makers. In other words, the Society was willing to take some risks, but not go totally ‘pop’ like the popular science magazines tended to.

Diversity

On a whole, Bodmer accepted the Society’ directions by way of the PMC, but he also sought a lively style to attract readers and did not want to create a house-journal for the Society, which would perhaps have been a more traditional route to take.[7] An eclectic mix of science reviews, policy news, illustrations, glossy photographs, and entertainment followed. In one issue of SPA we can see the diversity on offer in terms of content. Cosmologist (and, later, President of the Royal Society from 2005 till 2010) Sir Martin Rees asked why the media gave a distorted view of science in the editorial, writing: “the media, understandably, tend to highlight the human angle, the politics and the gee-whizz factor.”[8] A mid-career Richard Dawkins was interviewed about the role of philosophy in the selfish gene doctrine. The article “Snap, Crack and Pop” examined “good vibrations from joints” (not of the herbal kind). Two reporters were sent out to explore what happened when 400 children hijacked the Science Museum for a night (chaos, laughter and learning). The issue was crowned by a “COPUS crossword-puzzle.” Except for Lorraine Ward (on the children piece), all the reporters, authors and journalists were male. But the editorial committee of fifteen people included one woman, Ms W. Barnaby, and ten of the twenty-one commissioning editors where female. Published quarterly and priced at £5.25 (or £20 annually) it was the Society’s most gender-balanced, cheap and accessible journal ever.

Science journalism in a learned society

The decision to give SPA a makeover and keep the tone engaging subsequently attracted a new type of editorial assistant to the journal.[9] From a role mainly to do with chasing other people’s work and deadlines, editorial concerns, working with Bodmer, and copy-editing, the editorial assistants whom worked on SPA when it became a magazine often wanted to be or become science journalists. One individual went on to work at the New Scientist, but all disappeared out of the role within two-to-three years. Bodmer remained, working with his enthusiastic editorial assistant to produce an interesting magazine for the lay reader. The only problem was that the editorial assistants also had the responsibility of all of the Society’s other non-scientific and occasional publications. Amongst these were two continuous publications of very different natures; the Biographical Memoirs and the Notes and Records of the Royal Society. The everyday work for each of these outputs thus fell to one person, who more often than not was more drawn to the glamour and contemporary feel of SPA, than the heavy, traditional and institutional nature of the other products. Furthermore, SPA was for sale everywhere (made possible by subsidized finances), whereas the Biographical Memoirs and Notes and Records were aimed towards the fellowship and their interests. For ambitious science journalists, the popular and diverse SPA became an exciting stepping-stone to a writing career.

The end of the Society connection

As SPA continued to circulate and be distributed amongst varied groups interested in scientific news and politics, it garnered more approval from its paternal keeper. In 1991, the responsibility for SPA transferred from the Society’s Publications Management Committee to its own management group, one in a series of steps towards making the magazine more independent.[10] By 1995, the Society and BAAS did some consumer-testing on their magazine, and found that SPA was indeed “highly regarded by recipients”[11]. An impressive 40% of the Society’s own fellowship opted to take SPA in lieu of the traditional journals, Proceedings and Philosophical Transactions.[12] Despite this, the Society was concerned for a number of reasons. Since 1985, the scholarly publishing field had changed enormously, and the Society was now getting serious about acquiring more surplus through its subscription models in line with what commercial publishers were already doing elsewhere. Furthermore, magazine publishing was deemed to be a different world to journal publishing, one in which outfits like Nature and New Scientists were sweeping the market, and becoming competitive on a completely different and unattainable level. Finally, the subsidizing model of SPA was no longer viable and the magazine was defined by the Royal Society to be popular, but too expensive. Worries about finances were thus frontline and centre when the Society decided to let SPA go in the mid-nineties.[13] It was suggested that BAAS could take over SPA entirely, which it did, and the Society has since focused its policy work on more traditional policy papers and public engagement.[14] Responsibility for SPA transferred from the Society to BAAS on four conditions: the journal should be collaborative publication with BAAS, a sponsor should be found to pay for 1,000 free copies, COPUS should agree to provide £10,000 toward the publishing costs for the first year of the new-style publication, and that the design changes should be made by 1992.[15] BAAS and COPUS agreed, and the move was made. Since, the journal changed shape and tone again, but never quite regained the diversity of content it had displayed while run by the Society, BAAS and Bodmer together.

Conclusion

The small decade in which the Royal Society published SPA can tell us something unique about the moment in time when COPUS had a genuine impact on British science. In the eighties, the Royal Society was, and some would argue still is, a traditional boy’s club affair based on tradition, hierarchy and reputation. It was vital in the COPUS movement, as were many of its fellows, but SPA reveals a playful side to the elite institution only made possible by the decades flirtation with the possibility of making science sexy. SPA carried quizzes, interviews and science journalism, and was sold to a wide market in newsstands. Furthermore, it made little to no money for the Society or BAAS, yet was kept going out of what seems to be sheer enthusiasm. Most scholars of publishing or the Royal Society may agree that that moment has now passed. Nothing has been published at the Royal Society without a secure financial plan in place first since the mid-nineties. In fact, publishing is today one of the top sources of surplus for the institution, even as the profit-driven model of scholarly communication is being debated in wider academic communities. Furthermore, the moment in time where the Society published science journalism can also be said to have passed, as policy work and other public engagement projects rooted in education has taken over. The sense of fun that SPA brought with it, however, is not completely gone. Today, the Society’s YouTube channel ‘Objectivity’ showcases popular videos of treasures from the institution’s archive, and children often visit the building for a range of events (chaos, laughter and learning). The legacy of SPA can best be seen in science journalism, and although we may mourn the decade where the Society genuinely wanted to connect to the lay-reader through a magazine, I think we can all agree to be glad that the time of COPUS-crossword puzzles is gone.
Notes

[1] School of History, University of St Andrews, UK.

[2] This paper is based on research from the AHRC-funded project ’Publishing the Philosophical Transactions ’ at the University of Manchester. Project website (with forthcoming information about publications and data sets): https://arts.st-andrews.ac.uk/philosophicaltransactions/ (Accessed 4 April 2017).

[3] Journals start to be described in these words in the late nineties. Meeting of the publishing board (14 January 1998), PUB/10 in Royal Society Publishing Board minutes (1996-2015), box CMB/417, Royal Society archives.

[4] Derek J. de Solla Price, in his landmark study on the growth of scientific publishing, estimated an exponential growth rate of about 5.6% and a doubling time of thirteen years from the 1950s. D.J. De Solla Price, Science since Babylon (Yale University Press, 1975).

[5] A COPUS grant scheme was set up in 1987, funded by the Office of Science and Technology and the Royal Society, with the last rounds of grants in 2003/4 (25 grants were awarded). COPUS was discontinued in 2002.

[6] Publications Management Committee minutes (28 November 1989), file C/230 (89), box PMC/26(89), Royal Society archives.

[7] PMC meeting (16 May 1990), CMB/367.

[8] Martin Rees, ”The Big Picture”, Science and Public Affairs , Autumn 1994, p.3.

[9] Interview with Chris Purdon, former member of publishing staff at the Society, by Røstvik, via Skype, 12 April 2017.

[10] Publication Management Committee meeting (20 June 1991), box CMB/367, Royal Society archives.

[11] The Royal Society Publication Review Group, final report, p. 9, folder C/31(95), Royal Society archives.

[12] Publication Management Committee meeting (28 November 1989), file C/230 (89) in box PMC/26(89), Royal Society archives.

[13] Publications Management Committee minutes (28 November 1990), file C/214(90), box PMC/29(90), Royal Society archives.

[14] The Royal Society’s Policy webpages: https://royalsociety.org/topics-policy/ (Accessed 26 January 2017).

[15] Publications Management Committee minutes: 20 June 1991, file C/123(91), box PMC/32(91), Royal Society archives.

1914: Proceedings recognised as a research journal

Throughout the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the Philosophical Transactions was the Society’s only publishing organ. This changed in 1832 when the Proceedings was established, first as a retrospective record of all papers published by the Society, and then soon after as a record of all papers read before the Society. Thus, if an author got their paper read before the Society, they were guaranteed a short abstract published in Proceedings. The Proceedings, however, was at times the location for full research papers, usually those too short to be considered for Transactions but longer than abstract length. This became an increasing practice towards the end of the nineteenth century. By 1914, the Standing Orders of the Royal Society were changed to reflect the different purpose of Proceedings. Now it would contain abstracts of papers published in the Philosophical Transactions, but the main content was papers ‘of approved merit not more than twenty-four pages in length, and not containing numerous elaborate illustrations’. The Philosophical Transactions was for ‘papers of approved merit which contain numerous or elaborate illustrations, or which cannot without detriment to their scientific value be condensed into the space reserved for papers in the Proceedings’. The other distinction was that papers for Transactions should be sent to two referees, while Proceedings papers <24 pages in length could be passed for printing without being referred.

The new Standing Orders simply formalised what had been the usual practice for several decades. They also marked, however, an important development which meant that the Proceedings was increasingly an attractive alternative to Transactions because of its shorter lag-time between submission and print due to the speedier decision making process that generally avoided referees. Some scientists were keen to take advantage of it, choosing the Proceedings to publish papers they would have submitted to Transactions fifty years earlier. In reality, some Proceedings papers were refereed, and increasingly so as the twentieth century progressed [some figures from Aileen’s peere paper?]. But initially, Proceedings remained less tied to the long refereeing process. The Proceedings was also attractive because it appeared in print more frequently than the Transactions, which was published biannually. By the 1920s Proceedings was monthly, although the publishing date remained unfixed. This meant that a paper could be submitted, read (even just its title), and sent to the printers within a few days, available in print within a few weeks, rather than a few months as was often the case with Transactions papers. The Transactions was therefore no longer the Society’s main publishing organ; the Proceedings was becoming a popular site for speedier publication. While the Transactions was attractive to authors because of its elaborate illustrations, the Proceedings provided a way to publish with the Society without sacrificing speedier publication.

Source: CMP/10, 21 May 1914, p. 428-440, Royal Society Archives, London.