Workshop: Editors and the Editing of Scientific Periodicals, 1760-1910

Editors and the Editing of Scientific Periodicals:
Constructing Knowledge and Identity, 1760s-1910s

University of St Andrews, January 18th & 19th, 2018
School of History, South Street, St Andrews

Organised by Anna Gielas ( and Aileen Fyfe

Scientific periodicals have been important means for scholars to communicate observations and findings, claim credit, and build communities since the late seventeenth century. From the 1770s in the German-speaking lands and in France, and from the 1790s in Britain, a flood of new periodicals were established. In contrast to the long-running periodicals sponsored by learned institutions, these new periodicals were independent, and had to try to make their way on a commercial footing. This workshop will analyse the rich variety of editorial processes and strategies used in different places, times and contexts.

Speakers include: Jon Topham (Leeds), Sally Frampton (Oxford), Dominik Huenniger (Goettingen), Martin Gierl (Goettingen), Noah Moxham (Kent), Marco Segala (L’Aquila), Adam Dunn and Aileen Fyfe (St Andrews), Matthew Wale (Leicester), Bill Jenkins (Edinburgh), Jenny Beckman (Uppsala), Alrun Schmidtke (Humbold Uni).

The workshop will begin at 13:45 on Thursday 18th, and end at 18:30 on Friday 19th January.  A draft programme is available. There will be an organised dinner on Thursday evening.

Anyone interested in attending should contact Anna Gielas (email above); there will be a modest registration fee to cover catering.

A map showing the location of the School of History’s buildings on South Street (#66) is downloadable as PDF: the Mediaeval History reception is number 71 South Street (with columns and a little portico), but best to enter via number 65 (open archway with iron gate: look for our workshop poster!)

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.


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.


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.

[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): (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: (Accessed 26 January 2017).

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

An Art Historian in Philosophical Transactions

Most people who have dabbled in art history, have come across Sir Ernst Hans Josef Gombrich (1909-2001). The OM CBE FBA awarded Austrian-born art historian, who became a naturalised British citizen during the Second World War and spent most of his life in the UK, grew to be one of the most important figures of the field. He did this by being a prolific author, speaker, and influential public intellectual. His most beloved and well-known books include The Story of Art, a beautiful introduction to Western art, and Art and Illusion, a groundbreaking thesis about the psychology of perception and visual culture. There is no denying his importance in the humanities, but why did he choose to publish a paper in the Philosophical Transactions in 1966?

The sixties were a time of immense change for art history, as elsewhere. Sociologists, feminists, and postcolonial theorists reshaped the methodologies, language, concerns, and debates of the discipline. Gombrich, who was born in 1909, was a pioneer in terms of theory. His important contribution to the study of perception in art, Art and Illusion from 1960, would have a profound effect on aesthetics, semiotics and other postmodern fields of study. The book was one of Gombrich’s many journeys into scientific language and interdisciplinary studies. In it he argued for the importance of ‘schemata’ in exploring and analyzing works of art, posing the theory that artists learn to represent the world through their knowledge of previous artists. Thus, Gombrich wrote, representation is always done using stereotyped figures and methods. The book made Gombrich more known than ever before (he was already relatively well known for the popular and best-selling Story of Art), but art historical historiography has generally overlooked how this fame stretched beyond the humanities and into the sciences. What makes the Philosophical Transactions paper so interesting, is that it is not only a theoretical exploration of ritual in art, but also includes political material and thoughts on the Cold War.

By the time Gombrich decided to get involved with the Royal Society, he had been debating and discussing Art and Illusion for six years. His writings had already started to have an effect on art history teaching at universities, introducing the idea of a more ‘scientific’ approach to the study of artworks. Previously, art history had been largely based on the idea of connoisseurship, the canon of masterpieces (by mostly white male artists), and the idea of the ‘zeitgeist‘. Gombrich famously argued in Story of Art: “There is really no such thing as Art. There are only artists.” His ideas were grounded in the theories of the philosopher of science Karl Popper, and were thus also connected to the sciences.

The Philosophical Transactions have, throughout their over 350-year long history, usually been a place for science and natural history. It is therefore odd that Gombrich, however well versed in the philosophy of science, should chose to publish anything with the Royal Society. The paper is written in a relaxed, unpretentious style, with few specialist words and an engaging tone. Gombrich was recognized as a great and popular writer, who strove to make complex theories and concepts readily available for any reader; from child to specialist, from students to professors. The tone is in this instance extra casual, probably because the paper is a transcript of an oral presentation. He starts: “I hope I may dispense with the ritual of an introduction and plunge in medias res…” Little information survives of the meeting, but an educated guess would be that Gombrich read his paper aloud sometime during 1965 or 1966, before publishing an edited version with added bibliography in December of 1966. The Royal Society had many meetings were papers were read out, in fact this was the basis of the historical Philosophical Transactions, and still takes up some space in the modern journal. However, unusually, Gombrich’s paper was either not peer reviewed, or it was sent out to another specialist body during the year. Either way, no peer review report survives in the Royal Society’s archives.

The paper itself, “Ritualized Gesture and Expression in Art” is symptomatic of the type of ideas that interested Gombrich at the time. The idea of ritual, expression and emotion was a large part of his understanding of schemes and styles in art and visual culture. The paper is richly illustrated with black and white images from the history of Western Art, in order to illustrate his arguments about stylized and ritualized expressions in art. His examples include Käthe Kollwitz’ anti-war posters, van Eyck’s “God the Father”, Russian Revolutionary propaganda posters, details of sculptors, Egyptian art, and Rembrandt’s sketches.

This wide variety of art spanning decades all serve to underline the idea that artists copy each other (knowingly or not) and ritualize movements and emotions. He argues that although most viewers understand the emotion of a raised fist in a Russian Revolutionary propaganda poster, few of us would actually use that movement if pressed to act the same way (i.e. lead a revolution, as the figure of Lenin seems to be doing in the example). The illustration of the raised fist is thus both a symbol we understand with empathy, and a unrealistic representation of an imagined reality:

This raises the whole vexed question of the relation between the gestures we see represented in art and those performed in real life. It is a vexed question for two reasons, one because in many cases art is our principal source of information about gestures and secondly because art arrests movement and is therefore restricted in the gestures it can show unambiguously. You cannot paint even the shaking of the head we use in the West for ‘no’.

In his paper, Gombrich thus proposed as his principle hypothesis that as far as gesture is concerned the schema used by artists is generally pre-formed in ritual, and that art and ritual cannot be separated. One might think of the concept of simulacra too; a copy which is not true to the original, or which creates a fake sense of reality. Gombrich used the example of applause (imagine here being in the audience of his lecture at the Royal Society!):

We may be happy in the ritual of applause at the end of a lecture or concert, but when we stand face to face with the performer we are bothered to hear everyone say, ‘thank you for a most interesting lecture’. We are, precisely because it is a ritual and we know that it is performed after good and bad lectures alike. We try as we approach the lecturer to make our voice more charged with symptoms of sincere emotion, we press his hand in raptures, but even these tricks are quickly ritualized and most of us give up and lapse into inarticulacy.

As usual, Gombrich was not only talking about himself here, but making a wider point about the dangers of ritual. The Judas Kiss, he reminds us, looks like a loving embrace, but is in fact an attack. Similarly, the waves and smiles and movements of our politicians make it difficult to spot actual emotion. In art history, such aesthetic problems had usually been treated as theoretical splits between ‘sincere’ versus ‘theatrical’ expressions. But Gombrich argued against this depoliticized view: “Both the rhetorical and the anti-rhetorical, the ritualistic and the anti-ritualistic are in a sense conventions. Indeed what else could they be, if they are to serve communication between human beings?” If we believe too much in ritual, whether in art or politics, Gombrich reminded his readers, we stand in danger of loosing creativity:

It may have been liberating for Jackson Pollock to break all bonds and pour his paint on the canvas, but once everybody does it, it becomes a ritual in the modern sense of the term, a mere trick than can be learned and gone through without emotion. In trying to avoid this dilemma we get anti art and anti-anti-art, till we are all in a spin of ritualistic innovation for its own sake.

Again, Gombrich had a wider, political point to make, which comes across clearly in his conclusion:

The dilemmas that underlie this crisis are real enough, I believe. We cannot return to the anonymous ritual of mass emotion as we are enjoined to do on the other side of the Iron Curtain. But we can, I hope, face these issues and learn from behavior that neither the total sacrifice of convention nor the revival of collective ritual can answer the needs of what we have come to mean by art.

Unfortunately, no records of the debate that followed at the Royal Society survive. But we can perhaps imagine what the attending scientists and fellows would have made of the passionate art critic as he laid out his scientifically inspired theory about emotions, ritual and politics. Whatever may have happened after Gombrich received his ‘ritualistic’ applause, we can at least celebrate with genuine curiosity this interdisciplinary moment in the history of the Philosophical Transactions.


Women and the History of Peer Review at the Royal Society


Following the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act of 1919, the Royal Society nominated and elected its first female Fellows in 1945. But long before this female authors had published in the Society’s Philosophical Transactions and the Proceedings. There had been a steady, small trickle of female authors since the 1890s. They would often publish with husbands or colleagues, but there was also a noticeable group of solo female authors, often tied to the early women’s right movement.

Until 1990 (there was a brief experiment in 1974), authors needed to go through a fellow in order to have their paper officially communicated, reviewed and published at the Society. The official role of a communicator was thus held only by men for most of the Society’s history. By the 1960s crystallographer Kathleen Lonsdale and biochemist Dorothy Hodgkin were the most active female referees and occasional communicators of papers at the Society, having been elected to the Fellowship in 1945 and 1947 respectively, and having since been joined by almost 200 other women.

Despite this expansion, male referees sometimes included their personal opinions about female authors in their referee reports. Some female authors were cautioned against being ‘too ambitious’, or for using ‘emotional’ language. The private lives and marriage status of female authors were sometimes discussed too, not in terms of who they published with, but whether they would stay in the field after starting a family. Comments like these would be cut and pasted by the Secretary and then sent to authors, so that they did not see the original report or such remarks. Although opinions such as these were of their time, comments about female author’s work would sometimes be judged along these lines until the 1980s, when the referee reports became more formalized and professional in tone.

Despite this, sexism in referee reports only occurred in a small number of cases. On a whole, men and women reviewed each other with great respect, often adding pages of extra comments to help the author get their manuscript out. This collegiate tone is reflected in referee reports throughout the twentieth and twenty-first century at the Society. This, along with increasing gender diversity in journal editorial committees, makes the comments about ambition and gender in the past all the more disappointing.

There are still firsts’ happening at the Society in modern decades. Professor Georgina Mace (above, right) and Dame Professor Linda Patridge (above, left) became the first female editors of any Society journal in the 2010s (both of Philosophical Transactions B) and the first female Head of Publishing is on her way in in 2017.

In recent years the Royal Society has started a large and detailed conversation about disability, including producing materials about science and race, disability, caring and parenting work, gender and age.

Follow us on Twitter at @ahrcphiltrans for updates on this topic. We are currently collecting all our gender material for a longer paper about the history of women and publishing at the Royal Society. There’s a lot more to say; – get in touch if you have things to add!

Making the first scientific journal

Today the Royal Society opens an exhibition to celebrate the earliest and longest-running scientific journal in the world. Entitled ‘The Philosophical Transactions: 350 years of Publishing at the Royal Society (1665-2015)’, the display highlights episodes in the history of the Philosophical Transactions, from its beginnings in 1665 when the ‘journal’ was yet to be defined as a genre of scientific publishing, to its continued production in today’s electronic age. Aptly, just yesterday the Society also celebrated its own anniversary, with Fellows gathering together to mark the foundation of the Society on 28 November 1660.


Front covers of the Philosophical Transactions from 1665 and 2010.


The exhibition has been curated by researchers working on a project based at the University of St Andrews, ‘Publishing the Philosophical Transactions: the economic, social and cultural history of a learned journal, 1665-2015’, and by staff at the Royal Society. It marks the start of a series of events at the Society to celebrate the journal turning 350 on 6 March 2015; other activities will include a conference on the history of science periodical publishing – ‘Publish or Perish? The past, present and future of the scientific journal’  – to be held in March 2015, and a special issue of the Society’s history of science journal, Notes and Records, which will include selected papers from the conference.


Manuscript of James Clerk Maxwell’s ‘A Dynamical Theory of the Electromagnetic Field’ (Royal Society PT/72/7)


Other noteworthy aspects of the 350th year of the Transactions are special issues of the Philosophical Transactions with comments from working scientists on the impact of some of the most important papers published in the journal throughout its existence. One highlight will be James Clerk Maxwell’s 1865 work on electromagnetism, in which he first proposed that light is an electromagnetic wave – the manuscript of this paper is featured in the exhibition. The Society is also producing several short films that take a more sidelong look at the history of the journal, focusing on papers whose importance might not have been recognised in their own time but which gave rise to questions or to new fields of enquiry that are still critical today.


Portrait of Henry Oldenburg, 1668, by Jan van Cleve © The Royal Society


The exhibition begins with the early history of the Transactions, framed by the activities of Henry Oldenburg, polyglot and secretary to the Royal Society from 1663 to 1677, who spent a brief period in the Tower of London in 1667 for suspected treason, as a result of his receipt and translation of foreign correspondence during the Anglo-Dutch War. It was Oldenburg’s skill as translator, however, and his connections to men of science across Europe that provided the content for his nascent journal, the Transactions, in 1665, and created a form of print whose flexibility, diversity of content and speed of transmission immediately captured the imagination of seventeenth century ‘natural philosophers’ and sparked a revolution in science communication. The Transactions continued to be a prestigious publication into the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, and was particularly important as practitioners of science became increasingly eager in the nineteenth century to see their discoveries published rapidly and to secure the credit for their inventions.

In addition to documenting the notable successes of the journal, the exhibition also brings to light its survival in the face of criticism in the eighteenth century from a disenfranchised few outside the Society, and reform in the nineteenth century as a result of unrest among the Fellowship. Interwoven with the social, political and cultural circumstances of the journal’s development are the stories of men and women of science who sought publication in the journal. Their experiences reveal how the editorial and reviewing processes evolved from Oldenburg’s sole editorial power, through decision-making by committee, to the use of written referees’ reports and discipline-based advisory editors. For example, the display tells how Charles Darwin faced criticism in 1839 from his referee, Adam Sedgwick, for the unnecessary wordiness in his paper on the parallel roads of Glen Roy; the paper was passed by the Council of the Society and was in fact the only paper Darwin ever published in the Transactions (though he later acted as a referee). The exhibition raises the question of how peer review as we know it today developed from the reviewing practices in place in science periodicals in the nineteenth century.

The exhibition also shows how the Transactions’ contribution to scientific communication long ran at a loss. It was only in the late 1940s that the journal’s income consistently exceeded expenditure. The Society’s Publishing section, which now hosts ten journals in total, has grown to include academic editors, commissioning editors and other professional members of a production team of twenty. While today the journal is delivered largely electronically, the display recalls the manual printing techniques on which the journal relied in the pre-electronic age.

The exhibition ultimately discusses how the Royal Society and its Publishing division, including Philosophical Transactions, continue to be at the forefront of debates about science publishing in an ongoing communication and information revolution. It will run until June 2015.


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