How did the Society deal with increasing specialization?

Throughout the nineteenth century the number of people conducting scientific research, or working in a scientific job, was increasing rapidly. One of the impacts on the Society was the greater volume of papers received for publication in its Transactions. At the same time, the papers submitted increasingly covered a greater variety of specialist subjects. The Royal Society was a general scientific society, publishing a general science publication. In an attempt to reflect the specialization of science, the Transactions was split in 1887 into two series. The A side would contain papers in the physical sciences, and the B side would include biological papers. This split was significant but the Society was far from publishing a specialist journal. Less than ten years later, the Society was struggling to respond to the effects of specialization. The Council acting as the Committee of Papers was supposed to be able to judge, with the assistance of referees, whether a paper should be published or not. In reality, the papers coming before the Committee were so specific that only some of the members could evaluate their significance. In addition, the large number of papers being received meant that there was an increased workload for the Committee. To reduce the burden on the Council, in 1895 it ruled that individual committees with specialist knowledge would administer the editing of papers. These were called Sectional Committees, consisting of the Mathematical, Physics and Chemistry, botany, geology, physiology, and zoology committees. The Committees existed until 1868. A chairman, along with several members, decided what referees to appoint and where to publish (Transactions or Proceedings), which was all rubber-stamped by the Committee of Papers. This marks an important decentralisation of editing at the Society. Along with the Secretary on the A or B side, the chairman of the respective Sectional Committees became an important figure in publishing at the Society. While meetings were held by the Sectional Committees several times per year, the majority of decisions were made by the chairman and the Secretary, at times seeking members’ opinions via correspondence. The decision of whether a paper should appear in Proceedings in short only, which referees should be appointed, whether a paper should remain unpublished, and whether a paper should proceed to the printers, were all made by the Chairman and Secretary.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *