Liveblog: (Re) Inventing Science Publishing at The Royal Society

The Royal Society hosted a lunch time lecture about science publishing. More specifically about the first scientific journal the Philosophical Transaction.

People were excited… well as much as history and science academics can get excited.

So off I went to liveblog it, even though you weren’t supposed to have phones.

I was the first to arrive. Note the empty room in the picture.

Although it filled up quickly as historians and scientists alike came to listen. The lecture was given by Dr Noah Moxham and Dr Julie McDougall-Waters. They were both working in collaboration with The Royal Society to trace the history of the Philosophical Transaction or otherwise referred to as the Phil Trans.

Getting work published was just as frustrating back in Newton’s time as it is now. I’m sure many academics can sympathise with Sir Isaac Newton.

Peer Review was implemented around 1669.

Here is what the first peer review strategy looked like:

And here is how it actually worked:

While it was meant to be anonymous to avoid nepotism and blackballing the reality was peer review didn’t become anonymous until the 19th century and some would argue it still isn’t an anonymous process.

While people would like to assume that peer review was started to improve academic work the reality was it was put in place to save The Royal Society’s behind.

The peer review process that exists today didn’t come about until 1830.

Now Dr Julie McDougall-Waters took the stage to speak about publishing. She takes the audience through the rise of specialised academic journals and the introduction of sectional committees, which are much like the expert referees that review your papers today.

With the rise in specialist journals The Philosophical Transaction was falling behind.

With that the lecture ended and so did my liveblogging but there was still one question that was left unanswered.

The lecture gave an interesting perspective on why the world of scientific publishing is the way it is today and how peer review came to be. If you missed the lecture and would like to hear all about the history of the Philosophical Transaction and how it came to be a podcast will be available next week.

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