Re: UK Select Committee Inquiry into Scientific Publication

From: jcg <>
Date: Wed, 10 Mar 2004 09:29:14 -0500

That Oldenburg intended to make some money from his Phis Trans is clear, but
the success was limited to say the least. He complained to Boyle in the
following manner: "I never receaved above 40 lb a year upon their account
(and that is little more than my house-rent)." At the same time, the Royal
Society's Council exercised a form of licensing authority over it (see Adrian
Johns, The Nature of the Book, p. 499).

In reality, a sort of symbiotic relationship existed between Oldenburg's
venture and the Royal Society. The Society wanted to have its cake and eat it
too. As a result, it managed to maintain an ultimate authority with regard to
content while trying to wash its hands off the financial side of the venture.
As A. Johns points out: "In both financial and editorial terms, it was
supposedly independent, although few readers seems to have believe that this
was really the case." It must also be remembered that Oldenburg did not
receive a salary as Secretary of the Society until 1669. Oldenburg was
obviously trying to generate some revenue from his tireless role of
"scientific router" in the Republic of Letters of the period. It must also be
remembered that the truly commercial side of Phil Trans never materialized:
it would have taken the form of a Latin version aiming at the whole European
market of the time.

And the consequence was predictable: when Oldenburg died, the Phil Trans went
into sleep or irregular production until 1693.

What is interesting is that this muddling through - for this is what it really
is -, coupled with a lot of piracy, competing ventures, etc... (see the table
in Johns' study, p. 536) threatened to undermine the legitimacy building
function of Phis Trans. Ultimately, the Society had to face up to its
responsibilities and took charge of Phil Trans and that was indeed in 1752/3.
The lesson is clear: leaving the functions of scientific publishing into the
hands of commercial publishers proved to be dangerous to the scientific
journal as an institution. Market mechanisms are ill-equipped to deal with
these peculiar kinds of documents. And these are the crucial lessons for the
present times. If we mix profit motive (to be distinguished here from
legitimate cost recovery) with scientific transactions, we end up with the
present mess.

The meaning of the open access movement, in its various forms, is simple to
express: it is to explore the way to get out of this mess.



On March 10, 2004 07:51 am, Albert Henderson wrote:
> on Tue, 9 Mar 2004 Stevan Harnad <harnad_at_ECS.SOTON.AC.UK> wrote:
> > The first phase of the hearings is now over. This phase has been on
> > publishing, and has heard evidence from publishers -- both Toll-Access
> > (TA) and Open-Access (OA).
> >
> > The Royal Society's contribution will, I believe, prove to be a bit of
> > a historic embarrassment for that venerable institution, the first of
> > the scientific journal publishers (along with the French Societe des
> > Savans). The RS's testimony is alas rather short-sighted and not very
> > well-informed, and repeats many of the familiar canards about OA:
> The comment is inaccurate. Henry Oldenburg was the
> first to publish a scientific journal, a project
> he hoped would return 150 pounds a year. It was not
> until 1752, long after Oldenburg died and long
> after it was proven profitable, that PHILOSOPHICAL
> TRANSACTIONS was taken over by the Royal Society
> which raised its dues by two guineas to cover
> production costs.
> JOURNAL DES SCAVANS, which also started publication
> in 1665, was an organ of both Academie des sciences
> and Academie des inscriptions et Belles lettres.
> Its scope went far beyond science, being managed
> by historians. Despite its association with the
> two academies, JOURNAL DES SCAVANS was first
> published by Jean Cusson, a bookseller, from 1665
> to 1714.
> Albert Henderson
> Pres., Chess Combination Inc.
> (ABC-CLIO 2002) <>
Received on Wed Mar 10 2004 - 14:29:14 GMT

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