Re: Jan Velterop's Misconception

From: Arthur Smith <apsmith_at_APS.ORG>
Date: Sat, 3 Mar 2007 08:20:02 -0500

Arthur Sale wrote:
> [...]
> An examination of the early history of the scientific journal will show that
> the capital involved was modest, since all services (printing, delivery)
> were outsourced or provided free. The only question was whether the venture
> would succeed or not and whether the venture capital was sufficient to
> maintain it until it did. If not, the journal went out of business, for that
> is what it was. Subscription was a bleedingly obvious model for those
> wanting to read what the real geniuses (the researchers) had to say. The
> researchers had nothing to gain, except recognition. These publishers did
> not do it for love, unless they were an arm of a professional society, but
> for profits.

I always thought the first scientific journal was Henry Oldenburg's
starting up of the "Philosophical Transactions", preceded by his
spending almost all his hours serving as a central communications point
in science, by writing and receiving letters as the first Secretary of
the Royal Society. Journals started as a simplification of
correspondence and communication, not as a profit center!

But you're right that capital investments are not the issue - the
assertion may have been thinking of the actual physical expense of
creating books and mailing, but those have always been operating, not
capital expenses. The primary costs for every journal have always been
in the people who take on Oldenburg's centrality role, costs often
hidden in volunteer contributions, but that just means they're being
paid for by somebody else (societies or universities or government
research agencies).

And saying "the researchers had nothing to gain" is rather odd. The
people Oldenburg corresponded with were the researchers. Those were his
subscribers. The researchers have everything to gain by learning what
other researchers are up to. Whether journals are still the best
mechanism for doing this is another question of course.

          Arthur Smith
Received on Sat Mar 03 2007 - 14:21:57 GMT

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