As you may already know, today marks the 350th anniversary of the first publication of a scholarly journal. That journal was Philosophical Transactions, edited by Henry Oldenburg, and published then, as now, by the Royal Society. The motto for the Royal Society is "Nullius in verba” (i.e. Take nobody’s word for it), which seems like a good enough reason to start a journal. According to the Royal Society's website, Philosophical Transactions "pioneered the concepts of scientific priority and peer review which, together with archiving and dissemination, provide the model for almost 30,000 scientific journals today." But, given how much change is now happening in the world of scholarly communication, we wondered:
Why has the journal endured as a form of scholarly communication and will it continue to thrive?
We put that question to some Exchanges contributors with close ties to the world of scholarly publishing. Here's what they told us:
In their 350-year-old history, scholarly journals have served as the major channels for introducing and presenting new research and criticizing existing research. The purpose of an academic journal, according to the first editor of the world's oldest academic journal, Henry Oldenburg, is to give researchers a forum to "impart their knowledge to one another, and contribute what they can to the Grand design of improving natural knowledge, and perfecting all Philosophical Arts, and Sciences." Academic journals have managed to disseminate validated scientific information through the years, which is achieved owing to the systematic peer review process they have adopted, which ensures that the information they publish has undergone significant scrutiny. Today's scholarly journals have efficiently adapted to modern communication channels such as the internet and social media, allowing worldwide access to high quality scientific information accessible even at modest budgets. These scientific forums have continued to grow over the years and nowadays they are found at the top of the science pyramid; in fact a researcher's career and achievements are rated by assessing the number, quality, and citations of publications as the fundamental metric. It is actually difficult, if not impossible to imagine an academic world without scholarly journals!
Dr. Zoe Cournia is a Wiley Advisor and Investigator at the Biomedical Research Foundation of the Academy of Athens, Greece
The academic journal is a highly evolved mode of scientific communication. Although its material form has changed drastically – and print versions seem unlikely to survive except for archival purposes – the symbolic value of its branding continues. In a world flooded with content, the journal brand signals the quality, relevance and importance of the papers to which it is applied. As such, it constrains the search costs to readers of finding and evaluating content, both in their own research niche and, in particular, in maintaining broader contextual knowledge of a discipline or field of study. These functions become even more critical as less selective outlets proliferate and new discovery tools generate an increasing volume of possible reading. Journal branding helps to dam the torrent to a rate that leaves space for a scholar’s own research - and for a life outside the lab or the library!
Robert Dingwall is a sociologist based in the UK. He has had a long association with the journal Sociology of Health & Illness and is the Editor of Symbolic Interaction.
Scientific journals are key elements for the exchange and communication within and between the disciplines. One can say that journals are the Holy Grail for global scientific knowledge. Therefore, we have to demand and ensure the highest quality standards for authors and readers through professional processing of submissions and a fair and high level review process. Regardless of preferring printed journals, electronic papers, or other future publication models, and regardless of having subscription or open access models, we have to guarantee that the existing and newly created knowledge will be available from reliable and sustainable sources for our successors in the next 350 years.
Dr. Hans-Georg Weinig is Director of Education and Science for the Gesellschaft Deutscher Chemiker (GDCh, German Chemical Society)
Scholarly writing allows us to elevate our everyday conversations about our surroundings and existence. It infuses our daily discussions and thought processes with source-based defense and peer-supported arguments, coupled with logic, inquiry and rhetoric. The journal is an important component of how members of the academy exchange ideas. It is the apex of our written academic language and pushes us to strive for those heights in our thinking, methodology, analysis and argument. And, we will always need that in the academy. The secret to its longevity is that its form can evolve and adapt to meet the ever-changing needs of the academic culture.
Elizabeth R. Lorbeer is Director of Library Services at Western Michigan University School of Medicine, USA
How would you answer the same question? Let us know in the comments below or tweet @WileyExchanges.