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Labours of the ingenious

An exhibition marking the 350th birthday of the first scientific journal reveals how academic publishing gained the customs and habits that are the source of so much modern controversy, says Philip Ball.

The scientific journal is 350 years old in 2015. As the first true example of its kind, Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, published its first issue in January 1665. It can claim to have set the scene for the scientific literature of today.

An exhibition at the Royal Society in London, curated by a team from the University of St Andrews led by historian Aileen Fyfe, explores the history of Philosophical Transactions (popularly known as Phil. Trans). It includes the journal’s first issue, the referee’s report on Charles Darwin’s sole publication therein (about Scottish roads), and James Clerk Maxwell’s handwritten 1865 manuscript in which he proposed that light was an electromagnetic wave.

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