Learned societies have played and continue to play a crucial role in the evolution of academic publishing. The first scholarly journals were published by learned societies, with the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, established in 1665, often regarded as the first academic journal exclusively devoted to science, while peer review is thought to have been formally introduced for medical articles published by the Royal Society of Edinburgh in 1731.
Publishing is expensive. For centuries, the costs of scholarly publishing were largely covered by learned societies, as part of their philanthropic mission to disseminate scientific findings. It was only in the years following the Second World War that scholarly publishing became commercialised, with the rise of commercial publishers using the subscription-access model to generate a profit. In the 1990s, the expansion of the internet and the digital age opened new doors for communication and so began the move towards open-access publishing.
The publishing landscape is now rapidly shifting. Learned society publishers are adapting and innovating, as highlighted on page 14, where Maggie Simmons, Director of Publishing, and Rob Strachan, Secretary for Publications, provide an overview of the Society’s journey toward open access. The report includes a breakdown of revenue spend – all publishing fees go towards the provision of a professional, high-quality service, an infrastructure that guarantees the research remains discoverable over the long-term, and dissemination to ensure the science reaches the greatest audience possible. Any surplus funds are reinvested into the Society’s charitable activities to support the geoscience community.
The article also highlights the diversity of topics covered by our journals, many of which embrace the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The recently launched Geoenergy (page 7) and Earth Science, Systems and Society journals reflect the shifting focus of the geoscience research community towards SDG-related topics specifically – a point explored by James Butcher on page 30. His report illustrates the dramatic increase in scientific output related to sustainability since the launch of the United Nation’s SDGs in 2015, and emphasises the key role for scholarly publishers in communicating research that informs on progress towards achieving those goals.
Removing barriers is key to open access, and the digital revolution is delivering innovative methods to achieve this. Two articles in this issue (page 32 and page 36) discuss tools, which are freely available online, to help make graphics – essential for geoscience communication – more accessible to those with visual impairments.
We’re embracing this approach at Geoscientist, too. All content is freely available at www.Geoscientist.Online, including our Science Snapshot videos, which provide summaries of the science using audio, visuals and captions. We have also launched a podcast interview series to complement the 5 Minutes With section of the magazine. Run by Marissa Lo, Assistant Editor, monthly podcasts are a broadly accessible medium that allow us to showcase the work of a greater variety of geoscientists.
If you have other ideas for how we can increase the reach of our content, do let us know.
Amy Whitchurch, Executive Editor
- Allahar, H. (2021). The Evolution of Academic Journal Publishing. Academia Letters, Article 4395; https://doi.org/10.20935/AL4395
- Andrade, E. (1965) The birth and Early days of the Philosophical Transactions: Notes and Records of the Royal Society of London 20 (1), 9-27; https://www.jstor.org/stable/3519880
- Arts & Humanities Research Council (2013-2017) A History of Scientific Journals: Lessons from the history of Royal Society journal publishing, 1665-2015; https://arts.st-andrews.ac.uk/philosophicaltransactions/
- Fyfe, A. (2020) The Royal Society and the Noncommercial Circulation of Knowledge. In M. P. Eve & J. Gray (Eds.), Reassembling Scholarly Communications: Histories, Infrastructures, and Global Politics of Open Access (pp. 147-160). Cambridge MA: MIT Press; https://doi.org/10.7551/mitpress/11885.003.0016
- Fyfe, A. (2022). From philanthropy to business: the economics of Royal Society journal publishing in the twentieth century. Notes & Records of the Royal Society; https://doi.org/10.1098/rsnr.2022.0021
- The Royal Society. (2019) History of Philosophical Transactions; https://royalsociety.org/journals/publishing-activities/publishing350/history-philosophical-transactions/
- Shema, H. (2014) The Birth of Modern Peer Review; Scientific American; https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/information-culture/the-birth-of-modern-peer-review/
- The Society Publishers’ Coalition (2019) So why do society journals matter?; https://www.socpc.org/post/so-why-do-society-journals-matter