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The earliest journals

Publications that specialize in science entered circulation 350 years ago in France and England

Cover introducing the first edition of the French review that came to be known as The Journal of Science

JOURNAL DES SAVANTSCover introducing the first edition of the French review that came to be known as The Journal of Science JOURNAL DES SAVANTS

The people of Paris received a 12-page bulletin entitled Journal des Sçavans (The Journal of Scientists) on January 5, 1665. Two months later, on March 6, the first issue of Philosophical Transactions was released in London. These were the first scientific periodicals in Europe and would come to be known generically as journals. Many changes were made in these journals to adjust to circumstances, the times and transformations in science. Both publications are still in circulation today.

The first issue of The Journal of Scientists, with eight articles, seven of which were book reviews, was published nearly two years before the French Royal Academy of Sciences was founded. Renamed Journal des Savants (savant means studious or knowledgeable), the journal offered news about advances in science, such as the first blood transfusion in France (in 1667), the arts, government decisions and the Church. There were book reviews and obituaries, as well as other topics. The first publisher was Denis de Sallo, an adviser to the Paris Parliament, attorney, author and right-hand man of Jean-Baptiste Colbert, Finance Minister under Louis XIV.

The cover of the first Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, and the illustration of a lunar eclipse as reported in 1665

ROYAL SOCIETYThe cover of the first Philosophical Transactions of the Royal SocietyROYAL SOCIETY

The Journal of Scientists existed through royal sponsorship until 1701, and circulation was discontinued in 1792 during the French Revolution (1789-1799). Publication resumed, the journal was reorganized in 1816, and it focused on literature. The journal was maintained with resources from the federal government and the French Institute, an umbrella organization for the key French academic institutions.

One of the members of the Institute, the Academy of Inscriptions and Literature, took over publication beginning in 1909. That same year, the journal published a report by French geographer Paul Vidal de La Blache, which included a mention of the mountainous regions in southern Brazil. At first the journal was a weekly publication, but since 1992 it has been published twice a year.

Philosophical Transactions, an English journal, larger and more comprehensive from the outset than its French cousin, also changed its name, to Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society. The use of the word Philosophical refers to natural philosophy, the equivalent of which eventually became known as science. Therefore, the title could be translated freely today as Transactions of Science. The first issue, consisting of 16 pages with 11 articles, included reports on lenses, the rings of Jupiter, lead ore from Germany, a deformed calf and the use of pendulum clocks to determine longitude at sea. It was published by Henry Oldenburg, the first secretary of the Royal Society, founded four years earlier. Odenburg was a diplomat and philosopher who initiated the practice of peer review, in which an article is sent to specialists for analysis before it is published.

illustration of a lunar eclipse as reported in 1665

ROYAL SOCIETYillustration of a lunar eclipse as reported in 1665ROYAL SOCIETY

The review was published monthly from the start and its purpose was to record, certify (through peer review), disseminate and archive the advances of science. The publication plan was a success, and the periodical printed a few works that are fundamental to science, such as Isaac Newton’s theory of light and colors, in 1672. The works of other important English scientists including Robert Boyle, James Clerk Maxwell, Charles Darwin and, more recently, Stephen Hawking, were published in Philosophical Transactions as well. In 1887 the review grew and was split in two. The first one deals with the physical sciences: Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A: Physical, Mathematical and Engineering Sciences; the theme of the second one is biological sciences: Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences.

The oldest journal of the Royal Society published letters between the members of the association or letters that had been forwarded to them. The first report about Brazil was a letter dated January 1, 1731. It was written by Jacob de Castro Sarmento, a Portuguese Jewish physician who had taken refuge in London, and sent to the then-secretary of the Royal Society, Cromwell Mortimer. The article described the diamonds found in Serro do Frio, in the state of Minas Gerais. An exhibit that opened in December 2014 and continues until June 2015 is one of the activities that the Royal Society is organizing to commemorate the 350th anniversary of the journal.