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Year : 2020  |  Volume : 68  |  Issue : 7  |  Page : 1253-1254

Henry Oldenburg: The first journal editor

Department of Uvea, Medical and Vision Research Foundations, Sankara Nethralaya, 18, College Road, Chennai, Tamil Nadu, India

Date of Web Publication25-Jun-2020

Correspondence Address:
Dr. Parthopratim Dutta Majumder
Department of Uvea, Medical and Vision Research Foundations, Sankara Nethralaya, 18, College Road, Chennai, Tamil Nadu
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/ijo.IJO_269_20

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How to cite this article:
Dutta Majumder P. Henry Oldenburg: The first journal editor. Indian J Ophthalmol 2020;68:1253-4

How to cite this URL:
Dutta Majumder P. Henry Oldenburg: The first journal editor. Indian J Ophthalmol [serial online] 2020 [cited 2020 Jul 13];68:1253-4. Available from: http://www.ijo.in/text.asp?2020/68/7/1253/287558

Henry Oldenburg (c. 1619– 5 September 1677) was a German philosopher, considered as one of the foremost scientific intelligencers of Europe of early modern period. He began his career as a tutor and travelled Europe widely, meeting many learned men extending his prodigious network of contacts. With an extraordinarily broad range of interests, Oldenburg had mastered several languages-English, Dutch, French, German, Italian and Latin.[1] Thus, in 1660, when the Royal Society was formed in London to promote “natural philosophy” (the philosophical study of nature and the physical universe as the precursor of modern science), Oldenburg was a natural choice for the post of secretary of the society. Considering his vast acquaintance among the intellectuals of Europe and his skills and ability as a linguist, society's correspondence was entrusted to him. The members of the society were mainly university professors, medical doctors, and enthusiastic people. The members of the society started meeting frequently to discuss among themselves, and those who could not attend meeting used to send letters to the society. One of the job of Oldenburg was to read out these communication and often replying to them.[2] Oldenburg devoted himself with extraordinary dedication and energy to the society's work and act as an important intermediary by sending the comments of society members to correspondents. Although the Royal Society used to pay him for his secretarial work, that was insufficient, and he had to scratch out a living with a precarious financial situation. In 1665, Oldenburg came up with a proposal to the Royal Society where he decided to bring out a printed version of the scientific communications of the society. Although this new venture was to promote the scientific activity of the Royal Society, saving him from the labor of copying the same news to all the members of the society in half a dozen languages, his primary intention was purely financial– he thought that this venture would earn him a decent living. Thus, the Philosophical Transactions was born. The first issue of the journal was published on 6 March, 1665 – it was 16 pages long and had ten short articles such as whale watching in the Bermudas, making of optical glass, and the performance of a pendulum watch at sea.[3] With his prodigious network of contacts, Oldenburg could secure contributions from Britain and Europe's leading natural philosophers, and many landmark articles got published in this journal in the first few years. But, Oldenburg never succeeded in gaining his living from the journal.[4] Under his editorship, Oldenburg had put forth 136 issues of the journal by the time of his death in 1677. The publication of Philosophical Transactions was interrupted by the plague of 1665, the great fire of 1666, and during the war of 1667. During the second Anglo–Dutch war of 1667, due to his continuous scientific correspondence with Dutch intellectuals, Oldenburg was briefly imprisoned on the suspicion of passing information to the enemy.

However, one must understand that the “peer-review” in the sense of peers judging the publishability of a manuscript did not become a standard practice for the journals until after World War II. The classical example is the British medical journal “The Lancet.” The journal was born in 1823, but did not adopt peer-review until 1976.[5] In the seventeenth-century or early eighteenth century, decisions to accept or reject would commonly be made by the editor himself or a small group of peers appointed by the editor. In 1672, when Isaac Newton submitted his manuscript on “New theory about light and colors” to Philosophical Transactions, Oldenburg sent it to three fellows of the society, which also included Robert Hooke. The critical analysis of Newton's work by Hooke, which Oldenburg sent to Newton, made him very angry.[6] Also, numerous responses challenging Newton's work made him very unhappy about the process.[7] Newton never published any of his work in journals again; instead, he chose the book as the preferred method for publishing his scientific work. He published two books “Principia” in the year 1687 and “Optics” in 1704 instead of publishing again in the journals. Many people blame Oldenburg for the rivalry between Newton and Hooke, but evidences suggest that it is not true [8]; Oldenburg perhaps tried to implement a gatekeeping mechanism for the scientific literature for which he had to pay the price of such dubious allegation. The Philosophical Transactions is still being published regularly and is the world's first and longest-running scientific journal.

Today about 30,000 peer-reviewed journals are publishing more than 2 million articles a year.[9] But let us not forget the man who opened a new horizon for the scientific world and pioneered the process of peer-review.

  References Top

Bluhm RK. Henry Oldenburg, F.R.S. (c. 1615-1677). Notes Rec R Soc Lond 1960;15:183-97.  Back to cited text no. 1
Avramov I. An Apprenticeship in scientific communication: The early correspondence of Henry Oldenburg (1656-63). Notes Rec R Soc Lond 1999;53:187-201.  Back to cited text no. 2
Agha RA, Fowler AJ. Celebrating 350 years of academic journals. Int J Surg Lond Engl 2015;19:146-7.  Back to cited text no. 3
Fyfe A, McDougall-Waters J, Moxham N. 350 years of scientific periodicals. Notes Rec R Soc Lond 2015;69:227-39.  Back to cited text no. 4
Chapelle FH. The history and practice of peer review. Ground Water 2014;52:1.  Back to cited text no. 5
A letter of Mr. Isaac Newton, Professor of the Mathematicks in the University of Cambridge; containing his new theory about light and colors: Sent by the author to the publisher from Cambridge, Febr. 6. 1671/72; in order to be communicated to the R. Society. Philos Trans R Soc Lond [Internet]. Available from: https://royalsocietypublishing.org/doi/10.1098/rstl. 1671.0072. [Last cited on 2020 Feb 08].  Back to cited text no. 6
Shapiro AE. Twenty-nine years in the making: Newton's opticks. Perspect Sci 2008;16:417-38.  Back to cited text no. 7
Hall AR, Hall MB. Why blame Oldenburg? Isis 1962;53:482-91.  Back to cited text no. 8
Rallison S. What are Journals for? Ann R Coll Surg Engl 2015;97:89-91.  Back to cited text no. 9

  Authors Top

Dr. Parthopratim Dutta Majumder Dr. Parthopratim Dutta Majumder is working as Senior Consultant in the Department of Uvea, Sankara Nethralaya, Chennai. He has attended and presented papers in various national and international conferences. His areas of interest include scleritis, pediatric uveitis, medical management of uveitis and phacoemulsification in uveitic cataracts. He has published several articles in various peer and non-peer reviewed journals. He has written several chapters in various ophthalmology books and has edited four books– Recent Advances in Uveitis, Retinal and Choroidal Imaging in Systemic Diseases, Modern System of Ophthalmology (Uvea) and Essentials in Ophthalmology for the Post- graduates. He has authored two scientific monographs on Polymerase Chain Reaction in Ophthalmology and Scleral Inflammations, published by the All India Ophthalmology Society. He is the founder and chief editor of the popular ophthalmology educational portal www.eophtha.com


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