Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society

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Title page of the first volume of Phil. Trans., covering the years 1665 and 1666

The Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society (Phil. Trans.) is a scientific journal published by the Royal Society of London. It was established in 1665,[1] making it the first journal in the world exclusively devoted to science. It is also the world's longest-running scientific journal. The slightly earlier Journal des sçavans published some science, although it contained a wide variety of non-scientific material as well.[2] The use of the word "philosophical" in the title refers to "natural philosophy", which was the equivalent of what would now be generically called "science".


The first issue, dated 6 March 1665, was edited and published by the society's first secretary, Henry Oldenburg, four-and-a-half years after the Royal Society had been founded.[3] Oldenburg published the journal at his own personal expense and seems to have entered into an agreement with the Council of the Royal Society allowing him to keep any resulting profits. He was to be disappointed, however, since the journal performed poorly from a financial point of view during Oldenburg's lifetime.[4] Over the centuries, many important scientific discoveries have been published in the Philosophical Transactions. Famous contributing authors include Isaac Newton, James Clerk Maxwell, Michael Faraday and Charles Darwin. In 1672, the journal published Newton's first paper New Theory about Light and Colours,[5] which can be seen as the beginning of his public scientific career. The position of editor was sometimes held jointly and included William Musgrave (Nos 167 to 178) and Robert Plot (Nos 144 to 178).[6]

In July 2011 programmer Greg Maxwell released through the The Pirate Bay, the nearly 19 thousand articles that had been published before 1923, and were therefore in the public domain. They had been digitized for the Royal Society by Jstor, for a cost of less than USD100,000, and public access to them was restricted through a paywall.[7][8] In October of the same year, the Royal Society released for free all its articles prior to 1941, but denied that this decision had been influenced by Maxwell's actions. [7]

Current publication[edit]

Magazine cover with photo of particle detector
Magazine cover with photo of trees
Philosophical Transactions A and B focus on respectively the physical and life sciences

In 1887 the journal expanded and divided into two separate publications, one serving the Physical Sciences (Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A: Physical, Mathematical and Engineering Sciences) and the other focusing on the life sciences (Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences). Both journals now publish themed issues and issues resulting from papers presented at the Discussion Meetings of the Royal Society. Primary research articles are published in the sister journals Proceedings of the Royal Society, Biology Letters, Journal of the Royal Society Interface, and Interface Focus.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Oldenburg, Henry (1665). "Epistle Dedicatory". Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society 1: 0–0. doi:10.1098/rstl.1665.0001.  edit
  2. ^ "Special Collections | The Dibner Library of the History of Science and Technology". Retrieved 2010-04-17. 
  3. ^ "Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London - History". Retrieved 2010-02-06. 
  4. ^ Bluhm, R. K. (1960). "Henry Oldenburg, F.R.S. (c. 1615-1677)". Notes and Records of the Royal Society 15: 183–126. doi:10.1098/rsnr.1960.0018.  edit
  5. ^ Newton, I. (1671). "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". Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London 6 (69–80): 3075–3087. doi:10.1098/rstl.1671.0072.  edit
  6. ^ A. J. Turner, ‘Plot, Robert (bap. 1640, d. 1696)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004
  7. ^ a b Van Noorden, Richard Royal Society frees up journal archive, 26 Oct 2011
  8. ^ Murphy, y Samantha Guerilla Activist' Releases 18,000 Scientific Papers, July 22, 2011

External links[edit]