This blog has been a bit quiet lately, but for good reason. I’ve been focusing on writing my dissertation (the tentative title of which is also the title of this post). Since this blog is about the history of scholarly communication, I’m going to be posting lightly edited portions of my rough draft of the dissertation for the next few weeks. Basically, I see this as a way of getting out some of my basic ideas. If anyone has comments, I’ll be especially interested in hearing them. This week, I’m making availableof my introduction.
Alexander Dallas Bache (1806-1867), scientist, government administrator, and university professor addressed the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), the first national scientific society in the U.S., and asserted that, “While Science is without organization, it is without power: powerless against its enemies, open or secret; powerless in the hands of false or injudicious friends.” (Proceedings of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, 1852, lii – liii). When Bache was writing in the 1850s there were many decentralized educational institutions such as public schools, lyceums, and some religiously-affiliated universities. There was only one consistently published scientific journal, the American Journal of Science, one scientific professional association, the AAAS that Bache helped to found, and there were only the beginnings of government-sponsored scientific institutions including the Smithsonian and the National Academy of Sciences. Fifty years after Bache gave this speech, state-sponsored universities existed through the Morrill Act along with a nation-wide public-school system. There were multiple scientific journals, many of them published by specialized scientific societies that formed out of the AAAS, and the government was taking a greater interest in scientific work. In all, the kind of power to which Bache referred seems to have been established in the U.S. during a roughly sixty-year period (1840 – 1900). Moreover, the power structure created during this period became embedded in other scientific systems like academic publishing that are now an important part of scientific work both in the U.S. but around the world.
How did this establishment of scientific power desired by Bache happen? This dissertation hopes to answer that and several related questions that arise from the actions of Bache and other scientists between 1840 and 1900. How did the broader organization of science in the late nineteenth century create a system of professional disciplines? Why did the AAAS form, and why did specialized societies like the American Chemical Society (ACS) later form independently from the AAAS? Why did these professional societies create journals, and how do these journals help to communicate science? Finally, how did the system of scientific societies develop alongside the system of departments within universities? Universities, scholarly journals, and professional societies are all a part of a complex scholarly communication system, and by understanding the history of the intersections between these groups, it may be possible to better understand why Bache and others created the scientific environment in the way that they did. More importantly, understanding the early debates of these scientists may help to contextualize current debates about the need for changes in scholarly communication. This dissertation will also contribute to an ongoing discussion in professional circles about the future of scholarly communication.
Scholarly communication has been debated over many years, and much of this research falls within a well-established framework of investigation for scholarly communication that relies on the work of Robert Merton as a framework (see Social Theory and Social Structure, 1968). Merton concentrated on the values of the modern scientific system and the ways in which individual scientists achieved status within their profession. Eugene Garfield (see “The Intended Consequences of Robert K. Merton.” Scientometrics, 2004), founder of the Institute for Scientific Information citation index is but one example of the many sociologically trained scientists who have investigated scholarly communication according to Merton’s methods. Garfield used the citation index to measure the prestige and status scientists by analyzing the number of citations scholars received in their publications.
Other scholars, however, have questioned Merton’s framework of utilizing prestige as the most important factor in understanding scholarly communication (see Scott Frickel and Neil Gross, “A general theory of scientific/intellectual movements,” American Sociological Review, 2005). Therefore, it is important to ask what might be another possible framework for investigating both scholarly communication? Perhaps by taking into account sociological theories about power in scientific movements and combining those theories with some variants of the bibliometric approaches based on Garfield, and Merton, it may be possible to achieve a more holistic picture of power in the scholarly communication system, how it originated, and how it continues to shape the dynamics of academic publishing.