Is Scholarship Professional?


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The simple answer to that question is of course, yes. The reason I’m asking the question, though, is because I was once asked during an interview to define “scholarly communication.” When I made several attempts to do so, I was pressed to say what kinds of communication I would exclude. Are tweets scholarly communication? Are blogs scholarly communication? Are digital humanities websites scholarly communication? I gave a bad answer to these questions at the interview, but fortunately I have now had more time to think about it since then. So, I would like to rephrase the question I posed in the title. Are the outputs of university faculty a kind of professional communication similar to medical doctors or lawyers?

Sociologists like Andrew Abbott would answer yes to that question, and in this blog I have often referred to his work. Abbott creates a framework for professional communication, though, that I think could easily be applied to scholarly communication. “Professional” communication according to Abbott has four characteristics:

  • Association
  • Control of Work
  • Education
  • Knowledge

These characteristics require a bit of explanation. Association refers to the ability of groups within the profession to meet, discuss what does and does not count as “good” work, and who should be allowed to be a part of the group. For example, the American Medical Association is an important professional organization which controls its own membership as well as professional norms. Control of work means that the association, such as the American Medical Association, is in charge over what it does, not some outside group, such as the government, even though the government may play some role in the association. Education means that the profession controls how new members learn its techniques and values. Finally, and most importantly, the profession controls what knowledge is and is not acceptable among its members. For instance, the American Medical Association would likely not consider the use of healing crystals to be considered a valid professional technique.

I would argue that scholarship is also professional. Often, multiple associations govern scholarship including groups such as the American Chemical Association, the American Historical Association, the Modern Language Association, and the list could go on. In some cases, there are also less formal professional groups that govern scholarship, such as editorial boards of certain journals in very specialized scholarly areas. Nonetheless, all of these national organizations and small informal groups govern “scholarship” in much the same way that a profession does, at least according to Abbott’s definition.

Therefore, to answer my previous question, I would say that scholarly communication is a form of professional communication. Blogs, tweets, op-eds, websites, and all other media could count as long as scholarly communication, so long as there the above characteristics (association, control of work, education, and knowledge) apply. The problem, however, is that currently those characteristics only apply to peer-reviewed journal articles, or, at least those are the only recognized form of communication by the profession within most scholarly disciplines. Therefore, one could also argue that none of the media such as tweets and websites are forms of scholarly communication.

Thus, I think it is long past time that the professions within the academy , begin to recognize alternative forms of communication. Some of them have made attempts to do so. Yet, if these groups are unwilling to change the norms of professional communication, Andrew Abbott also suggests that within the United States there is a “dual institutionalization” in which professions rely on universities for the educational component of their mission. In other words, professions require a bachelor’s (or master’s or doctoral) degree in order to get a job. Therefore, universities also have an incentive to force professional organizations to change their norms. The question is, will they? The other, perhaps more important, question is, how can the stakeholders in the scholarly communication system make them?

How to Measure Scholarship?

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The impact factor is a widely adopted, and widely debated metric that is often utilized to measure the value of research. The question is what, exactly do metrics such as the impact factor measure? Moreover, what do the theories behind the impact factor tell us about the perceived values of scholarship? The answer to the first question is relatively easy; impact factor measures citations according to a well-known, if problematic, formula. The answer to the second question is more complicated, but helps to critically assess what the values of scholarship currently are and what they could be.

The impact factor was created by Eugene Garfield, founder of the Institute for Scientific Information (now part of Clarvariate). Garfield was greatly influenced by the theories of sociologist Robert Merton, who argued that prestige, or recognition from fellow scientists, was an important factor driving scientific progress. So, the question for Garfield was how to measure prestige in journals. Citations, when scholars credit each other with ideas is a kind of proxy for this kind of scholarly recognition or prestige that Merton discussed. If one scholar, like Merton, gets more citations than other scholars, then one might assume that Merton has more prestige than scholars with fewer numbers of citations. Thus, Garfield devised a way to count citations within journals. He then further suggested that in the same way that scholars who have higher numbers of citations are more prestigious, journals with higher numbers of citations are also more prestigious.  Thus the impact factor was born, a measure of citations to particular journals; the higher the number of citations, the more prestigious and higher quality the journal (or at least so the argument goes).

There are of course multiple problems with the impact factor. For instance, scientists could easily game the system by artificially inflating citation counts. Additionally, according to Merton’s own theories, more “prestigious” journals will accumulate even greater prestige over time, making it harder for new journals to gain attention. Additionally, marginalized groups, like women scientists, will have more difficulty attaining the kind of prestige necessary to further their careers.  For all of these reasons, there have been calls to create better metrics for measuring scholarship.

The more important question, however, is whether “prestige” truly measures the value of scholarship. Merton would argue that it does; later sociologists such as Scott Frickel and Neil Gross suggest that the motivations behind scholarship are more complicated. There are also projects like HuMetrics that are attempting to redefine how scholarship gets measured. For me, however, there is a more fundamental question that ties this discussion to my previous discussion of political economy. If scholarship (i.e. research outputs such as articles or books) are the commodity on which science progresses, then how does one value that commodity?

Ultimately, all of these metrics are proxies for how much the scholarly market will pay to obtain research. Currently, if certain journals have greater citation rates, then Elsevier can charge libraries more in subscriptions and authors in article processing charges. If other more nuanced metrics replace the Impact Factor, then those numbers will also serve as proxies for value. What if scholarship is not a commercial commodity, but, as Bruno Latour suggests, “science is politics by other means?”

Jurgen Habermas, in his theories about political communication suggested that discovery of truth is one of the most important acts of speech by human beings. One could argue that scholarship, ultimately, is also about discovery of truth, and perhaps one might go so far as to say that a scholar’s ideas could be measured by how close to the truth they are. Habermas suggested that ideally truth can be assessed by ensuring that every person with competence to discuss the subject is allowed to speak, that these people are allowed to question any assertion and to introduce new assertions, and that no person can be prevented from making an argument. Is the current scholarly communication system measured by any of these criteria? If not, could it be? Perhaps scholarship should be measured by how “true” it is, and perhaps Habermas can provide a guide to how truth can be measured.

(Image above: Robert Merton at left, Eugene Garfield in the center and Jurgen Habermas at right, images from,  and

Is Open Access Marxist?


(image from Wikimedia Commons)

I recently attended the Library Publishing Forum in Vancouver. Overall, it was an excellent chance to catch up with colleagues and to update myself on all of the new and interesting initiatives that are happening in library publishing. Unsurprisingly, there was also a great deal of discussion about the ways to move forward the agenda for open access. More surprising to me were the calls by some participants for more use of critical theory to advance more open forms of publishing, and there was even a tweet thread encouraging participants at the forum to take back the means of production, echoing Karl Marx. As someone who has been working on a Ph.D. and been steeped in critical theory for quite a while lately, I thought I would ask myself the question of how open access might relate to Marxist critical theory, and perhaps more importantly, what that might mean for the future of library publishing?

To begin to answer those questions, I thought I might start with a quote by Marx from the Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Napoleon, “Men make their own history, but they do not make it as they please; they do not make it under self-selected circumstances, but under circumstances existing already, given and transmitted from the past.” Here, Marx is suggesting that those who try to change history must do so within a context that is limited by unique historical and cultural circumstances.

What is the context for those of us living in the 21st century? In Das Kapital, Marx defined societies in terms of the means (technologies), relations (social contracts) and the mode (forces produced by both means and relations) of production. According to Marx, the mode of production within capitalism is an underlying structure of commodities (things of value) that are created by capital (the physical infrastructure that produces commodities, like a factory); these two things combine to create a political economy where laws and social structures regulate the functions of commodities and capital. The scholarly communication system is also part of a historically situated political economy that supports commodities (scholarly articles, books and other outputs) created by capital (universities) and has a complicated publishing system that regulates how universities (capital) produce and consume research outputs (commodities). In such a system, capital will try to produce as large a number of the highest value commodities as possible.

Marx’s ultimate goal was to change the capitalist system and to create, as he stated in the Critique of the Gotha Program, a future in which “labor has become not only a means of life but life’s prime want.” In other words, Marx advocated for a future that, as it relates to scholarly communication, faculty members would produce research not to further a career, but rather to benefit society. Though many professors might say that they do produce scholarship to benefit society, research by Stuart Lawson, Kevin Sanders and Lauren Smith demonstrates that those ideals are not necessarily put into practice. The open access movement has certainly altered the means of production and to some extent relations of production, but has not fundamentally changed the mode of production. Furthermore, the political economy of scholarly communication, at least currently, remains relatively unaltered by open access.

How might the open access movement change the political economy? My first quote about history gives a clue. Marxist historian Eric Hobsbawm wrote that political action, not technology, was the force that drove change. Thus, for the open access movement to truly affect political economy and to follow a Marxist theoretical paradigm, it has to achieve its aims politically by altering not only the means, but also the relations and the mode of production. To achieve an alteration in the mode of production requires a fundamental shift in labor relations between those producing commodities, the proletarian faculty, and those who control the capital, or universities. To put that another way, the open access movement needs to shift its focus to reforming the labor relations of higher education, a problem far beyond controlling the means (or technologies) of production. To paraphrase the Communist Manifesto, if those of us involved in open access strive to live up to the ideals of a university and to alter labor relations within universities so that professors can produce scholarship that is truly done for the benefit of humanity and not the needs of commodity driven capital (universities), then the proletarians (faculty) have nothing to lose but their chains, and they have a world to win. Scholarly communicators of the world unite!

Topics in 19th Century American Science

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Topics of Three American Scientific Journals between 1819 and 1922

After doing my first analysis of American scientific journals during the nineteenth century, I did some more topic modeling of my dataset of three journals (the American Journal of Science, or AJS from 1819 – 1922, the Proceedings of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, or PAAAS from 1848 – 1915, and the Journal of the American Chemical Society, or JACS from 1879 – 1922) For this analysis, a topic model was run on the entire corpus, rather than just one set of journals. Each of the 209 text files were split into documents of 1,000 words and a 500 topic model was created to investigate the corpus as a whole (see quick visualization above).

Unsurprisingly, chemistry comprises 32% of the topics; this is most likely because JACS is such a large part of the dataset. Similarly, geology and mineralogy are the next most significant number of topics at 14%, representing much of the subject matter of AJS. Additionally, some subject areas such as zoology, botany, and meteorology are more prominent in this topic model than in the other models. There are two somewhat surprising results, however, the seemingly large amount of topics relating to theory and method and business. Both of these categories might help to indicate trends in professionalization. Given the trends from the previous analyses, it is important to ask in which these theoretical and business topics appear and during what time period. Presumably, if the previous analyses were correct, then the answers would be that theoretical topics are more prominent in PAAAS and that both of these topics should increase during the late 1870s.

One topic that typifies the kind of topic for theory and method can be found in a topic with the words: term, terms, general, called, case, true, present, sense, relations, defined, definition, relation, form, definite, considered, question, paper, applied, expressed, and conditions. This is a topic with general words about science and how it is performed. For this topic, the largest number of words assigned to that topic (45) comes from PAAAS in 1876. A similar topic has the words: factor, influence, conditions, factors, important, direct effect relative relation determining control role present combined importance influences, indirect, data, favorable, and normal. The top related documents to this topic also come from PAAAS in the 1890s. Thus it seems that as with the previous topic model analysis, PAAAS discusses more theoretical topics, and these topics cluster during the later part of the nineteenth century.

With regard to business topics, especially as they pertain to the ACS, a topic containing the words society, chemical, american, journal, chemistry, chemists, members, editor, year, abstracts, papers, industrial, meeting, council, address, york, number, publication, proceedings, and directors is a topic discussing meetings of ACS, and also addresses their publication concerns. This topic appears only in the JACS documents, and the earliest date in which this topic appears is 1893, around the same time as the “unexpected” and “expected” topic divide happens from the previous analysis of JACS. A topic wit the words committee, report, secretary, congress, appointed, international, members, council, meeting, year, association, account, library, fund, chairman, treasurer, adopted, committees, received,  and society is a more general topic also referring to meetings, appears most frequently in PAAAS. The earliest PAAAS issue for this topic is 1874, and most of the documents assigned to this topic come from the 1890s which would again be consistent with previous analyses.

It is also worth noting that there were 85 topics that were discarded for this analysis. Most of these topics appear to be random distributions of numbers (such as topic with a series of numbers including 000, 1, 500, 100, 400, 200, 10, 300, 600, 800, 700, total, 20, 250, 50, 3, 30, 900, 150, and 750). These seem to represent page numbers or indexes that are sometimes present at the back of volumes. Considering that the overall topic model contained 500 topics, this is a relatively small number of topics (17%) that were discarded for this analysis.

Overall, it would seem that the findings for this second analysis are consistent with those of the previous analyses. PAAAS does seem to be more involved in discussing theoretical topics, and business topics appear to be more frequently discussed in the later part of the nineteenth century. Most importantly JACS at least becomes more involved in discussion of business in the 1890s, the same period when the ACS is consolidating into a professional society with a clear identity separate from the AAAS. This analysis does, however, seem to add some nuance to the overall picture of science, however. Why do subjects such as astronomy and meteorology, subjects that were often so small in the other analyses that they were lumped together as “other sciences” appear relatively prominently here? Additionally, since physics was the next discipline to form a professional society, when did it become so prominent? The other topic models seem to show physics as equal to chemistry. Some of the answers to these questions may be matters of statistical significance, this analysis over the entire corpus is more consistent with the assumptions of Mallet.Nonetheless, both analyses seem to consistently point to the same general conclusions that are present in past topic modeling research on this dataset.

Dissertation Updates


For those who haven’t been able to follow the latest blog posts on the current draft of my dissertation about nineteenth century origins of the American scholarly communication system, I’ve now posted the entire thread on Medium for those who prefer longer-form reading. As always, I’m interested to hear thoughts and ideas, and thanks to those of you who have read at least some of these posts.  It is great to get these ideas out there in a preliminary form.

Scholarly Communication and Inequality

This blog post concludes an ongoing series with excerpts from chapters of the rough draft of my dissertation The Power of Science: Origins of American Scholarly Communication, 1840 – 1900.

In a speech Alexander Dallas Bache gave to the Franklin Institute in 1842, he stated that, “voluntary associations for the improvement of agriculture, manufactures, and the arts, exist all over our country, not supported, it is true, by our great sovereign the people, but by a few, who are either immediately or remotely interested or who desire to advance the weal of their country.  If the eyes of this most august sovereign might but be opened to the importance of fostering these institutions!”  Bache was criticizing the fact that small institutions spread around the United States were fostering science for local audiences and often in an inconsistent manner.  Furthermore, Bache was advocating for a national movement to support more consistent promotion of science and the formalizing of scientific organizations.

For Bache and his supporters, scientific societies like the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) and government agencies such as the National Academy of Sciences and the Smithsonian should serve as a means to nationalize scientific efforts in the United States.  Additionally, such national institutions should create an aristocracy of science that would exclude charlatans and others who might embarrass American scholars who were interested in creating research comparable to what was being produced by their colleagues in Europe.  To do this, Bache and his circle used their influence to reform organizations like the American Association of Geologists and Naturalists into a national organization under the control of Bache and his colleagues.  Ultimately, however, this plan was unsuccessful. George Barker, himself a president of AAAS and a faculty member at the University of Pennsylvania (like Bache), helped found the American Chemical Society (ACS).  In some ways Barker’s efforts were similar to Bache’s.  Early leaders of the ACS also wanted to create a national and centralized organization for chemistry.  ACS organizers wanted to create their own mini-version of an aristocracy of science.  Ultimately these scientists were more successful, though than Bache and his colleagues had been.  Why?  In part, leaders of the ACS early on realized the need to control the information flow within ACS in a way that Bache and his colleagues never were.

Why is this link between professional organizations and journals important for modern scholars of scholarly communication? One might suggest that Bache never truly opened the eyes of the people as he alluded to in his speech, but simply substituted one small spread out group of people who promoted science with a different small group of nationally focused professionals.  Furthermore, Bache stated 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.”  In order to create “power” in science, Bache created nationalized and centralized organizations such as the AAAS, but without any clear way of controlling the information flow for those organizations.  George Barker and the early leaders of ACS also were interested in creating the same centralized and nationalized institutions but did have a greater concern with controlling information in chemistry.

At a time when some argue that “academia as lurched from crisis to crisis in scholarly communication for too long,” and when bibliometricians are noting inequality within scientific publishing, and when movements such as  Me Too or Black Lives Matter are advocating for reforming inequality within society as a whole, it is important to think about why the scholarly communication system is in crisis and why it is inequitable.  Though this dissertation does not entirely answer how scholarly publishing contributes to inequality, it does provide a part of the answer.  In the nineteenth century, founders of science in the United States such as Alexander Dallas Bache and George Barker never set out to create an equitable system.  Quite the contrary, these leaders of early science sought to create a small group of influential scholars that they controlled and that could be used to distribute patronage to their network of colleagues.  It is therefore no wonder that the scholarly communication system as it evolved replicated at least some of these unequal power structures and is now contributing to methodical bias against certain groups of scientists.  By learning more about how the scholarly communication system evolved and by demonstrating to practicing librarians and publishers the reasons for the scholarly communication system’s underlying sources of bias, one can only hope that more informed and more lasting solution of the crisis in scholarly communication can be created.

Scientific Journals in 19th Century U.S.


This blog post continues an ongoing series with excerpts from chapters of the rough draft of my dissertation The Power of Science: Origins of American Scholarly Communication, 1840 – 1900.

When examining the differences between some of the most prominent American scientific publications, some very clear differences emerge, and it becomes possible to detect how these journals reflect the larger social context of nineteenth-century American science. The American Journal of Science (AJS) was published from 1818 and continues publication today. Through much of the early nineteenth century AJS served as a news source for American scientists; in the mid-nineteenth century AJS began to publish more original research in a variety of different fields, and by the twentieth century AJS is dedicated almost entirely to geology.  The Proceedings of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (PAAAS) was published between 1848 and 1914 and overlaps with AJS.  In the 1840s and 1850s, PAAAS is fairly similar to AJS, but with some key differences.  PAAAS also serves as a news source, especially for news of the association, and by the twentieth century is almost entirely a directory of AAAS members; PAAAS also discusses theory and method of science somewhat more often than AJS.  The Journal of the American Chemical Society (JACS) was first published in 1879 and continues publication today .  JACS combines elements of both AJS and PAAAS.  Early in its publication, JACS publishes research, but it is not until the 1890s that JACS began to serve as a news source for the American Chemical Society and a space for discussion of theory and method in chemistry.

It is useful, therefore, to compare these journals in more detail.  AJS and PAAAS were similar in scope and different only in terms of who published them; Benjamin Silliman, a science professor at Yale, edited and managed AJS; AAAS, a scientific organization, disseminated PAAAS.  Yet, the two journals were different in terms of subject matter.  PAAAS and JACS were similar in the sense that both were published by scholarly societies, and AAAS and ACS overlapped significantly in membership between 1848 and 1897.  These two journals differed significantly in their content, however, and by analyzing the content of these three journals, especially between 1818 and 1914 (the years that the two journals overlap), it may be possible both to see how these journals reflect the social dynamics with the organization of American science and to begin to understand if ACS’ strategy of more tightly regulating publication did have an effect on the nascent scholarly communication ecosystem in the early twentieth century.

Performing a distant reading of over one hundred years of articles within three journals is complicated.  Fortunately, topic modeling along with more in-depth textual analysis of words and concepts provides a good overview of the themes found within these journals, however. The combination of these methods can help to understand how these scientific publications reflect larger social trends in organization of science. By doing some textual analysis of both topics and some word lists in AJS, PAAAS, and JACS one can see how ideas of professional sciences shifted over the period of sixty years. AJS moved from becoming a generalized science journal with some news content into a geology journal.  JACS started as a specialized chemistry journal but began to discuss more issues of method and theory later.  PAAAS was the transition between these two journals.  PAAAS resembled AJS but also published more news content and discussion of theory.  Since AAAS and ACS members overlapped and struggled for power among themselves for much of the 1870s through the 1890s, seeing how these journals compare can help to understand how dissemination of information became an important priority for leaders of the ACS.

Scientific Organizations and Scholarly Communication

This blog post continues an ongoing series with excerpts from chapters of the rough draft of my dissertation The Power of Science: Origins of American Scholarly Communication, 1840 – 1900.

The tension of centralizing scientific authority while allowing sub-specialties to work on more narrow problems did not dissipate when the first specialized professional scientific society in the U.S. formed in the later part of the nineteenth century.  The American Chemical Society (ACS) is, in a way, very similar to the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). Yet, even though the beginnings of both organizations seem comparable, chemistry followed a very different course in creating its professional organization.  In the same way that Bache and his circle drove much of the institutionalization of science in the mid-nineteenth century, the early founders of the ACS also began with a very small group of founders.  The situation was, however, quite different.  Rather than seeking instruments of power through the government, as Alexander Dallas Bache and Joseph Henry had done, these chemists were more closely attached to a well-developed chemical industry.  Therefore, even though Bache and his colleagues also believed that science should be tied to the practical needs of business, these early ACS leaders were even more interested in serving the needs of industry. The founders of the ACS also dealt with smaller, well-organized, and competing chemistry organizations, a situation different from Bache.  Rather than refusing help to competing organizations such as the American Association for the Promotion of Science in the late 1830s, the leaders of ACS merged with several professional chemical societies when they created their organization.  The foundation of these two societies (AAAS and ACS) therefore were motivated by similar aims and by a small number of leaders felt the need to centralize authority, but he methods these organizers used was quite different.

The problems of the ACS, principally the subdivisions within the discipline also seem quite similar to the issues with which Bache and the founders of the AAAS struggled.  Many subsections of the ACS began to form even during the organizations earliest years. Unlike the organizers of the AAAS though, the managers of the ACS seem very preoccupied with informational issues.  Even before there was any formal society, officers of various committees discussed the need to create libraries and to start journals and proceedings to share scientific discoveries.

In all, by comparing the similarities and differences two organizations one can see how a link between scientific organization and scientific communication began to establish a nascent scholarly communication system beginning as early as the 1880s.  The professionalization of chemistry, as with science more generally, was led by a small group of people who were very interested in industrial progress.  This group wanted their authority centralized, but ultimately the chemists were more successful in centralizing their authority within the ACS.  Why?  Perhaps the answer lies in the differences between the institutionalization of the AAAS and the ACS.  ACS created more of a union between different societies of chemistry.  AAAS created a single organization and attempted to suppress rival societies.  Leaders of ACS also recognized a need for disseminating and sharing information that does not to seem to be a concern of the organizers within AAAS.

Alexander Dallas Bache and His Circle


This blog post continues the series started two weeks ago with a lightly edited excerpt from the next chapter of  the rough draft of my dissertation The Power of Science: Origins of American Scholarly Communication, 1840 – 1900.

The American Association for the Advancement of Science’s (AAAS) foundation was largely due to the efforts of Alexander Dallas Bache and his desire for the centralization of science. Bache’s work was supported by a growing national concern among American scientists who out of national pride wanted to American scientists and scientific work to rival the outputs of European scientists. In addition to the concern about American scientific scholarship being inferior to that of Europe, there was also a growing concern about education in the United States, and a desire among Americans to create a better national education system.  Bache himself travelled to Europe to research the educational systems of other countries and wrote a report for the national government about the kinds of practices that he felt could apply in the U.S.  Bache even put some of these his into practice while serving on the board of Girard College, a local private school in Philadelphia.

Bache was not alone in his attempts to create American scientific institutions.  He had the help of a small group of scientists that he termed the Lazzaroni.  The term itself comes from an Italian term for hospitals serving the poor; Bache and his fellow scientists often used the term humorously to indicate that they were beggars looking for money to support their efforts. Members at various times included John Fries Frazer, the Provost at the University of Pennsylvania and a former student of Bache’s, as well as Joseph Henry, the Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution. These men had a substantial correspondence with Bache discussing the organization of science.  Additionally, there were other correspondents of Bache who may not officially have been a part of the Lazzaroni, but who were very well acquainted with the goals of the group and who often supported their efforts.  Members of this outer circle included most notably Louis Agassiz, a professor at Harvard University and one of the most prominent scientists active in the U.S. at the time.  The Lazzaroni had diverse opinions about how science should be organized in the United States, but generally had four concerns.

First, Bache and his colleagues believed that science was too localized and too focused on interests only relating to states (such as the geological surveys) or often to local industries (such as mining operations in individual towns and counties).  They wanted to find ways to tie these institutions into a broader framework of education.  More importantly, Bache expressly believed that science needed to have a national agenda and that there needed to be two types of institutions that did not yet exist in the U.S..  The first of these organizations Bache hoped to create was a federal scientific institution similar to the Académie Française and Bache later started as the National Academy of Sciences in 1861. The second part of Bache’s vision was a national professional organization that would later become the AAAS.

Such institutions, according to the Lazzaroni, would need to have a clear definition of what sorts of science would be acceptable to practice at these national institutions.  For Bache and his colleagues who were working in the context of a rapidly industrializing country, science needed to be of use to industry.  Therefore, the focus of the Lazzaroni was on geology, chemistry, and other sciences that would be of use to companies seeking to exploit the newly discovered resources opening up throughout the U.S.  In order to achieve the manner of scientific expertise and research necessary to achieve this goal, Bache also recognized the need for greater specialization of science.  Bache and the Lazzaroni struggled with this concept, however, because they also wished that all science should be centralized through organizations such as the National Academy of Sciences and the AAAS.  This inherent contradiction would continue to surface until the organization and later separation of scientific associations like the American Chemical Society thirty years later.

In all, Bache and the Lazzaroni wanted to create a kind of aristocracy of science that would ensure only the best scientists received the kind of patronage and control over the scientific system that they believed would protect the integrity of science nationally. The centralized, rigid, and hierarchical establishment that Bache, Frazer, Henry, and like-minded scientists envisioned was challenged as science expanded and other groups established other sources of authority within science, most notably the ACS, the first national specialized scientific society to form in the U.S.

Pre-History of American Scholarly Communication

This blog post continues with an excerpt from the next chapter of  the rough draft of my dissertation The Power of Science: Origins of American Scholarly Communication, 1840 – 1900.

Systems for publishing and sharing ideas existed long before formal journals or scholarly societies appeared in the United States, and many of the methods for distributing scholarship in the United States were based upon models that European academies and government sponsored institutions created.  Yet, there were some significant differences between the institutionalization of science in the United States and in Europe, specifically Britain, France, and Germany.  First, there was little if any government sponsorship of scientific activities in what would become the U.S. Most scientists in the American colonies and early Republic were either members of European academies and societies or were strongly tied to the European Republic of Letters.  Second, unlike many European countries, the United States was highly decentralized both geographically and politically.  In Europe the central government usually controlled universities or were major sponsors of societies such as the Royal Society of London.  The United States on the other hand, often relied on individual citizens to sponsor scientific pursuits with little or no government support.  Finally, because there was no established system of scientific organization, there were significant struggles for power among individual scientific leaders about who should control science.  This distinctive American situation led to a unique blending of scientific authority vested in societies and universities that was quite different from European models of scientific organization.

How did this American state of affairs for scientific organization evolve?  From 1660 – 1746 scientists in the American colonies had no professional societies of their own and were often part of groups like the Royal Society of London (founded in 1660) or other European academies and societies.  In 1746, Benjamin Franklin and fellow businessmen in the city of Philadelphia founded the American Philosophical Society, America’s first learned society.  By the early nineteenth century, Philadelphia was host to several such groups including the Franklin Institute and the Academy of Natural Sciences.  Boston had rival groups like the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and New York the Lyceum of Natural History.  In the 1840s, there were efforts by prominent scientists to establish national organizations and institutions.  The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) became the predominant such national group.  That outcome was by no means inevitable, however.  In fact, the founders of what became the American Medical Association and the American Association of Geologists and Naturalists both vied for dominance in the early part of the nineteenth century, and their struggle in part contributed to the split professionally between medical practitioners and other forms of science in the United States.