One of the more worthy ideas that has motivated development of the Internet is that it would make available an enormous body of knowledge to people all over the world at relatively low cost. The reality of the Internet’s evolution has not always matched these ideals, what with the efforts of the content producers to restrict the availability of information; but we have seen some progress toward more open access. One obvious example is the continuing development of Wikipedia, the open source encyclopedia. Princeton and Yale have taken steps to make more information available on line, and the National Academies Press has made more than 4,000 of its books available at no cost as PDF documents.
Now, according to an article in the BBC News Magazine, The Royal Society, the oldest scientific academy in the world, is making its archive of journal articles, dating back to 1665, permanently available on line at no cost. The archive, which contains about 60,000 scientific papers, provides a unique look at several centuries of scientific development.
The plague, the Great Fire of London and even the imprisonment of its editor – just a few of the early setbacks that hit the Royal Society’s early editions of the Philosophical Transactions. But against the odds the publication, which first appeared in 1665, survived. Its archives offer a fascinating window on the history of scientific progress over the last few centuries.
The archive has papers by Isaac Newton, Benjamin Franklin, and James Clerk Maxwell, as well as Crick and Watson’s paper on the structure of DNA. (The Royal Society’s own announcement is here.) I mentioned some of these in a post back in 2009, on the occasion of The Royal Society’s 350th year. There is, of course, vastly more available to explore, sometimes wonderful, sometimes a bit wacky. You can search the archive at Royal Society Publishing here.
The Royal Society is to be commended for making this material available to everyone; I hope it inspires other organizations to take similar actions.