Living the Scientific Life (Scientist, Interrupted)

Remember how I told you that, until 30 July, all Royal Society Publishing’s online journal content is available for free in celebration of the Royal Society’s 350th anniversary? I thought I’d mention some of the remarkable papers that you can get your hands on: papers by Isaac Newton, Edmund Halley, Edward Jenner, Alexander Volta and James Clerk Maxwell. Even though I am not a physicist, I’ve met these men several times by learning about their discoveries (and reconstructing them for myself) when I was in school, but never have I had the opportunity to read their actual papers describing their ideas! (If I was teaching a physics course, I’d be madly grabbing these papers to give to my students!)

But the Royal Society’s archives are more than just discoveries in physics and astronomy; they provide a record of some key scientific discoveries from the last 350 years including: Halley’s description of ‘his comet’ in 1705; details of the double Helix of DNA by James Watson and Francis Crick in 1954; and Edmond Stone’s breakthrough in 1763 that willow bark cures fevers, which led to the discovery of salicylic acid and later, to the development of aspirin.

But not everything is earth-shaking, although they do provide the groundwork for important future discoveries. Certainly, this ornithologist was thoroughly charmed by reading Edward Jenner’s account on the Natural History of the Cuckoo — reminiscent of Arthur Cleveland Bent’s fascinating 21-volume work, Life Histories of North American Birds. Of course, since I studied the molecular biology of hormones and behavior, I was thrilled to finally download the original text for Bayliss and Starling’s Croonian Lecture where they describe endocrine regulation by hormones (there are a few more Proceedings papers listed here).

The Royal Society is offering, free to the public, all of the contents of two journals that I absolutely love to read, the well-established Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences and of course, that wonderful journal, Biology Letters. And I ran across a fascinating journal I didn’t even know existed, the Notes & Records of the Royal Society, which publishes papers about the history of science!

But perhaps science isn’t your thing? Maybe you’d like to read papers describing how Captain James Cook preserved the health of his crew aboard the HMS Endeavour or how the 18th century Society was so astonished by the performance of an eight year-old Mozart? You’ll find these and more in the Royal Society’s archives.

In short, there is something here for everyone with any interest in science because everything published by the Royal Society between 1665 and 2010 is now available to everyone with no restrictions, no daily download limits and no paywalls! Now is the time to download all those Royal Society publications you need to complete your personal library! And, unlike many sites, the Royal Society has a really decent search engine that digs up all sorts of gems that you’ll love to read (although, I’ve had trouble finding the very earliest of their materials, those published in 1665-1705).

Here’s a listing of all journals published by the Royal Society Publishing (all of their online content is free to anyone, anywhere, anytime):

Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society

Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences

Biology Letters

Journal of the Royal Society Interface

Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A: Mathematical, Physical and Engineering Sciences

Proceedings of the Royal Society A: Mathematical, Physical and Engineering Sciences

Notes & Records of the Royal Society

Anyone who teaches science, writes about the history of science, who writes a blog or who loves to write essays for the blog carnival, The Giant’s Shoulders, will find a lot of incredible material in the archives to keep them busy for years!


  1. #1 Grant
    June 23, 2010

    I see you’ve been digging in too :-)

    Thanks for pointing out Notes & Records of the Royal Society, I missed that.

    You say you have trouble finding stuff in the early material. I have to admit I didn’t use the search engine when I wrote my intro, just headed to the older issues and browsed manually.

    My only worry is that I hope their server can cope with people like us :-)

  2. #2 Stuart Taylor
    June 24, 2010

    Don’t worry. Browse away! Our servers will cope just fine.