by Greg Mayer
The Royal Society, founded in 1660, is the oldest scientific society in the English-speaking world. Among it’s early members were such luminaries as Robert Boyle, Robert Hooke, Isaac Newton, and Edmund Halley. Darwin and Wallace were both Fellows, and the Society awards the Darwin Medal “for work of acknowledged distinction in evolution, population biology, organismal biology and biological diversity”; Wallace was the first recipient.
The motto of the Royal Society, “Nullius in verba”, can be roughly translated as “Nothing in words”, or, as the Society itself does, as
‘Take nobody’s word for it’. It is an expression of the determination of Fellows to withstand the domination of authority and to verify all statements by an appeal to facts determined by experiment.
It was at the time a revolutionary rejection of the stultifying influence of the unquestioned authority of classical and theological authors on the pursuit of natural knowledge, and remains today a revolutionary principle for the evaluation of claims about the world. The Society’s flagship journal, Philosophical Transactions, has been published since 1665, making it the oldest continuously published scientific journal in the world, and helped to establish the practice of peer review.
All this is by way of introduction to the fact that the Royal Society has made all of its journal content open access now through November 29, with downloadable pdf’s available to all users.
The journals most likely to be of interest to WEIT readers are the Philosophical Transactions B Biological Sciences, Proceedings B Biological Sciences, Biology Letters, Notes and Records, and Biographical Memoirs (the latter two journals dealing with the history of science, the Memoirs in particular being biographies of deceased Fellows). Among the first papers you’ll want to download for your pdf library is this classic, and I might immodestly suggest this paper if your tastes run to vertebrate phylogeny (technical update: although the platypus is not a rodent, the Marsupionta turn out to probably not be a clade). There is a treasure trove of papers in the archival content of the Society’s journals (such as Newton’s first published paper), and I highly recommend that you spend some time searching through their digital stacks during the next month.