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Alex Csiszar, "The Scientific Journal: A Political History"

ICIS Event
When May 13, 2015
from 12:10 PM to 01:30 PM
Where 2nd Floor Instruction Room/Shields Library
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Lunch will be served – Please RSVP at this link if you plan to attend

Scientific journals are expected to do a lot of different things. They are often identified with both the cumulative and the present state of knowledge possessed by scientific communities. Journals are supposed to be public enough that any interested reader might access them; yet at the same time they are rigorously exclusive. To publish in a particular set of journals is to be deemed an expert in the corresponding scientific field. When questions arise as to what scientific consensus is on some matter of concern, governmental bodies, the public, and journalists routinely look to the reputable journal literature dealing with that subject. The list of a researcher’s papers is a unit by which careers are measured and a dominant factor in decisions about hiring, tenure, and grants. Scientific journals are both permanent archive and breaking news, both complete record and painstaking selection, both public forum and the esoteric domain of experts.

This talk will explore how and why this improbable state of affairs came into being over the course of the nineteenth century. The shift whereby the authority of science came to be vested increasingly in serialized print did not come about through any deliberate decision taken by scientists based on the fitness of the periodical press to play this role. Far from emerging out of a timeless need for a secure communication medium and format, the ascendancy of the scientific journal occurred as European scientific elites sought to establish their collective legitimacy to speak authoritatively about nature following the political upheavals of the Napoleonic Wars. Since that time, the scientific journal has been a nodal point where expert cultures of credibility have intersected, uneasily, with public criteria of accountability.

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Alex Csiszar is an Assistant Professor of the History of Science at Harvard University. His research concerns the history of scientific authorship, publishing, refereeing practices, and information management from the French Revolution to the twentieth century. He is currently completing a book called _The Scientific Journal: Authorship and the Politics of Knowledge in the Nineteenth Century, _a history of how and why the scientific journal came to be such a powerful force in modern scientific life.

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