Ben Franklin’s account of his electric kite experiment (1752) and Isaac Newton’s first ever paper (1671) are among 69,000 historical scientific papers now freely accessible online, after Britain’s Royal Society opened up its journal archive.
The archive goes all the way back to 1665, when Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society first appeared – probably the world’s first peer-reviewed scientific journal. It’s now fully searchable, and all papers published more than 70 years ago are free to view. (You’ll still have to pay for the newer ones). The BBC picks out some weird and wonderful papers, including the woman who swallowed a bullet (in 1668), and an experimental canine blood transfusion (1666).
The archive was digitized in 1999 by JSTOR, the US-based archive for academic journals, for a sum in the ‘high five figures in US dollars’. Royal Society commercial director Stuart Taylor says they have been thinking about making part of the archive free for some time. As digitization of print works gets easier and cheaper, “we do not feel it is justifiable to continue charging for access [to out-of-copyright material]”, Taylor said. The Royal Society’s pay-per-view income for the entire archive (including papers after 1941) amounts to less than 0.5% of their total publishing revenues.
In July, programmer Greg Maxwell uploaded nearly 19,000 articles from Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, all of them published before 1923, onto the file-sharing website The Pirate Bay (in stated support for computer coder Aaron Swartz, who is still facing a federal indictment for downloading over 4 million articles from JSTOR). The Royal Society’s release today means that the articles Maxwell uploaded are all now free to view. Maxwell’s action did not affect the Society’s decision, says Taylor.