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The pre-history of peer review: refereeing practices at the Royal Society

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Historians of scientific communication routinely assume that, even though the term ‘peer review’ is a product of the 1960s, the essentials of the practice have been around since the first scientific journal, in 1665. My team’s research on the history of the Philosophical Transactions suggests that this origin-myth is obscuring the rather interesting history of how refereeing practices did in fact develop in the nineteenth century. They emerged in the specific context of the learned society, and until the mid-twentieth century, refereeing was not widely used at other journals (which relied on editors to make decisions). I will discuss the variety of forms that early refereeing took, and the surprisingly different purposes it served, and look forward to a discussion about what changed in the twentieth century!

This talk is part of the Twentieth Century Think Tank series.

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