Making "Nature": The History of a Scientific Journal

Making "Nature": The History of a Scientific Journal

"Making 'Nature'" feels like half the book it could have been. Rather than settling for a rather dry exposition of the journal's history, Baldwin attempts to enliven the narrative by exploring some of Nature's biggest controversies. Yet her effort falls short because she is unwilling to take a strong stand on any controversial topics, hurt anyone's feelings, or really dig into the underlying personal histories or motivations of her cast of characters.

Furthermore, Baldwin barely touches on how competition for publication in journals like Nature changes the incentive structure of individual scientists. That's the real story here. It's interesting to learn about the succession of Nature editors and the cold-fusion controversy, but what I really want to know is how Nature has changed the balance of power in the world of science. I got the sense that Baldwin shied away from writing anything that would cast Nature in a negative light, thus depriving the reader of a truly balanced account of the journal.

A few items that caught my attention:

  • The importance that publication speed played in Nature's success
  • The depth of British influence on the journal
  • The lack of formal peer-review for significant chunks of the journal's existence
  • The 20+ year average tenure of the journal's editors - only SEVEN in the past 150 years!

My highlights below:

A Note to the Reader

In 2015, no researcher would engage in a serious scientific debate with someone whose “expertise” was based solely on reading others’ accounts of coral reefs or solar phenomena — but in the nineteenth century, the line between “layman” and “expert” was significantly blurrier than we consider it now. Similarly, if an important new paper from an elite laboratory was published without peer review today, there would be an uproar and accusations of favoritism — but the seminal 1953 Watson and Crick paper describing the structure of DNA was not peer reviewed before it was published, and few people seemed to mind.

Science gained a tremendous amount of cultural and social authority over the course of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, a change that is arguably one of the most significant developments in modern history.

As we will see throughout this book, Nature’s editorial staff, readers, and scientific contributors were deeply aware of science’s relationship with politics, culture, and the social order.

One of the most challenging and rewarding things about studying the history of science is putting aside what we know and letting the familiar become unfamiliar and vice versa. In doing so, we are not rejecting the present, but trying to see the past as clearly as possible.

INTRODUCTION - Who Is a “Scientist”?

The chemist, educational reformer, and noted curmudgeon Henry Armstrong announced that he hated the term and proposed another: “The real men, those who do things—bakers, butchers, builders, boxers, grocers, even green-grocers — all have names ending in er... Of late, I have often used sciencer, and I like it.

Anxiety over science’s social status and intellectual respectability pervaded the “scientist” debate.

A final aspect of Nature’s community is one that readers might find surprising: up until the mid-twentieth century, it was primarily a community of British scientists. Many historians have observed the profound influence national context exercised over research methods and scientific styles in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Journals, including Nature, appear to fall under a wider pattern of scientific nationalism during this period.

In the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, few groups experienced a more dramatic change in their social and cultural status than scientific researchers. These centuries saw increased belief in the uniqueness of scientific knowledge and increased trust in scientific research to produce reliable knowledge claims.

As A. J. Meadows observes in Communication in Science, seventeenth- and early eighteenth-century journals largely served to record presentations at meetings of scientific societies or to reprint valuable foreign papers. While periodicals were considered useful for sharing results, most readers expected that important scientific work would eventually be published as a book. Famous examples include Isaac Newton’s 1687 Principia Mathematica and 1704 Opticks or Linnaeus’s 1735 Systema Naturae. Monographs continued to be an important form of scientific communication well into the nineteenth century, the obvious example being Charles Darwin’s 1859 On the Origin of Species, arguably the most significant scientific work of the nineteenth century. As Alex Csiszar’s recent work has shown, however, over the course of the nineteenth century, the modern scientific journal began to emerge as the “principal institutional site for the representation, certification, and registration of scientific knowledge.”

In nearly 150 years of publication, Nature has had only seven editors in chief: Sir Norman Lockyer, Sir Richard Gregory, A. J. V. Gale, L. J. F. “Jack” Brimble, David Davies, Sir John Maddox, and Philip Campbell.

In the nineteenth century, contributors began using Nature and its weekly turnaround time to debate scientific questions and to give abstracts of longer forthcoming papers in monthly or quarterly journals. In the early twentieth century, some contributors began employing a new strategy and used Nature for the immediate publication of interesting results before a paper was prepared or submitted elsewhere. This approach to Nature would reshape the journal’s identity and transform it from Britain’s most important scientific periodical to a major international venue for announcing — and debating — new scientific results. By the late twentieth century, Nature was renowned for printing some of the most exciting and important scientific results in a range of fields.

Chapter 5 centers on Nature’s conflict with Germany’s National Socialist Party, a clash that led to the Nazi government banning Nature from German universities and libraries in 1937. Following the First World War, Nature’s editor and contributors shifted from portraying Britain as a nation that lagged behind other countries in its support of science to portraying Britain as a nation with superior respect for intellectual freedom. This transition was likely due in part to Richard Gregory assuming the editorship in 1919, but it also had a great deal to do with the journal’s difficult relationship with German science and scientists during and after the First World War. Nature’s contributors had once held Germany up as the shining example of government support for science that Britain ought to emulate, but the journal’s editors and contributors vehemently decried the behavior of German scientists during the war.

CHAPTER ONE - Nature’s Shifting Audience, 1869–1875

Although the Reader was short lived, Lockyer’s work with the magazine brought him into contact with one of his most famous scientific contemporaries: Thomas H. Huxley, “Darwin’s bulldog” and advocate of scientific naturalism. Huxley was a member of an informal society of nine British scientists that called themselves the X Club. This influential group included such Victorian scientific luminaries as Huxley, Hooker, John Tyndall, John Lubbock, and Herbert Spencer. Their shared goal was to promote Darwinian evolutionary theory and scientific naturalism, both within the British scientific community and in British society at large. The nine were remarkably successful at winning influential positions in British science. During a visit to England, the American science writer John Fiske described the X Club as “the most powerful and influential scientific coterie in England” and said that the group had “dictated the affairs of the British association for three years past.”

By choosing Nature as the title for his publication, Lockyer was attempting to tap into the British scientific self-image as well as to invoke the Romantic vision of science as a search for all of Nature’s truths.

Nature’s introductory article was a flowery piece by Huxley titled “Nature: Aphorisms by Goethe,” in which Huxley expressed the hope that Nature would further Goethe’s ideal of linking together “all of the phenomena of Nature” and record the best science of the day for the benefit of future generations.

This notice would eventually be adopted as Nature’s official statement of purpose and would remain unchanged (including the gendered language) until 2000.

However, Nature’s short format and its rapid publication schedule made it distinct from most other specialist journals, which ran hundreds of pages long and were published on a monthly or quarterly schedule. Pieces in Nature were necessarily shorter and less comprehensive than articles for other scientific journals, and as a result, the resemblance between Nature and these other publications was slight at best.

Lockyer’s vision of Nature was divided from the very beginning. He wanted Nature to give his fellow Britons a glimpse of the progress and importance of science, but he also wished to include some features such as reports from societies and reprints of abstracts that he and his fellow men of science found useful. Lockyer initially believed that he could balance his two sets of readers, but Nature’s contributors proved more interested in corresponding and debating with each other than they were in writing articles for a lay audience. At this time, some British researchers felt that writing articles about science for laymen was not a high-status undertaking, even science writing for an elite audience of professionals and statesmen.

CHAPTER TWO - Nature’s Contributors and the Changing of Britain’s Scientific Guard, 1872–1895

When we examine patterns of contributions to Nature, it becomes evident that the X Club and their contemporaries viewed Nature as a place to publish popularizing pieces or participate in debates but not as a desirable forum in which to announce their most important scientific work or to present substantial commentary on scientific theories. In contrast, the younger generation, men born in the 1840s and 1850s, saw Nature both as an ideal forum for scientific discussions and, increasingly, as a useful way to spread news of their original work. It was this younger generation who adopted Nature as a central organ of scientific communication; their contributions to the journal cemented Nature’s status as Britain’s most important scientific publication.

Instead, Nature’s success with these men of science appears to have had a great deal to do with its publication speed. Unlike the literary periodicals, there was almost no delay between the submission of a piece and its appearance in the journal.

Nature was not the only scientific weekly that offered rapid publication, and other weeklies —
such as Chemical News, Knowledge, and English Mechanic — all boasted more subscribers than Nature’s estimated 5,000. But Nature proved more desirable than these other publications because, as Kjærgaard convincingly argues, by the mid-1870s Nature had become a specialist periodical with a readership that consisted almost entirely of men of science. Contributors chose Nature because it reached a readership that was positioned to evaluate scientific claims. Publishing in Nature legitimized one’s work or views on a debate as properly scientific.

A second reason Nature’s speed of publication would have been compelling to men of science is that getting one’s work into print quickly had become an increasingly essential part of establishing priority for a scientific finding or theory.

One important exception to the generational trend was Charles Darwin. The great naturalist occasionally prepared abstracts of his longer scientific papers for Nature and saw a short piece in the weekly journal as a useful way to announce a forthcoming study or, more frequently, to disagree with another man of science or call attention to another naturalist’s paper that he thought was of particular interest. Nature quickly replaced the Gardener’s Chronicle as Darwin’s publication of choice.

In 1880, a New York journalist named John Michels collaborated with the famous inventor Thomas Edison to create the journal Science, which, like Nature, was a weekly publication intended to draw contributions from distinguished men of science working in a wide range of disciplines. In the introductory issue of Science, Michels (who assumed the position of editor) wrote, “It is the desire of the Editor that ‘Science’ may, in the United States, take the position which ‘Nature’ so ably occupies in England, in presenting immediate information of scientific events” — a clear testament to Nature’s success in placing itself at the center of the scientific consciousness, as well as to Nature’s growing influence among American readers.

Nature could also be seen, as an 1893 letter from the physicist Oliver Lodge suggests, as one of the few remaining places where men of science could communicate across increasingly sharp disciplinary boundaries.

CHAPTER THREE - Defining the “Man of Science” in Nature

In the 1850s Argyll was welcomed as a man of science, someone whose love of scientific knowledge, past experience investigating Scottish geological formations, and devotion to reading the latest papers marked him as a scientific insider. And yet by the 1880s, Nature’s contributors felt confident dismissing his opinions as irrelevant. The duke’s interactions with Nature show that something fundamental was changing about science in nineteenth-century Britain: the qualifications for being considered a man of science were becoming more demanding and more specialized. Arguments about who could and could not be a man of science were not petty debates over terminology. They were fundamentally about what science was and who would be allowed to make claims about scientific knowledge. Nature was a key site where this battle was fought, where the qualifications for membership in British science were proposed, debated, and established.

The essential criterion Nature’s participants established for a man of science was that he (or occasionally she) must perform original scientific investigations. Those who simply read about science or who focused on the practical applications of science rather than the creation of new knowledge were not considered the scientific equals of those who devoted themselves to original investigations.

Historians of Victorian science have shown that men like the members of the X Club attacked religious authority in part out of a desire to claim the church’s cultural authority for scientists. Wallace and Meldola’s pointed reviews of books on evolution by literary critics further suggest that some men of science also sought to claim the cultural authority held by literary men.

But, Argyll insisted, even men of science could make errors: “everyone who knows the history of science must be able to call to mind not one instance only, but many instances, in which the progress of knowledge has been delayed for long periods of time by the powerful and repressive influences of authority.”

According to Nature’s contributors, politicians simply did not play by the same set of rules as men of science. Politicians used rhetoric and insults to achieve victory over their opponents; men of science presented facts in support of their arguments and did not seek to cast doubt on their opponents’ motives in order to strengthen their case. Being a politician did not just signal a lack of intellectual qualifications but a lack of moral qualifications necessary to be a man of science.

Nonetheless, psychical research provides us with an interesting case in which Nature’s editors and contributors dealt with a field that was struggling to make a claim to scientific status.

When Nature was founded in 1869, British engineers had managed to carve out a reasonably secure place in Britain’s social hierarchy; they were praised for their work constructing railroads and factories, and several had been knighted or had become wealthy from their work. But in the 1840s and 1850s, some British engineers, most notably the railroad engineer I. K. Brunel, began pushing to create a more standardized curriculum for training engineers and to enhance the theoretical components of an engineer’s education.

Arguments about who was entitled to call himself a man of science in Great Britain have traditionally been linked to the “professionalization” of science in the nineteenth century.

In order to be a man of science, it was not necessary to earn money for scientific work, or even to perform scientific work full time — the essential qualification was the desire to pursue scientific truth. British men of science sought to justify their claims to moral and intellectual authority by fashioning an image as servants of the public good who cared only for the improvement of knowledge.

Nature’s contributors sought to establish science as an exclusive and demanding pursuit in which only a limited number of devoted individuals attained expertise, not as a casual intellectual endeavor that welcomed experts and laymen alike.

The affable, charming Gregory made friends easily in London, among them a fellow student named Herbert George Wells, who would remain one of Gregory’s closest friends throughout his life.

Gregory’s greatest public fame, however, came from his 1916 book Discovery; or, the Spirit and Service of Science.

CHAPTER FOUR - Scientific Internationalism and Scientific Nationalism

Boltwood, arguably the most important radioactivity physicist in the United States, had obtained his PhD from Yale in 1897 and began his career as a consulting chemist. He conducted research out of his own private laboratory in New Haven until his appointment as an assistant professor of physics at Yale in 1906.

Many historians have written that the twenty years preceding the outbreak of World War I were an era of increasing international ties between scientific workers. The number of international scientific congresses increased dramatically between 1870 and 1914, fueled in part by a desire to standardize terminology and units and in part by the enormous boom in railway networks across Europe.

While international scientific congresses and correspondence networks bore witness to increasing scientific internationalism, journals continued to reflect national scientific concerns, and a scientist’s choice of where to publish his or her work was often dictated by national background and career ambitions. Rutherford and the Curies are excellent examples of scientists who had a wide network of international colleagues but remained focused on publishing within their own national context. Despite the growing rhetoric of scientific internationalism and the increasing importance of international scientific colleagues, both Rutherford and the Curies placed great emphasis on asserting their scientific talents within their national scientific communities.

CHAPTER FIVE - Nature, Interwar Politics, and Intellectual Freedom

After the volatile Kaiser Wilhelm II assumed the German throne in 1888, political relations between Germany and Britain became increasingly strained.7 Despite this tension, Nature’s attitude toward German science remained enthusiastic and admiring. In April 1914, just months before the Great War broke out, Richard Gregory himself wrote an article on primary education that held Germany forth as an example for Britain to emulate.

On 4 October 1914, ninety-two German intellectuals
— including twenty-three eminent scientists —
signed the infamous “Appeal to the Civilized World,” claiming that Germany had been unfairly blamed for starting the war.

But in the years following the end of World War I, Nature expanded the scope of its commentary beyond Britain’s borders. Much of this international commentary was grounded in Nature contributors’ conviction that science should not be subordinated to a religious or political agenda, an ideal that came to be articulated as a concern for preserving intellectual freedom.

Lysenko’s ideas had previously been discussed in Nature; a 1936 article by the botanist V. H. Blackman discussed and dismissed Lysenko’s theories but did not treat them as obviously unscientific. The attitude in Nature toward Lysenko became much more negative after the Soviet government canceled the 1937 International Congress of Genetics, which was supposed to be held in Moscow. The Soviet government justified the decision by declaring that geneticists were anti-Marxist and promoted ideas hostile to the Soviet government. Nature also reported - incorrectly, as it turned out — that Vavilov had been arrested after the cancellation of the Congress.

Shortly after Adolf Hitler assumed emergency powers in March 1933, Albert Einstein was declared a traitor. On April 7 the Nazi government passed the Law for the Restoration of the Career Civil Service, which declared that government employees who lacked the “proper” qualifications, who had unreliable political affiliations, or who were of non-Aryan descent would be fired. This included university professors and scientists working for government laboratories. Over one-fifth of German scientists lost their positions between 1933 and 1935 because of the Nazi civil service rules.

Similarly, a June 1936 editorial on “The Protection of Scientific Freedom” declared that “the devastation of the German universities continues, and in Russia and Italy freedom of study and teaching in large portions of the field of learning are still proscribed,”and it urged British scientific workers to take a more active role in politics to avoid befalling a similar fate.

Some of Nature’s antifascism may also have stemmed from the presence of several leading Marxists in the British scientific community, including J. B. S. Haldane, J. D. Bernal, and Lancelot Hogben.

The Nobel Prize–winning German physicist Johannes Stark led the charge in Nature in defense of German academic policies. Stark, a member of the Nazi Party since 1930, was one of the new regime’s most visible scientific advocates.

CHAPTER SIX - “It Almost Came Out on Its Own”: Nature under L. J. F. Brimble and A. J. V. Gale

Perhaps most interestingly, Nature was still seen as scientifically respectable even though its editorial staff often eschewed outside refereeing — which in turn suggests that the history of peer review at scientific journals is more complicated than many observers have assumed.

Brimble and Gale’s exhortation for contributors to Nature to collaborate rather than compete for the right to be first forms an intriguing contrast with the journal’s prior history.

In 1970 Morley moved out of geophysics and accepted a position managing the Canadian Centre for Remote Sensing.

Morley’s case has been cited in Canada as an example of an apparent lack of international respect for Canadian science, an accusation applied equally to the British Nature and the Americans who ran the Journal of Geophysical Research. Morley, certainly, seems to believe that his British competitors had an advantage.

Morley softened his take on his rejection for a 2001 collection of retrospectives on the development of plate tectonics, saying only, I felt frustrated with the system. I knew that when a scientific paper was submitted to a journal, the editors choose reviewers who are experts on the topic being discussed. But the very expertise that makes them appropriate reviewers also generates a conflict of interest: they have a vested interest in the outcome of the debate. We could call this the “not invented here syndrome”: scientists may be biased against good ideas emerging from someone else’s lab. In retrospect, that is exactly what happened.

The stories behind the DNA papers and the Vine-Matthews and Morley papers show that Brimble and Gale placed great power in the hands of influential laboratory heads when deciding what to print and what to reject. Perhaps more significantly, it is clear from the two stories that under Brimble and Gale, pieces with the right institutional affiliations or recommendations could reach Nature’s pages without going through external peer review.

In most accounts of the history of the scientific journal, it was Henry Oldenburg, the legendary secretary of the Royal Society of London, who introduced this essential feature of scientific publication to the newly created Philosophical Transactions in the late seventeenth century. Oldenburg, the story goes, wisely saw that he needed to consult experts in order to judge the quality of manuscripts, and thus peer review was born and was ever after a crucial feature of any reputable scientific publication. However, the history of peer review — like the history of the scientific journal — is not nearly this simple. Far from springing full grown from the head of Henry Oldenburg, peer review did not become a consistent feature of scientific journals until well after journals became the scientific community’s site for establishing knowledge claims during the nineteenth century.

CHAPTER SEVEN - Nature, the Cold War, and the Rise of the United States

By December 1966 Maddox was pleased enough with Nature’s improved turnaround time that he began printing the date of submission at the end of each scientific paper, pointedly reminding the scientific community that Nature could get their work into print much more quickly than other publications, often within a month of the initial submission.

The Maddox regime was unafraid to court international controversy. For example, under Maddox, Nature took a provocative stance on American and British environmentalism, cautioning against environmentalist “hysteria” and urging “moderation” in the regulation of DDT.

David Davies, a geosciences correspondent who would later succeed Maddox as editor, recalled that Maddox “transformed [Nature] almost overnight... Scientists of all sorts who were reading Nature in the mid-1960s noticed a sudden change.” It went from a “very serious and rather dull journal” to one that “started to be interesting.”

Unlike Maddox, who had felt perfectly comfortable accepting a paper because he found it interesting, Davies admitted nothing without reports from at least two referees, even in his own field of geophysics.

Nature’s new Washington office was, in some ways, confirmation of a new scientific world order. The Second World War had brought massive destruction to scientific centers in Europe, the USSR, and Asia. After hostilities ceased, the United States — which had emerged from the war with its infrastructure intact and was riding high on wartime scientific successes such as the Manhattan Project — emerged as the unquestioned world leader in scientific research.

By the late 1970s the number of subscribers to Science dwarfed the number of subscribers to Nature: in 1979, Science had 152,000 subscribers worldwide, while Nature had only about 25,000.

Between 1960 and 1980 the percentage of experimental articles and reports in Science that came from non-American laboratories held steady at about 15 percent. In contrast, 80 percent of Nature’s experimental content was coming from outside the United Kingdom by 1980. Furthermore, only 9 percent of Science’s subscribers lived outside the United States, whereas more than 50 percent of Nature’s subscribers lived outside the United Kingdom. Between Nature and Science, there was no question as to which was the more international publication — a fact that illustrates both Nature’s international reach and the extent to which Americans dominated the production of English-language scientific papers.

Eugene Garfield, the president of the Institute for Scientific Information (ISI), first compiled impact factors (a number measuring the average number of times recent articles in an academic journal have been cited in the rest of the literature) for journals in 1974.

Indeed, the comparison with Science suggests that Nature’s move toward internationalism was also helped by the fact that it was not an American journal. In fact, Britain’s decline as a world power was exactly what paved the way for a British journal to position itself as a spokesman for a worldwide scientific community in the 1980s.

CHAPTER EIGHT - “Disorderly Publication”: Nature and Scientific Self-Policing in the 1980s

Another significant episode from the 1980s, Maddox’s investigation and denunciation of the French immunologist Jacques Benveniste’s Nature paper on highly dilute antisera, reveals that Maddox saw Nature not merely as a passive forum for the printing of scientific papers but as an institution that could, if necessary, take dramatic steps to defend the scientific community from “careless” research.

In October 1974 Nature printed a paper about extrasensory perception by two researchers in the Electronics and Bioengineering Laboratory at Stanford University, Russell Targ and Harold Puthoff. Targ and Puthoff concluded that some tested individuals (including the claimed telekinetic Uri Geller) did indeed have the ability to “see” information about a remote, unknown location.

In 1988, the Nobel Prize–winning immunologist David Baltimore became embroiled in a government investigation into a 1986 paper that he coauthored for the journal Cell.Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) biologist Thereza Imanishi-Kari was the lead author of the paper, but Baltimore’s status as a Nobel Prize winner quickly ensured that the investigation became known as the “Baltimore affair.”

Walter W. Stewart, an NIH employee famous for his audits of scientific fraud — in particular, his investigation of the Baltimore affair — acted as one of the referees.

Gregory Petsko, from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Department of Chemistry, wrote that “simple human error” was the most likely cause of irreproducible results. He argued that Nature’s approach to the Benveniste paper had been counterproductive, even harmful to science: “Fraud is a very serious matter, but I think it is more apt to occur in a climate where mistakes are treated too harshly.”

G. J. Neville from the Institute of Laryngology and Otology in London suggested (tongue in cheek) that perhaps the scientific community ought to create a “hit squad” that would “descend unannounced upon unsuspecting laboratories, ruthlessly checking routines for the inclusion of relevant sampling and statistical errors.” This approach, he said, “would provide the suitable climate of moral fear and financial accountability under which basic science is expected to operate.”

Had Pons and Fleischmann’s results yielded the dreamed-of era of cheap energy, we might imagine an alternate universe in which it became acceptable, even expected, for scientists with dramatic new findings to circumvent the journal submission process and make their findings public through the popular press. Instead, the cold fusion episode became a moment of triumph for the scientific journal.


Maddox went on to point out that researchers hoping to make their careers in science had to publish papers in specialist journals, which meant that “authors will go to endless trouble to meet conditions laid down by journals and their editors. In the process, they are moulding accounts of their research in response to external demands.” In Maddox’s view, journals — including his own — could not claim to be passive vessels when they wielded such tremendous influence over scientists’ careers and over which scientific research was printed. Journals were actively involved in shaping science itself.

There was often tension between the editor’s vision for Nature and the readers’ and contributors’ wishes for the journal. Lockyer’s contributors did not write the popularizing pieces he had hoped for; contributors under Brimble and Gale insisted on competing with one another instead of collaborating as the editors suggested; few researchers responded to Davies’s call to analyze the Targ-Puthoff paper; Nature’s readership largely rejected the idea of an editor visiting a laboratory in person to assess scientific results. Time and time again, Nature’s readers and contributors made their voices heard.

With (or “xxx,” as it was often called), physicists could seek out their colleagues’ preprints when they wanted instead of being bombarded by mailing list updates. In 1999 Ginsparg renamed the site, and in 2001 he moved its servers to Cornell University when he accepted a position there.

According to Wenz, the addition of online commenting and its near-instantaneous feedback from readers has had a more dramatic effect on Nature than the initial creation of the website.

Some open-access pressure comes from governments whose taxpayers fund research through organizations such as the US National Science Foundation or the UK Medical Research Council; if taxpayers funded the work, many argue, they should be able to read the resulting research. In 2000, the US National Institutes of Heath (NIH) opened PubMed Central, an open-access repository where researchers could post papers resulting from government-funded research.

The most influential open-access publisher has arguably been the Public Library of Science, or PLOS. In 2000, three scientists — Patrick Brown of Stanford University, Michael Eisen of the University of California, Berkeley, and Harold Varmus, the director of the National Cancer Institute — founded PLOS as an advocacy organization aimed at convincing researchers to make their published work freely available in repositories such as PubMed Central.

Nature’s speed of publication has been at the root of much of its success over the past 146 years.