Second Nature and a history lesson

Link: A Natural Fit: For Science Journal, Web Is ‘Second Nature’ – International – SPIEGEL ONLINE – News.

Above is a link to an article about some new and not-so-new online activities of Nature and Nature Publishing Group: according to the article,  "as shocking as the Queen moving to Las Vegas". Timo Hannay, director of web publishing, responds:  "The core business of Nature is not to produce a magazine," he says, "but to facilitate the exchange of ideas among scientists."  More and more nowadays, that exchange happens to be taking place electronically." "

The article continues:

"Would you like some coffee?" Hannay asks, as he sits down at his computer and directs his digital representative, Timo Twin, to the Magic Molecule Model Maker, which looks vaguely like a gumball machine. "Let me make some caffeine," says Timo Twin, and soon brightly colored atoms begin bursting onto the screen, combining to form a coffee molecule. As big as scaffolding, the molecule floats in cyberspace in front of the Timo avatar, three-dimensional and easily rotated. All it takes is a mouse click and the virtual machine starts spitting out other molecules: adrenaline, Viagra, aspirin — just as requested. "The Magic Molecule Model Maker sounds like a game," says Hannay. "But chemists use it a lot when they need a three-dimensional image that can be rotated for a presentation or a discussion." "

The article goes on to describe some of Nature‘s online activities, not so modern as some might think, perhaps, in concept at least:

"The digital pub, with its green-haired avatars and podcast chatter, may seem futuristic. But it is also strongly reminiscent of the generation of Nature‘s founders. At the time, more than a century ago, there was bitter competition among various young, often underfunded and short-lived scientific publications (Nature’s current competitor Science almost went out of business several times and frequently changed ownership). But Nature had a decisive advantage. Its publisher, Alexander Macmillan, loved a good party. He would routinely invite the cleverest thinkers of his day to his house for what he called "Talk, Tobacco and Tipple." This principle also served as the basis for his magazine. Science, Macmillan reasoned, simply had to be fun."

However, my local Nature history expert reports:

"Alexander Macmillan did indeed host the famous ‘tobacco parliaments’ in the 1860s and 70s with scientific heavyweights of the day where art, literature and science (particularly Darwinism) were debated with much drink and cigars. It worked in the sense that Macmillan cared enough about science to found a journal, and support it for three loss-making decades!

History pedant corner: the para afterwards is not really correct:

"The generation of people who founded Nature continued to meet for decades in London in a sort of offline community for meals, drink and talk. The group called itself the X Club because it accepted only one rule: that there would be no rules."

The X-club was different. Macmillan was not a member, nor was Norman Lockyer (Nature‘s first editor). And most, if not all, of the X-club members would write for other journals too. In fact, it was Lockyer’s non-association with the X-club that allowed him a free reign as editor to stoke controversies — a tactic to increase circulation and keep the journal on people’s lips when there was much competition around."

1 thought on “Second Nature and a history lesson

  1. All this talk of clubs and discussions always seems so glamorous and fascinating to me – when I hear of things like salons and discussion groups I wonder if they were aware of how they were making their mark – or was it just something they did – interesting but mundane and didn’t realise the consequence.

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