Nullius in verba, plentius in print

October 28, 2012 • 8:58 am

by Greg Mayer

The Royal Society, founded in 1660, is the oldest scientific society in the English-speaking world. Among it’s early members were such luminaries as Robert Boyle, Robert Hooke, Isaac Newton, and Edmund Halley. Darwin and Wallace were both Fellows, and the Society awards the  Darwin Medal “for work of acknowledged distinction in evolution, population biology, organismal biology and biological diversity”; Wallace was the first recipient.

The motto of the Royal Society, “Nullius in verba”, can be roughly translated as “Nothing in words”, or, as the Society itself does, as

‘Take nobody’s word for it’. It is an expression of the determination of Fellows to withstand the domination of authority and to verify all statements by an appeal to facts determined by experiment.

It was at the time a revolutionary rejection of the stultifying influence of the unquestioned authority of classical and theological authors on the pursuit of natural knowledge, and remains today a revolutionary principle for the evaluation of claims about the world. The Society’s flagship journal, Philosophical Transactions, has been published since 1665, making it the oldest continuously published scientific journal in the world, and helped to establish the practice of peer review.

All this is by way of introduction to the fact that the Royal Society has made all of its journal content open access now through November 29, with downloadable pdf’s available to all users.

A recent issue of Biology Letters

The journals most likely to be of interest to WEIT readers are the Philosophical Transactions B Biological Sciences, Proceedings B Biological Sciences, Biology Letters, Notes and Records, and Biographical Memoirs (the latter two journals dealing with the history of science, the Memoirs in particular being biographies of deceased Fellows). Among the first papers you’ll want to download for your pdf library is this classic, and I might immodestly suggest this paper if your tastes run to vertebrate phylogeny (technical update: although the platypus is not a rodent, the Marsupionta turn out to probably not be a clade). There is a treasure trove of papers in the archival content of the Society’s journals (such as Newton’s first published paper), and I highly recommend that you spend some time searching through their digital stacks during the next month.

12 thoughts on “Nullius in verba, plentius in print

  1. Gratias agimus tibi for this noble advice.
    For a month, I may browse the august journals to my heart’s contentment without getting thrown out every twenty minutes by my library’s loathsome remote server system when in partibus.

    1. Hmmm…if I had some time to kill, I might go on an investigation on the evolution of the scholarly reference…in Newton’s time, wasn’t it still done in-line and informally? When did people start collecting their references in an orderly list at the end? When did the modern habit of full citations down to the page number arise? When did it become verboten to not have a well-organized list of references in a scholarly work?


    1. Likewise, I’ve got so much reading to do already, I’m never going to fit all this in. If only re-incarnation were true…..

    2. To introduce a religious tone … a Sisyphean task? (The guy with the hill and the boulder … )
      Would you have it any other way?

  2. “Plentius in print”? O tempora! O mores!
    You don’t like dogs but Dog Latin is OK?

    The nearest I can get to good Latin would be something like “Abuntantia imprimitus” but my Latin stopped in 1960; anyone is welcome to improve it.

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