Luisa Veras de Sandes-Guimarães

In 2015 scientific periodicals are celebrating 350 years of existence. The history of periodicals began in 1665 with the creation of the Journal des Sçavans (Journal of Scholars) and the Philosofical Transactions, founded in France and England respectively. Since then periodicals have maintained their position as one of the main pillars of scientific communication. But why are scientific periodicals so important? At the time they were created, the greatest problems facing scientific knowledge and discoveries were: the establishment of who deserves priority of discovery and the organization and dissemination of this knowledge.

The priority of discovery of knowledge is of extreme importance to all researchers. Publication is one of the ways, perhaps the most efficient way, for a researcher to prove that he or she was the first to discover something new and, in this sense, to prove that the discovery is new. By the way, one of the greatest scientific conflicts in history took place between Newton and Leibniz regarding who was the first to discover Calculus. Put simply, Newton made his discoveries between 1664 and 1666 but only published them in 1693, while Leibniz made his discoveries between 1672 and 1676, after Newton, but published them in 1684 and 1686, before Newton.

Reviews by peers or specialists, in relation to the characteristics of scientific discoveries, already existed informally before periodicals were created. This procedure was incorporated by the periodicals and plays an extremely important role in the publication of scientific knowledge, that is, assuring the quality and validity of the publication. In the 21st century this function performed by periodicals has become even more important due to the number of articles published each year, which is roughly 2 million.

This brief introduction to scientific periodicals is designed to present the reader with a little idea of the history and the importance of periodicals in the communication of scientific knowledge. In dealing with scientific periodicals, various issues come to mind, such as: impact, open access, quality and evaluation, peer review, scientific editorials, periodical management, indexation, and fake journals, among other things. Some of these issues will be addressed in this manual and others will remain to be investigated by the reader.

Good reading!

Communicating knowledge and scientific periodicals

Research is extremely important to the development of science, because it leads to the creation of new knowledge, which can be used to better understand a phenomenon or develop new research. The flow of information is a continual cycle that involves the processes of construction, communication and the use of knowledge (Le Coadic, 1996). In this sense, scientific research and investigation aren’t ends in themselves, and the communication of results and subsequent critiques and citations are part of the process of constructing knowledge (Ziman, 1979).

Communication plays an essential role in the scientific community, to the extent that it assures the exchange of information about current research and new discoveries, guaranteeing constant contact between scientists and, to this extent, it contributes to the improvement of existing knowledge and the production of new knowledge. Communication seeks to “transfer the body of knowledge gained from scientific investigation, making new reflections and new advances possible” (Carvalho, 2011, p. 25).

Mueller and Passos (2000) remind us that a new piece of knowledge has to be submitted to examination by other scientists (peers) who evaluate its quality and validity. For knowledge to be recognized as scientific, it should also be published, with the periodical being the most commonly used vehicle for this purpose, although there are variations between one area of knowledge and another.

You could say that scientific communication has existed since research first began. The ancient Greeks were the first to use speech (in debates) and writing (in manuscripts) as ways of communicating the activities and research that had been performed. With the advent of printing in the 15th century, the production of printed texts increased rapidly, and the book became the most important instrument to transmit research results. Another important medium was personal correspondence. For a long time, therefore, these were the main means of scientific communication. However, books took a long time to be published, which certainly impeded science from developing at the desired rate (Meadows, 1999).

In the middle of the 17th century a new means of scientific dissemination arose: the scientific periodical. According to Meadows (1999), the idea of creating a scientific publication was proposed by the London Royal Society. Up until this time, the diffusion of information about new research was conducted by correspondence, maintained by the society secretary Henry Oldenburg. However, the number of accumulated letters began to be a heavy burden for the Royal Society and they thought of grouping together the most important ones in a publication that would be released periodically.

Even though it was the English who were the first to come up with the idea, it was in France in January 1665 that Dennis de Sallo created the first periodical: the Journal des Sçavans (Journal of Scholars) (later renamed Journal des Savants), dedicated to publishing news about what was happening in Europe in the “republic of letters.” Hearing of this, the Royal Society began publishing its own periodical in March of that same year, naming it Philosofical Transactions, and it is still being published to this day. In this way, the introduction of the periodical signified the formalization of scientific communication, making research available for a long period of time to a wide audience. Thus, periodicals over time came to be widely used to communicate knowledge. Again according to Meadows (1999), periodicals contributed to the recognition of priority of scientific discovery by noting the date that the article was received. In addition, they were also responsible for guaranteeing the publication of quality material through peer review.

Scientific periodicals perform various functions that are essential to scientific communication:

1.      Diffusion/Dissemination of knowledge;

2.      Preservation of knowledge;

3.      Definition of scientific priority, functioning as an instrument of scientific recognition;

4.      Certification of knowledge assuring a quality standard for science (Suaiden, 2008; Targino & Garcia, 2008; Agha & Fowler, 2015).

Scientific periodicals, in the academic context, have a strong relationship with the “[...] system of academic compensation and peer recognition, exercising a vital role in the validation of conducted research” (Targino & Garcia, 2008, p. 45). 


Agha, R. A., & Fowler, A. J. Celebrating 350 years of academic journals. International Journal of Surgery, 19, 146-147. DOI: 10.1016/j.ijsu.2015.05.030

Carvalho, K. de C. (2011). Revista científica e pesquisa: perspectiva histórica. D. A. Población, G. P. Witter, L. M. S. V. C. Ramos, & V. M. B. de O. Funaro (Orgs.), Revistas científicas: dos processos tradicionais às perspectivas alternativas de comunicação (pp. 23-42). Cotia: Ateliê Editorial.

Le Coadic, Y.-F. (1996). A ciência da informação. Brasília: Briquet de Lemos.

Meadows, A. J. (1999). A comunicação científica. Brasília: Briquet de Lemos.

Mueller, S. P. M., & Passos, E. J. L. (2000). As questões da comunicação científica e a ciência da informação. In S. P. M. Mueller & E. J. L. Passos (Orgs.), Comunicação científica (pp. 13-22). Brasília: Ed. da UnB.

Suaiden, E. (2008). Como gerir revistas científicas. In S. M. S. P. Ferreira & M. das G. Targino (Orgs.), Mais sobre revistas científicas: em foco a gestão (pp. 9-13). São Paulo: Editora Senac.

Targino, M. das G., & Garcia, J. C. R. (2008). O editor e a revista científica: entre o feijão e o sonho . In S. M. S. P. Ferreira & M. das G. Targino (Orgs.), Mais sobre revistas científicas: em foco a gestão (pp. 41-72). São Paulo: Editora Senac.

Ziman, J. (1979). Conhecimento público. Belo Horizonte: Itatiaia.english

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