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Book & Print in New Zealand : A Guide to Print Culture in Aotearoa

Science journal publishing

Science journal publishing

Scientific publishing is defined as the formal communication across time and distance of methods, results, and implications of scientific research. Its purpose is both deposition (archival aspects) and transmission (awareness aspects); fellow scientists (peers) are the prime target audience for science publications which comprise mostly articles ('papers') in learned journals.

In New Zealand, Māori had of old a practical interest in scientific matters (horticulture, fishing, medicine, geography) but without a written language their findings cannot be considered published. It was not until this century that their orally transmitted knowledge started being committed to the scientific record.

Although sighted in 1642 by the Dutch explorer and trader Abel Tasman, New Zealand was not visited by western scientists until 1769. They recorded their observations in discovery logs, made public upon return to their homelands. These publications, mainly of a descriptive nature in the fields of plant and animal taxonomy and geography/geology, are exemplified by the logs of Captain James Cook, and of the scientists Joseph Banks and Daniel Solander who accompanied him. The first book published about New Zealand was an account of Cook's first voyage by John Hawkesworth (1773) based on material from the journals of Cook, Banks and others aboard HMS Endeavour. Ernest Dieffenbach's Travels in New Zealand was the first general scientific account of the country. Published in London in 1843, it attracted the attention of other scientists and travellers from the United States, France, Germany, and Austria. Consequently many detailed reports, books, and articles concerning scientific matters relating to New Zealand appeared from Northern Hemisphere publishers.

Since the early colonial days (the mid 1800s) New Zealand has had an active scientific community. Scientific societies were formed in nearly every main centre and several major museums and universities were built. A national scientific academy was established in 1867. Initially named the New Zealand Institute, in 1933 it became the Royal Society of New Zealand. Sir Charles Fleming published a centennial history of the Society: Science, Settlers, and Scholars (1987). In it he lists one of the main reasons for federating local societies under the New Zealand Institute as 'to give a publication medium for New Zealand scientific research, such as none of the individual societies could afford'.

The early New Zealand Institute publications were in two categories, published in a single volume: Proceedings, defined as 'a current abstract of the proceedings of the Societies . . . incorporated with the Institute' and Transactions, 'comprising papers read before the Incorporated Societies'. In 1885 the Board of the Institute also resolved to publish monographs, eventually bringing out a Bulletin series as well as occasional publications. Dissatisfaction with the annual Transactions (particularly the lag between submission and publication) led to the establishment of a quarterly Journal of Science in Dunedin in 1882. Too few contributors and subscribers meant that this journal folded after three years, to be resurrected in 1891 but lasting only one more year. In 1887, the New Zealand Medical Journal was established. It ran for ten years, was briefly discontinued, then resumed under the same name (restarting with vol.1) in Dunedin in 1900, where it is still being edited.

The establishment of the Polynesian Society's Journal in 1892 was followed by that of the New Zealand Journal of Agriculture in 1910, and by the New Zealand Journal of Science and Technology in 1918. Neither of the latter has survived, but a greater variety of more specialised journals, research reports, and bulletins has emerged from various sources.

The Department of Scientific and Industrial Research (DSIR) was established in 1926. By the Scientific and Industrial Research Act 1926, it was given a statutory responsibility for the dissemination of scientific research. It took over publication of the New Zealand Journal of Science and Technology (established in 1918) from the Board of Science and Art, established in 1913 primarily to print scientific papers. The editor of the New Zealand Journal of Science and Technology was also responsible for a Bulletin series initiated by the Board of Science and Art, the Annual Report of DSIR, and Geological Bulletins of the Geological Survey, previously published by the Mines Department. The Geological Survey had been established in 1865 and, with the Government Analyst and the National Museum, was part of the first government-funded scientific organisation in New Zealand. It became a prolific publisher of New Zealand scientific books and maps.

Between 1938 and 1957, the New Zealand Journal of Science and Technology published alternating Parts A (Agricultural Section) and B (General Section). Science and scientific output greatly expanded in New Zealand, especially at universities which added active research to their teaching obligations. To provide publishing avenues for this expanded research effort, in 1958 the New Zealand Journal of Science and Technology was replaced by the New Zealand Journal of Agricultural Research, the New Zealand Journal of Geology and Geophysics, and the New Zealand Journal of Science. Soon after, additional journals emerged:

  • New Zealand Journal of Botany (est. 1963)
  • New Zealand Journal of Marine and Freshwater Research (est. 1967)
  • New Zealand Journal of Experimental Agriculture (est. 1973)
  • New Zealand Journal of Zoology (est. 1974)

The relative importance of the generalist New Zealand Journal of Science decreased, and in 1984 it was replaced by the New Zealand Journal of Technology; it folded in 1987.

A perceived overlap between the New Zealand Journal of Experimental Agriculture and the New Zealand Journal of Agricultural Research was remedied by changing the name and content of the former to New Zealand Journal of Crop and Horticultural Science in 1989. The New Zealand Journal of Agricultural Research then concentrated on pastoral and animal research.

Agricultural extension had been a prime role for the New Zealand Journal of Agriculture (1918-88), originally established as Journal of the Department of Agriculture (1910-12), later the Journal of Agriculture, NZ (1913-18). This journal remained with the Department of Agriculture until 1965 when a commercial publisher gave the contents a more popular focus. After a series of takeovers, it finally disappeared.

Within the DSIR, direct responsibility for publishing had mostly resided within its head office, since 1944 as a separate unit, from which a Science Information Division emerged in 1975. The Science Information Division undertook to produce the Department's journals and bulletins series, as well as a variety of other science publications. The publications were produced using hot-metal typesetting and printing, predominantly at the Government Printing Office. Although established in 1864 as the Government Printing and Stationery Department for parliamentary documentation, the Government Printing Office became also an important publisher of science monographs, such as the monumental Flora of New Zealand series.

In the late 1970s and early 1980s, computer developments and applications started to have an increasing impact on New Zealand publishing and on the scientific community. The Government Printing Office introduced computer typesetting in New Zealand in 1976. Developments in association with the Science Information Division of DSIR resulted in the ability to prepare input files outside the printing plant, for example at the Hansard office. This was a world first. The cost-effectiveness of this and other developments undoubtedly helped to further centralise the production of DSIR journals, bulletins, and other departmental publications.

In 1989, following major changes in government structure, DSIR had to compete for research funds, which forced it to streamline its operations, including publications. Reorientation placed greater emphasis on the profitability of publishing scientific and popular-scientific books. The name of the unit was changed to DSIR Publishing in 1988. As DSIR Publishing now had to charge other divisions within DSIR and outside organisations for its services, scientific publishing became less centralised, even within the Department. For example, the Entomology Division assumed full production control of its monumental Fauna of New Zealand series. The 1989-90 financial year saw the biggest reorganisation of DSIR since 1926. As a result DSIR Publishing's books enterprise was closed down entirely, leaving only the journals and the Alpha series of educational leaflets. Printing was tendered to commercial printers, since the Government Printer, now GP Print, had been privatised.

It was mainly for financial reasons that the DSIR in 1990 sought to distance itself entirely from its research journals. A Cabinet Committee on Education, Science, and Technology indicated that the potential of the journals should be investigated. After wide consultation with the scientific community, officials from DSIR and the Ministry of Research, Science and Technology found that publication of New Zealand journals was justified on several grounds, which included the 'profound' influence they have on the quality of research, and 'preservation of knowledge'.

As a result of the external evaluation, the six journals were transferred to the Royal Society of New Zealand, separate from any government department, on 1 July 1991. The unit started operating under the banner 'Scientific and Industrial Research Publishing of New Zealand', SIR Publishing for short. With the transfer came an allocation of funds (supplementary to subscriptions) for three years. Funding has continued for these New Zealand science journals through an annual contract with the Ministry of Research, Science and Technology.

Now the major national scientific publisher, the Royal Society continues to produce the quarterly Journal of the Royal Society of New Zealand (successor to the Transactions 1869-1971) and the annual Proceedings of the Society, alongside the 'ex-DSIR journals'. Although experiments with various electronic formats for journal distribution have been conducted using CD-ROM and the Internet, the principal form of science communication remains that of articles printed in its seven quarterly scientific journals.