Nature (journal)

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Template:Infobox Journal Nature is a prominent scientific journal, first published on 4 November 1869. Although most scientific journals are now highly specialized, Nature is one of the few journals, along with other weekly journals such as Science and Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that still publishes original research articles across a wide range of scientific fields. In many fields of scientific research, important new advances and original research are published as articles or letters in Nature.

Research scientists are the primary audience for the journal, but summaries and accompanying articles make many of the most important papers understandable for the general public and to scientists in other fields. Toward the front of each issue are editorials, news and feature articles on issues of general interest to scientists, including current affairs, science funding, business, scientific ethics and research breakthroughs. There are also sections on books and arts. The remainder of the journal consists mostly of research articles, which are often dense and highly technical. Due to strict limits on the length of articles, in many cases the printed text is actually a summary of the work in question with many details relegated to accompanying supplemental material on the journal's website.


Scientific magazines and journals preceding Nature

Nineteenth-century Britain was home to a great deal of scientific progress; particularly in the latter half of the 19th century, Britain underwent enormous technological and industrial changes and advances.[1] The most respected scientific journals of this time were the refereed journals of the Royal Society, which had published many of the great works from Isaac Newton, Michael Faraday through to early works from Charles Darwin. In addition, during this period, the number of popular science periodicals doubled from the 1850s to the 1860s.[2] According to the editors of these popular science magazines, the publications were designed to serve as “organs of science,” in essence, a means of connecting the public to the scientific world.[2]

Nature, first created in 1869, was not the first magazine of its kind. One journal to precede Nature was titled Recreative Science: A Record and Remembrancer of Intellectual Observation, which, created in 1859, began as a natural history magazine and progressed to include more physical observational science and technical subjects and less natural history.[3] The journal’s name changed from its original title to Intellectual Observer: A Review of Natural History, Microscopic Research, and Recreative Science and then later to the Student and Intellectual Observer of Science, Literature, and Art.[4] While Recreative Science had attempted to include more physical sciences such as astronomy and archaeology, the Intellectual Observer broadened itself further to include literature and art as well.[4] Similar to Recreative Science was the scientific journal titled Popular Science Review, created in 1862[5], which covered different fields of science by creating subsections titled ‘Scientific Summary’ or ‘Quarterly Retrospect,’ with book reviews and commentary on the latest scientific works and publications.[5] Two other journals produced in England prior to the development of Nature were titled the Quarterly Journal of Science and Scientific Opinion, founded in 1864 and 1868, respectively.[4] The journal most closely related to Nature in its editorship and format was titled The Reader, created in 1864; the publication mixed science with literature and art in an attempt to reach an audience outside of the scientific community, similar to Popular Science Review.[4]

These similar journals all ultimately failed. The Popular Science Review was the longest to survive, lasting 20 years and ending its publication in 1881; Recreative Science ceased publication as the Student and Intellectual Observer in 1871. The Quarterly Journal, after undergoing a number of editorial changes, ceased publication in 1885. The Reader terminated in 1867, and finally, Scientific Opinion lasted a mere 2 years, until June 1870.[3]

The creation of Nature

File:Nature cover, November 4, 1869.jpg
First title page, November 4, 1869

Not long after the conclusion of The Reader, a former editor, Norman Lockyer, decided to create a new scientific journal titled Nature.[6] First owned and published by Alexander MacMillan, Nature was similar to its predecessors in its attempt to “provide cultivated readers with an accessible forum for reading about advances in scientific knowledge.”[6] Janet Browne has proposed that “far more than any other science journal of the period, Nature was conceived, born, and raised to serve polemic purpose.”[6] Many of the early editions of Nature consisted of articles written by members of a group that called itself the X Club, a group of scientists known for having liberal, progressive, and somewhat controversial scientific beliefs relative to the time period.[6] Initiated by Thomas Henry Huxley, the group consisted of such important scientists as Joseph Hooker, Herbert Spencer, and John Tyndall, along with another five scientists and mathematicians; these scientists were all avid supporters of Darwin’s theory of evolution, a theory which, during the latter-half of the 19th century, received a great deal of criticism among more conservative groups of scientists.[7] Perhaps it was in part its scientific liberality that made Nature a longer-lasting success than its predecessors. John Maddox, editor of Nature from 1966 to 1973 as well as from 1980 to 1995, suggested at a celebratory dinner for the journal’s centennial edition that perhaps it was the journalistic qualities of Nature that drew readers in; “journalism” Maddox states, “is a way of creating a sense of community among people who would otherwise be isolated from each other. This is what Lockyer’s journal did from the start.”[8] In addition, Maddox mentions that the financial backing of the journal in its first years by the Macmillan family also allowed the journal to flourish and develop more freely than scientific journals before it.[8]

Nature in the 20th century

Nature underwent a great deal of development and expansion during the 20th century, particularly during the latter half of the 90's.


In 1919, Sir Richard Gregory followed Sir Norman Lockyer to become the second editor of the journal.[9] Gregory helped to establish Nature in the international scientific community. His obituary by the Royal Society stated: “Gregory was always very interested in the international contacts of science, and in the columns of Nature he always gave generous space to accounts of the activities of the International Scientific Unions.”[10] During the years 1945 to 1973, editorship of Nature changed three times, first to A.J.V. Gale and L.J.F. Brimble in 1945 (who in 1958 became the sole editor), then to Sir John Maddox in 1965, and finally to David Davies in 1973.[9] In 1980, Sir John Maddox returned as editor and retained his position until 1995. Dr. Philip Campbell has since become Editor-in-chief of all Nature publications.[9]

Nature’s expansion and development

In 1970, Nature first opened its Washington office; other branches opened in New York in 1985, Tokyo and Munich in 1987, Paris in 1989, San Francisco in 2001, and Boston in 2004. Starting in the 1980’s, the journal underwent a great deal of expansion, launching over ten new journals. These new journals comprise the Nature Publishing Group, which was created in 1999 and includes Nature, Nature Research Journals, Stockton Press Specialist Journals and Macmillan Reference (renamed NPG Reference).

In 1997, Nature created its own website,, and in 1999 Nature Publishing Group began its series of Nature Reviews.[9] Some articles and papers are available for free on the Nature Web site. Others require the purchase of premium access to the site.

Nature claims a readership of over 300,000 senior scientists and executives and over 600,000 total readers. The journal has a circulation of around 65,000 but studies have concluded that on average the journal is shared by as many as 10 people.[11]

Publishing in Nature

Having an article published in Nature is very prestigious, and the articles are often highly cited, which can lead to promotions, grant funding, and attention from the mainstream media. Because of these positive feedback effects, competition among scientists to publish in high-level journals like Nature and its closest competitor, Science, can be very fierce. Nature's impact factor, a measure of how many citations a journal generates in other works, was 29.273 in 2005 (as measured by Thomson ISI), among the highest of any science journal.

As with most other professional scientific journals, articles undergo an initial screening by the editor, followed by peer review (in which other scientists, chosen by the editor for expertise with the subject matter but who have no connection to the research under review, will read and critique articles), before publication. In the case of Nature, they are only sent for review if it is decided that they deal with a topical subject and are sufficiently ground-breaking in that particular field. As a consequence, the majority of submitted articles are rejected without review.

According to Nature's mission statement:

It is intended, FIRST, to place before the general public the grand results of Scientific Work and Scientific Discovery; and to urge the claims of Science to a more general recognition in Education and in Daily Life; and, SECONDLY, to aid Scientific men themselves, by giving early information of all advances made in any branch of Natural knowledge throughout the world, and by affording them an opportunity of discussing the various Scientific questions which arise from time to time.

Landmark papers

Many of the most significant scientific breakthroughs in modern history have been first published in Nature. The following is a selection of scientific breakthroughs published in Nature, all of which had far-reaching consequences, and the citation for the article in which they were published.

  • X-raysW. C. Röntgen (1896). "On a new kind of rays". Nature. 53: 274–276.
  • First molecular protein structure (myoglobin) — J. C. Kendrew, G. Bodo, H. M. Dintzis, R. G. Parrish, H. Wyckoff and D. C. Phillips (1958). "A three-dimensional model of the myoglobin molecule obtained by X-ray analysis". Nature. 181: 662–666.
  • The ozone holeJ. C. Farman, B. G. Gardiner and J. D. Shanklin (1985). "Large losses of total ozone in Antarctica reveal seasonal ClOx/NOx interaction". Nature. 315 (6016): 207–210. doi:10.1038/315207a0.
  • First cloning of a mammal (Dolly the sheep) — I. Wilmut, A. E. Schnieke, J. McWhir, A. J. Kind and K. H. S. Campbell (1997). "Viable offspring derived from fetal and adult mammalian cells". Nature. 385 (6619): 810–813. doi:10.1038/385810a0.
  • The human genomeInternational Human Genome Sequencing Consortium (2001). "Initial sequencing and analysis of the human genome". Nature. 409 (6822): 860–921. (See 15 February 2001 cover above.)

Peer review

Due to the intense competition to publish in Nature and the subsequent large volumes of submitted manuscripts, errors and irregularities in peer review are inevitable. There are a number of well-known cases in Nature where such anomalies in the peer-review process occurred.

A series of five fraudulent papers by Jan Hendrik Schön were published in Nature in the 2000-2001 period. The papers, about superconductivity, were revealed to contain falsified data and other scientific fraud. In 2003 the papers were retracted by Nature. The Schön Scandal was not limited to Nature. Other prominent journals such as Science and Physical Review retracted Schön's papers.[12]

Before publishing one of its most famous discoveries, Watson and Crick's 1953 paper on the structure of DNA, Nature did not send the paper out for peer review at all. John Maddox, Nature's editor, stated that "the Watson and Crick paper was not peer-reviewed by Nature... the paper could not have been refereed: its correctness is self-evident. No referee working in the field ... could have kept his mouth shut once he saw the structure..."

An earlier error occurred when Enrico Fermi submitted his breakthrough paper on the weak interaction theory of beta decay. Nature turned down the paper because it was considered too remote from reality. [13] Fermi's paper was published by Zeitschrift für Physik in 1934, and finally published by Nature 5 years later, after Fermi's work had been widely accepted.[14]

When Paul Lauterbur and Peter Mansfield won a Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for research initially rejected by Nature and published only after Lauterbur appealed the rejection,Nature acknowledged more of its own missteps in rejecting papers in an editorial titled "Coping with Peer Rejection":

"(T)here are unarguable faux pas in our history. These include the rejection of Cerenkov radiation, Hideki Yukawa’s meson, work on photosynthesis by Johann Deisenhofer, Robert Huber and Hartmut Michel, and the initial rejection (but eventual acceptance) of Stephen Hawking’s black-hole radiation."[15]

Publication of Nature and related journals

Nature is edited and published in the United Kingdom by Nature Publishing Group, a subsidiary of Macmillan Publishers which in turn is owned by the Georg von Holtzbrinck Publishing Group. Nature has offices in London, New York City, San Francisco, Washington, D.C., Boston, Tokyo, Paris, Munich, and Basingstoke. Nature Publishing Group also publishes other specialized journals including Nature Neuroscience, Nature Biotechnology, Nature Methods, Nature Clinical Practice, Nature Structural & Molecular Biology and the Nature Reviews series of journals.

Presently, each issue of Nature is accompanied by the Nature Podcast[16] presented by Naked Scientist, Chris Smith. The podcasts feature highlights from the issue and interviews with the articles' authors and the journalists covering the research.

Nature Publishing Group plans to initiate Clinical Pharmacology & Therapeutics, “the official journal of the American Society of Clinical Pharmacology & Therapeutics,” in 2007; Nature Publishing Group also plans to publish Molecular Therapy, intended to be the American Society of Gene Therapy’s official journal, as well as Nature Photonics and the International Society for Microbial Ecology (ISME) Journal. In 2008, Nature Geoscience is slated to commence publication.[9]

As of 2005, Nature had partially responded to the challenge from the Public Library of Science and its supporters, who in 2001 signed a petition calling for all scientists to pledge that from September of 2001 they would discontinue submission of papers to journals which did not make the full-text of their papers available to all, free and unfettered after a six-month period from publication. Nature's response was to allow authors to self-archive their original submission, after an embargo date, for example on the e-print archive.

Nature family of journals

In addition to Nature itself, there are three families of Nature-branded journals published by the Nature Publishing Group[17]:

Research journals:
Reviews journals:
Nature Clinical Practice journals:
Nature Online Publications:


  1. Siegel, "A Cooperative Publishing Model for Sustainable Scholarship," p. 88
  2. 2.0 2.1 Barton, "Just Before Nature," p. 3
  3. 3.0 3.1 Barton, "Just Before Nature," p. 7
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 Barton, "Just Before Nature," p. 6
  5. 5.0 5.1 Barton, "Just Before Nature," p. 13
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 Browne, Charles Darwin: The Power of Place, p. 248
  7. Browne, Charles Darwin: The Power of Place, p. 247
  8. 8.0 8.1 "The Nature Centenary Dinner," p. 13
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 9.3 9.4 "Nature Publishing Group: History", retrieved November 15, 2006
  10. "Richard Arman Gregory, 1864-1952," p. 413
  11. Demographics: Nature, a profile of Nature's readership.
  12. "Retractions' realities". Nature. 422 (6927): p. 1. 2003-03-06.
  13. Richard Rhodes, The Making of the Atomic Bomb, Touchstone, New York, 1986.
  14. Fermi, E (1934).' Versuch einer Theorie der beta–strahlen', Zeitschrift für Physik, vol. 88, p. 161.
  15. "Coping with peer rejection". Nature. 425: p. 645. 2003-10-16.
  16. "". Nature Podcast.
  17. family of journals


  • (1953). "Richard Arman Gregory, 1864-1952." Obituary Notices of Fellows of the Royal Society 8(22).
  • (1970). "The 'Nature' Centenary Dinner." Notes and Records of the Royal Society of London 25(1).
  • Barton, R. (1996). "Just Before Nature: The Purposes of Science and the Purposes of Popularization in Some English Popular Science Journals of the 1860s." Annals of Science 55: 33.
  • Browne, J. (2002). Charles Darwin: The Power of Place. New York, Alfred A. Knopf, Inc.
  • Siegel, R. S. a. G. E. (2006). "A Cooperative Publishing Model for Sustainable Scholarship " Journal of Scholarly Publishing 37(2): 13.

External links

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