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  • The Advancement of Science:James McKeen Cattell and the Networks of Prestige and Authority, 1894-1915
  • Robin Vandome (bio)

The need for an authoritative and widely-accessible American scientific periodical was keenly felt by 1880 when the weekly Science was established in New York by the journalist John Michels, with the financial backing of scientific entrepreneur Thomas Edison. As the astronomer and mathematician Simon Newcomb had observed with regret in 1874, "The difficulty is not that our scientific men are indifferent to knowledge, but that they do not go through the laborious and thankless process of digesting and elaborating their knowledge and publishing it to the world."1 Some promising scientific publications had, in fact, emerged, ranging from the commercial Scientific American (established in 1846) and the specialist American Naturalist (established in 1867 and limited, as Newcomb noted, "entirely to biology"), to the more philosophically-inclined magazine aimed at a broadly-educated audience, Popular Science Monthly (established in 1872).2 But the only periodical that met Newcomb's high standards for the publication of new research was the venerable American Journal of Science and Arts (established in 1818), and even that title was restricted largely to the earth sciences at the expense of many new disciplines.3

Multiple efforts to cater to general scientific interests in a single periodical were made in the 1870s and 1880s, only for most to flounder after a few months or years, in line with the typical pattern for new magazines in this period.4 The shorter-lived contemporaries of Science included the Science Record (1872-77), Scientific Monthly (1875-76), Scientific Observer (1877-87), Science News (1878-79), Illustrated Scientific News (1878-81), Scientific Man (1878-82), a second Science Record (1884-85), Science Review (1885-86), and Science and Education (1886-87), among still others.5 By 1900, however, Science clearly filled the gap felt by the likes of Newcomb. This article will identify the successful emergence of Science and the conduct of its most important early editor, James McKeen Cattell (1860-1944), as rooted in the social networks that sustained both the journal's existence and its intellectual authority. The social networks of print culture formed the backbone of what is often described as the "community" [End Page 172] of scientific inquiry; membership in this community might be marked by a mere enthusiasm for science, by membership in an organization such as the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), or by recognized expertise in a particular discipline.6 While the identification of this community of scientists calls attention to the strong personal ties between many members, however, the concept of networks more effectively situates scientific thought and activity in the increasingly anonymous professional groups, linked by institutions and print forums, that came to form the definitive social context for science during this period.7 Achieving an ideal of communal inquiry in these circumstances was one of the key functions of new scientific periodicals. By both harnessing and enhancing the prestige and authority of its contributors and the institutions with which it had ties, Science helped to reshape modern American science while advancing its own status as a journal. This article will argue that the establishment of Science as an authoritative periodical was partly due to the creation of networks that transcended the sometimes-fractious personal and institutional rivalries of science and partly a result of Cattell's fusion of his editorial conduct with a cognitive ideal of scientific inquiry itself. The intellectual aspiration of abandoning personal bias motivated scientific inquiry in general; by embodying this aspiration in the pages of Science, the journal became the official record, and a rallying point for unity, in a growing and potentially fragmented community.

Cattell in the Scientific Community

From 1880 to 1894, Science had a succession of editors and financial backers who consistently struggled—and failed—to sustain the kind of periodical that Newcomb had called for. After Edison pulled out of the venture in 1881, another business-minded scientist, Alexander Graham Bell, along with his father-in-law, Gardner G. Hubbard, purchased and financed the journal, allowing publication to continue in a new series starting in February 1883 with the entomologist Samuel...


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