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The 15 February 2001 cover of Nature
Discipline Interdisciplinary
Language English
Abbreviated title None
Publisher (country) Nature Publishing Group (United Kingdom)
Publication history 1869 to present
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Nature is one of the most prominent scientific journals, first published on 4 November 1869. Although most scientific journals are now highly specialized, Nature is idiosyncratic (along with other weekly journals such as Science and Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences) in still publishing original research articles across a wide range of scientific fields. In most fields of scientific research, many of the most important new advances each year are published as articles in Nature while significant work published elsewhere is often reported in Nature as letters.

Research scientists are the primary audience for the journal, but article summaries and accompanying articles make many of the most important articles understandable for the general public (and to scientists in other fields). Toward the front of each issue are editorials and 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.

Nature was first established in England in 1869 by Sir Norman Lockyer. Although prior to the existence of Nature several scientific journals were in circulation in England in the second half of the 19th century, Nature was the only journal to survive. The relatively progressive, controversial nature of the journal’s first articles and writers may have contributed to its success, as many early publications included evolutionary theory and Darwinism, at the time a divisive issue due to its radical nature and its religious implications.[1] Former editor Sir John Maddox has suggested that it was Nature’s more journalistic style of writing and publication that allowed for its triumph.[2]


Scientific journals preceding Nature

Nineteenth-century England was home to a great deal of scientific progress; particularly in the latter half of the 19th century, England underwent enormous technological and industrial changes and advances.[3] In addition, during this period, the number of popular science periodicals doubled from the 1850s to the 1860s.[4] According to the editors of these journals, the publications were designed to serve as “organs of science,” in essence, a means of connecting the public to the scientific world.[5]

Nature, first created in 1869, was most certainly not the first journal of its kind. One journal to precede Nature was entitled Recreative Science: A Record and Remembrancer of Intellectual Observation, which, created in 1859, began as a natural history magazine and progressed to expand its contents over the course of its existence to include more physical observational science and technical subjects and less natural history.[6] This broadening of content could be detected in the journal’s name changes 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.[7] Recreative Science attempted, as mentioned, to include more physical sciences such as astronomy and archaeology, while Intellectual Observer broadened itself further to include literature and art along with the science of the era.[8] Similar to Recreative Science was the scientific journal entitled Popular Science Review, created in 1862.[9] Although its subject matter was very similar to Recreative Science, Popular Science Review attempted to keep readers more informed on the progress of the numerous scientific branches by creating subsections entitled ‘Scientific Summary’ or ‘Quarterly Retrospect,’ in which book reviews and commentary were included to update the audience on the latest scientific works and publications.[10] Two other journals produced in England prior to the development of Nature were entitled the Quarterly Journal of Science and Scientific Opinion, founded in 1864 and 1868, respectively.[11] The journal most closely related to Nature in its editorship and format was entitled 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.[12]

However, each of these publications ultimately failed. The Popular Science Review was the longest to survive, lasting 20 years and ending its publication in 1881; Recreative Science ceased publication in the form of the Student and Intellectual Observer in 1871, while 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.[13]

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 entitled Nature.[14] First owned and published by Alexander MacMillan, Nature, the first edition of which was created in November 1869, was similar to its predecessors in its attempt to “provide cultivated readers with an accessible forum for reading about advances in scientific knowledge.”[15] How, then, was Nature able to outlast other scientific journals created at the same time in England and become arguably one of the most prestigious scientific journals in modern society? 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.”[16] 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.[17] 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.[18] 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 1972 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.”[19] 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.[20]

Whatever the cause, Nature has thrived for 137 years and continues to publish relevant and substantial scientific papers.

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 1900s.


In 1919, Sir Richard Gregory followed Sir Norman Lockyer to become the second editor of the journal.[21] Gregory helped to establish Nature in the international scientific community; as it is stated in his obituary by the Royal Society, “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.”[22] 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.[23] In 1980, Sir John Maddox returned as editor and retained his position until 1995, at which point he retired and Dr. Philip Campbell became Editor-in-chief of all Nature publications, a position that he still holds today.[24]

Important events in Nature’s expansion and development

In 1970, Nature first opened its Washington office; other branches opened in New York, Tokyo, Munich, Paris, San Francisco, and Boston in 1985, 1987, 1987, 1989, 2001, and 2004, respectively. Starting in the 1980’s, the journal underwent a great deal of expansion, launching over ten new journals; in 1983, Nature created Bio/technology, which was later renamed Nature Biotechnology, while Nature Genetics, Nature Structure Biology, Nature Medicine, Nature Neuroscience, Nature Cell Biology, and Nature Immunology were developed in 1992, 1994, 1995, 1998, 1999, and 2000, respectively. These now comprise 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; Nature Reviews Neuroscience, Nature Reviews Cell Biology, and Nature Reviews Genetics were the first to be published in 1999, with many others to follow in later years, including Nature Reviews Cancer and Nature Reviews Technology, both of which were first published in 2001, as well as Nature Reviews Drug Discovery, which was initiated in 2002, and Nature Reviews Microbiology, which was developed in 2003.[25]

Publishing in Nature

Having an article published in Nature is very prestigious, and the articles are often highly cited, leading 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 for 2005 was 29.273 (as measured by Thomson ISI).

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

The following is a selection of scientific breakthroughs published in Nature, all of which had far-reaching consequences.

  • X-rays
W. C. Röntgen (1896). "On a new kind of rays". Nature 53: 274–276.
  • Wave nature of particles
C. Davisson and L. H. Germer (1927). "The scattering of electrons by a single crystal of nickel". Nature 119: 558–560.
  • The neutron
J. Chadwick (1932). "Possible existence of a neutron". Nature 129: 312.
  • Nuclear fission
L. Meitner and O. R. Frisch (1939). "Disintegration of uranium by neutrons: a new type of nuclear reaction". Nature 143: 239–240.
  • The structure of DNA
J. D. Watson and F. H. C. Crick (1953). "Molecular structure of Nucleic Acids: A structure for deoxyribose nucleic acid". Nature 171: 737–738.
  • Plate tectonics
J. Tuzo Wilson (1966). "Did the Atlantic close and then re-open?". Nature 211 (5050): 676-681.
  • The ozone hole
J. 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 genome
International Human Genome Sequencing Consortium (2001). "Initial sequencing and analysis of the human genome". Nature 409 (6822): 860-921. (See 15 February 2001 cover above.)

Landmark papers rejected by Nature, and published elsewhere

  • Enrico Fermi's paper on the weak interaction theory of beta decay was turned down by Nature[26] but promptly published by Zeitschrift für Physik.[27]

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 [1] presented by Naked Scientist, Chris Smith [2]. 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, all of which will launch in 2007. In 2008, Nature Geoscience is slated to commence publication.[28]

As of 2005, Nature has only 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:

Nature research journals:
  • Nature Biotechnology
  • Nature Cell Biology
  • Nature Chemical Biology
  • Nature Genetics
  • Nature Immunology
  • Nature Materials
  • Nature Medicine
  • Nature Methods
  • Nature Nanotechnology (started October 2006)
  • Nature Neuroscience
  • Nature Photonics (Launching in January 2007 ; ISSN 1749-4885 ; EISSN 1749-4893 ; website)
  • Nature Physics
  • Nature Structural and Molecular Biology
Nature Reviews journals:
  • Nature Reviews Cancer
  • Nature Reviews Drug Discovery
  • Nature Reviews Genetics
  • Nature Reviews Immunology
  • Nature Reviews Microbiology
  • Nature Reviews Molecular Cell Biology
  • Nature Reviews Neuroscience
Nature Clinical Practice journals:
  • Nature Clinical Practice Cardiovascular Medicine
  • Nature Clinical Practice Endocrinology and Metabolism
  • Nature Clinical Practice Gastroenterology and Hepatology
  • Nature Clinical Practice Neurology
  • Nature Clinical Practice Nephrology
  • Nature Clinical Practice Oncology
  • Nature Clinical Practice Rheumatology
  • Nature Clinical Practice Urology
  • European Journal of Human Genetics


  1. Browne, Charles Darwin: The Power of Place, p. 248
  2. "The Nature Centenary Dinner," p. 13
  3. Siegel, "A Cooperative Publishing Model for Sustainable Scholarship," p. 88
  4. Barton, "Just Before Nature," p. 3
  5. Barton, "Just Before Nature," p. 3
  6. Barton, "Just Before Nature," p. 7
  7. Barton, "Just Before Nature," p. 6
  8. Barton, "Just Before Nature," p. 6
  9. Barton, "Just Before Nature," p. 13
  10. Barton, "Just Before Nature," p. 13
  11. Barton, "Just Before Nature," p. 6
  12. Barton, "Just Before Nature," p. 6
  13. Barton, "Just Before Nature," p. 7
  14. Browne, Charles Darwin: The Power of Place, p. 248
  15. Browne, Charles Darwin: The Power of Place, p. 248
  16. Browne, Charles Darwin: The Power of Place, p. 248
  17. Browne, Charles Darwin: The Power of Place, p. 248
  18. Browne, Charles Darwin: The Power of Place, p. 247
  19. "The Nature Centenary Dinner," p. 13
  20. "The Nature Centenary Dinner," p. 13
  21. "Nature Publishing Group: History", retrieved November 15, 2006
  22. "Richard Arman Gregory, 1864-1952," p. 413
  23. "Nature Publishing Group: History", retrieved November 15, 2006
  24. "Nature Publishing Group: History", retrieved November 15, 2006
  25. "Nature Publishing Group: History", retrieved November 15, 2006
  26. Richard Rhodes, The Making of the Atomic Bomb, Touchstone, New York, 1986.
  27. Fermi, E (1934).' Versuch einer Theorie der beta–strahlen', Zeitschrift für Physik, vol. 88, p. 161.
  28. "Nature Publishing Group: History", retrieved November 15, 2006


  • (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.

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