Monday, June 2, 2014

Acta Eruditorum

The Archdruid was apparently very surprised when he discovered that he had quite a following of scientists and engineers.   He confessed to the usual ritual of dithering that all of us perform when we are surprised by events.  But he did come up with a bit of a challenge for those out there.

Here’s what I’m proposing. I’d like to ask this blog’s readers to break out their word processing programs again, but this time I’m looking for nonfiction papers with a scientific or technical slant, written for an intelligent nonprofessional audience.  Each paper should either describe a  problem that will confront the deindustrializing world in the course of the Long Descent, or propose a practical solution to some problem of this kind, or both. Successful entries will start from the assumption that the unraveling of industrial society sketched out in this blog and my books The Long Descent and The Ecotechnic Future is a reality that has to be accepted, and go from there to deal with specific challenges that will follow from the shape of that future.
So I am proposing a pursuit of an appropriate solution to the problem of transmission of ideas in a resource constrained world.

In the past, access to ideas and work done outside of one's hometown was limited.  The journals that stood at the forefront of the scientific and technical revolution that has shaped the last two hundred years has served us well.  At first, these journals were quite limited in size and scope.  The Proceedings of the Royal Academy began with a humble press run of approximately 1250 (1) and has now blossomed into an industry of thousands of journals with almost unfathomable penetration of the populace.  The best numbers that I can come up with yields a total of 23,750 journals publishing 945,900 papers.

Now, I realize that there is quite a bit of fluff in those numbers.  Different judges would rate importance of the articles and/or journals as earth-changing to astonishingly trivial, with a very heavy weighting to the latter.

The long descent will see the none-too-gradual withering away of the hundred flowers that is the current state of the journals industry.  They are as much a artifact of a energy-prolific world as the largest, most fin encrusted Cadillac monster manufactured in the 1960's.  But, in a sense, that withering will provide an essential brake to material progress, allowing us to better husband the non-renewable resources remaining.

But there will always be a need for transmission of scientific thought.  Newton developed the calculus first, but the work languished for so long that an equivalent genius named Liebnitz was able to work out the ideas independently and publish them.  The transmission of thought is as important as the thought itself.

But in a resource constrained future, what will be the nature of the transmission of scientific ideas?

1.)  Last week, I was brash enough to pose a question to the Royal Society concerning the size of the printing run of the earliest issues of the Philosophical Transactions.   I was expecting to be ignored, but with a courteous note that pleased me to no end I was given a response along with an excellent reference.
Johns, Adrian
Miscellaneous methods: authors, societies and journals in early modern England
British Journal for the History of Science; 33(2), no.116, June 2000, pp.159-186
(abstract here:

1 comment:

russell1200 said...

Very cool that they replied.

Print technology is very low energy. And wind power can take you a lot of places. I am guessing that food will be shorter than the printed word.