By the numbers

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SUSAN PETRIE, SENIOR EDITOR, [email protected]

Theories are often rooted in paradox. We observe something that defies an assumption, and then we study it to discover the forces at play. (Take, for example, wave-particle duality.) The natural process of inquiry that drives the scientific method, as it turns out, also drives print publishing. Take, for example, print-digital duality. We have observed that as digital communication becomes more prevalent, more people remain loyal to print subscriptions of Photonics Spectra.

We started studying this phenomenon about eight years ago, with something called an “Ad Action Survey.” Our methodology: Randomly poll 50,000 subscribers each year and learn about their habits, preferences, attitudes, and actions. This year, as the number of monthly subscribers surpassed 100,000, our numbers (and comments from readers) show that more than two-thirds are in the print camp. So much for theories about digital hegemony.

Science and print have been entwined for centuries. In the early 1470s, mathematician Johannes Müller von Königsberg, also known as Regiomontanus, was deeply motivated to reform the study of astronomy, and (according to his biographers) devoted his life to study, travel, and lecturing. As a Renaissance-style scholar, he was a manuscript copyist, knew Greek, received an appointment by the King of Hungary to a position at the royal library in Buda, and lectured on the Muslim scientist al-Farghani, one of the most famous astronomers from the 9th century. Regiomontanus is also credited with starting the world’s first scientific press. An online article hosted by the School of Mathematics and Statistics at the University of St. Andrews, Scotland, describes him like this:

“Regiomontanus realized the potential value of printing for producing identical multiple copies of scientific texts, which could be carefully edited with accurate diagrams. At Nuremberg in 1471-1472 he set up a printing press in his own house, and printed a Prospectus announcing his detailed plans for publishing many carefully edited mathematical, astronomical and geographical texts. He thus became the first publisher of this type of scientific literature which included ancient, mediaeval and modern works. His first publication was New theory of the planets by his former teacher Peurbach.”

More than 500 years later, I like to think Photonics Spectra still walks the path first cut by Regiomontanus — with careful editing and accurate diagrams in identical multiple copies. We extend a warm thank you to the numerous contributors and advertisers who enable it.

Published: October 2019

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