Scientific Societies

Scientific Societies

 

voluntary associations of specialists conducting scientific research and persons with an interest in some branch of science other than their own field.

An ancient prototype of the scientific society was Plato’s Academy, which was founded in 387 B.C. Later, from the third century B.C. through the first few centuries A.D., scientific societies in the form of small groups originated in various countries, often under the name “academies.” Scientific societies in the form of professional associations of scholars were founded in the 15th and 16th centuries, for example, the Platonic Academy in Florence (founded in 1459), which engaged in the study of historical and philosophical problems. The 17th century witnessed the organization of scientific societies, which traditionally were called academies. These societies concentrated on problems in the natural sciences and included the National Academy of Lincei (1603) and the Accademia del Cimento (1657) in Italy and Leopoldina (1652) in Germany. Such scientific academies later gave rise to specialized academies of sciences, whose activities, in turn, led to the establishment of national scientific centers, for example, the Institut de France. In a number of instances, such an academy, by receiving state support, became the national academy of sciences of that country, for example, the National Academy of Lincei.

In addition to these academies, other groups that were scientific societies in the proper sense of the term were organized with a broader based representation, bringing together physicians, travelers, and others. Such scientific societies formed in the 17th century, primarily as a result of the development of the natural sciences. Because the members of these scientific societies were often involved with empirical investigations, they argued against the scholastic erudition that was then prevalent in many European universities. Such disputes and confrontations led to the founding of various societies, for example, the London Society (1660, since 1662 known as the Royal Society of London), which became a model for scientific societies in many countries.

In the 17th to 19th centuries, some of the basic goals of scientific societies were the unification of scholars and coordination of research, the exchange of information, the publication of works, and the awarding of prizes. With respect to organization, these scientific societies were constructed on the principle of an elected membership. In a number of countries, scientific societies were established in conjunction with universities (in Russia, for example, the Moscow Society of Naturalists, founded in 1805, and the Society of Lovers of Natural Science, Anthropology, and Ethnology, founded in 1863).

As a result of greater differentiation as well as integration of science, scientific societies became increasingly specialized (for example, seeGEOGRAPHIC SOCIETIES and MEDICAL SOCIETIES). At the same time, the role of the general scientific societies also grew. Newly organized national scientific centers took the form of scientific societies, for example, the National Academy of Sciences in the USA (1863). Nevertheless, having become national academies of sciences, scientific societies of the 18th and 19th centuries lost their informal and democratic character. In several countries, scientific societies became important instruments for implementing the state’s scientific policies. Scientific societies usually did not have their own research facilities, but through their members who were working in scientific and educational institutions they exercised considerable influence on scientific activity. Such a position has been maintained by scientific societies in developed capitalist countries during the 20th century, when these societies, in addition to carrying out their traditional functions, began dealing with other problems in the organization of scientific activity. General and specialized scientific societies are consulted by governments and governmental organizations and take part in developing scientific programs. Scientific societies in capitalist countries are privately run or nongovernmental organizations and have various sources of financing—for example, membership dues, income from the sale of scientific publications, and contributions and subsidies from private individuals and foundations.

In the USSR and other socialist countries with a well-developed system of state-run scientific institutions, scientific societies serve a number of functions. They (1) play an important role in disseminating scientific knowledge (with societies of propagandists of science, such as, for example, Znanie [Knowledge] in the USSR), (2) provide interdepartmental expertise in solving problems in science and technology, and (3) participate in organizing expeditions. Scientific societies operate in conjunction with the Academy of Sciences of the USSR, with the academies of sciences of the Union republics, with specialized academies of sciences, and with Moscow State University. Scientists and specialists working in production are brought together in scientific and technical societies of the USSR. Scientific societies also include associations of youths interested in science established at institutions of higher learning and other educational institutions; examples are student scientific societies and school scientific societies.

The USSR has a number of all-Union scientific societies, including the Mineralogical Society (founded in 1817), Geographic Society (1845), Entomological Society (1859), Russian Palestine Society (1882), Astronomical and Geodetic Society (1932), Botanical Society (1915), and Hydrobiological Society (1947). Other all-Union scientific societies are the D. I. Mendeleev Chemical Society (1932), I. P. Pavlov Physiological Society (1916), Society of Soil Scientists (1958), Society of Helminthologists (1940), Biochemical Society (1958), Society of Geneticists and Selectionists (1965), and Philosophical Society (1972). The USSR also has many other scientific societies, including the Association of Soviet Economic Scientific Institutions (1956), the Soviet Association of International Law (1957), and the Soviet Sociological Association (1958).

Scientific societies make a substantial contribution to the development of international scientific and technological cooperation within the framework of international scientific unions and associations. Scientific societies actively exchange publications and conduct conferences, symposia, and congresses.

REFERENCES

Evoliutsiia form organizatsii nauki v razvitykh kapitalisticheskikh stranakh. Moscow, 1972. (Contains bibliography.)
Bates, R. S. Scientific Societies in the United States, 3rd ed. Cambridge, Mass., 1965.

IU. M. SHEININ

References in classic literature ?
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