the art of discovery

The other day at the library, I borrowed Robert Crease’s book, The Prism and the Pendulum: The Ten Most Beautiful Experiments in Science. Unsatisfied by its bias towards physics, science writer George Johnson here puts forward his own selection.
Beautifully written as it is, however, this is a strangely old-fashioned book. Johnson has deliberately chosen examples of lone geniuses (inevitably male) setting up curiously designed apparatus in their laboratories and making “breakthroughs”. All are extremely well known, and their stories have that mythic quality that accrues from centuries of retelling. The relation of these stories to the reality of the scientific enterprise as a whole is at best partial. They perpetuate a misleading image of science that may alienate as many as it fascinates.

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a penny for your thoughts

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