43rd edition of The Giant’s Shoulders: People, Places, and Things

Welcome to the 43rd edition of the history of science blog carnival, The Giant’s Shoulders. I have separated this month’s posts into people, places, and things, with all sorts of ideas within. Enjoy!


Nathaniel Comfort of the blog Genotopia talks history of science on the podcast Mendelspod (54:03).

James F. Crow, Population Genetics Pioneer, Dies at 95 – The New York Times: “James F. Crow, a leader in the field of population genetics who helped shape public policy toward atomic radiation damage and the use of DNA in the courtroom, died last Wednesday at his home in Madison, Wis. He was 95.”

Cetacean Scientists in the US – AmericanScience: “Paul Greenberg recently reviewed D. Graham Burnett’s The Sounding of the Whale: Science and Cetaceans in the Twentieth Century in the New York Times. Greenberg traces the arc, as told by Burnett, of the cetacean scientist from standing knee-deep in whale innards at the turn of the century to being newly enlightened by whale-ish complexity in the interwar years to fighting alongside other frustrated technocrats at the dawn of an age of international conservation to expanding the human and Cete mind in groovy ways amidst a backdrop of Cold War science. He comes away fascinated by the experience, but also wonders if the reading public wouldn’t benefit from something less that 793 pages, with footnotes for the footnotes (almost) —or actually, he wonders if the public wouldn’t benefit from more: a shortened version to accompany the encyclopedic one.”

Science and The New Inquiry – AmericanScience: “This brings us, briefly, to the hipster. Greif hinges his analysis on hipsters’ emphasis on “forms of knowledge that they possessed before anyone else,” on “a priori knowledge as a means of social dominance.” There’s something about this element of performance that feels somehow distant from the philosophical clubs of the 1800s.”

Huxley’s Apocryphal Dinosaur Dinner – Dinosaur Tracking: “I don’t know where the story about Huxley and the Christmas turkey came from. It is one of those stories that seems simply to exist in the academic ether. (Even the Discovering Dinosaurs authors voiced their uncertainty about the tale in their book.) Fortunately for us, though, Huxley’s many scientific papers trace the development of his thoughts about birds and dinosaurs.”

New portrait to mark Hooke’s place in history – IOP Blog: “Despite the folklore, however, there is now no doubt that Hooke had a profound influence on the history of physics, not least through the law of elasticity which he drew up while working as Robert Boyle’s assistant in 1660; a law of physics that now bears his name. Now, thanks to Rita Greer, a history painter, who has undertaken a project to memorialize Hooke, a portrait of the scientist will be hung at the Institute of Physics (IOP) in London.”

Google’s doodle: women have eggs – Why Evolution Is True: “Today’s Google doodle (above) is in honour of Nicolas Steno (1638-1686) – it would be his 374th birthday today (in fact it’s a bit more complicated than that, because he was actually born on 1 January 1638, but under the old Julian calendar…). The doodle fetes Steno’s principle of superposition, which is the idea that, in any geological strata, the lower layers are older than the upper layers. Furthermore, it shows fossils in the rocks – Steno was the first person to clearly show that fossils were actually the remnants of long-dead animals. But Steno was not just the father of geology. He was one of the most amazing thinkers who participated in the Scientific Revolution that took place in the 17th century. He also made lasting contributions to anatomy and physiology, and above all to our understanding of where we come from. All in the space of about 12 years.”

Hitchcock’s Primeval Birds – Dinosaur Tracking: “Lacking any better hypotheses, Hitchcock prominently featured his avian interpretation of the three-toed tracks in his 1858 book The Ichnology of New England. It was a gorgeous fossil catalog, but it also came at almost precisely the wrong time.”

Happy Birthday, William James – AmericanScience: “Today marks what would’ve been the one-hundred-and-seventieth birthday of one of the most well-regarded and enigmatic figures in American science: William James… James is a towering figure in American intellectual history – and he’s gotten lots of attention in the ensuing century as a result. Lately, it’s been picking up. The last few years marked a series of centenaries, including those of some of his best-known works: most significantly, The Varieties of Religious Experience in 1902 and Pragmatism in 1907.”

Podcast 44: Silent Spring at 50: a comparison perspective – Exploring Environmental History podcast: “2012 marks the 50th anniversary of the publication of Rachel Carson’s book ‘Silent Spring’… In order to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Silent Spring this episode of the podcast explores the significance of this book with Mark Wilson, a PhD candidate at the University of Northumbria in Newcastle, England. Mark has written a study which compares the response to Silent Spring in the US and Britain. He also agues that Silent Spring is a typical product of its time that was closely connected with the Cold War and the rise of the counter culture at both sides of the Atlantic.”

Remarkable radium – Stories from the stores: “100 years ago today, Marie Curie was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry, becoming the first person to win two Nobel Prizes. The citation recognised ‘the discovery of the elements radium and polonium … the isolation of radium and the study of the nature and compounds of this remarkable element’.”

Nothing new under the sun? – The Panda’s Thumb: “I was reminded of that flap the other day while I was reading Alfred Russel Wallace’s autobiography. Wallace mentions an 1872 talk he gave to the Entomological Society in which he described Herbert Spencer’s hypothesis that segmented insects are the result of an aggregation of once-separate ancestors…”

How to bridge the Two Cultures? – The History of Emotions Blog: “Lisa Jardine, centenary professor of renaissance studies at Queen Mary, University of London, put forward an interesting essay on Radio 4 on Sunday, looking at CP Snow’s ‘Two Cultures’, and the rise of technocratic government (you can read her essay here). She said…”

Rudwick and Newman & Principe and the Recovery of Meaning – Ether Wave Propaganda: “In the preparation of his Bursting the Limits of Time: The Reconstruction of Geohistory in the Age of Revolution (2005), Martin Rudwick visited some of the geological features that geographers and natural philosophers of the late-18th and early-19th centuries discussed in their works. Accordingly, he devoted a special section to “places and specimens” in the book’s bibliography (pp. 653-654). He urged that such visits be seen as akin not only to documentary resources, but to the work of ‘…some historians of the experimental sciences [who] have been demonstrating the value of reconstructing the apparatus and replicating or ‘re-staging’ the experiments of historical figures in order to understand more fully how their hands-on laboratory experience of natural phenomena translated into theoretical conclusions.'”

Hasok Chang and “Complementary Science” – Ether Wave Propaganda: “In this post, I want to talk specifically about Chang’s ideas on what he calls “complementary science” — a vision for a new relationship between the history and philosophy of science and actual scientific work.”

Happy Birthday, Johannes Kepler! – Galileo’s Pendulum: “Newton showed why Kepler’s laws worked, based on his new laws of gravitation and motion, ultimately putting all of astronomy into the realm of physics where they had previously been separate. We should still honor Kepler, though: he discovered how the planets move without the benefit of Newton’s mechanics, which is a rather amazing feat. Happy 440th birthday, Johannes Kepler. Everyone go outside tonight and look at some planets in his honor.”

A trio of posts from Thony at Renaissance Mathematicus: Only 26 and already a professor! (Newton); How Charles tried to oust Isaac from Cambridge (Babbage); and Kepler contra Fludd, science contra woo? (Kepler)

James Moore on Alfred Russel Wallace (podcast, 11:37) – To The Best of Our Knowledge: “Alfred Wallace was the co-discover, with Charles Darwin, of the theory of natural selection. Wallace was also a great 19th century naturalist who spent years collecting speciments in the Amazon River Basin and later in the Malay Archipelago. Unlike the aristocratic Darwin, Wallace always had to work for a living. Historian of science James Moore says Wallace remains a mysterious figure, unlike the more famous Darwin.”

Muslims in the History of Sciences – The Pen (magazine): “Many people think that Muslims did not play a role in the history of sciences. They suppose religion does not let man to improve in science; so in this case Islam was in no position to let the Muslims to contribute to the scientific works. These are what the schools have taught for decades even in Muslim countries. This fallacy has been collapsing for the last few years. There have been some initiatives and projects that raise awareness of scientific achievements of the Muslims from the 7th century onwards.”

Why the Arabic World Turned Away from Science – The New Atlantis: “To anyone familiar with this Golden Age, roughly spanning the eighth through the thirteenth centuries a.d., the disparity between the intellectual achievements of the Middle East then and now — particularly relative to the rest of the world — is staggering indeed.”

Book Review: The First American by H.W. Brands – SomeBeans: “Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790) is someone who has crossed the paths of a number of protagonists in books I have read on the history of science, including Antoine Lavoiser, Joseph Banks and the Lunar Society. I thought I should read something on the man himself: ‘The First American: The Life and Times of Benjamin Franklin’ by H.W. Brands.”

HMS Beagle’s Naturalist – Wellcome Library: “McCormick’s diary may not be as famous as some of our other holdings, but its (relative) unfamiliarity is arguably a virtue: it’s one of the manuscripts held by the Wellcome Library that directly reminds us that there can be disputed accounts of ‘familiar’ historical events.”

Plaque spotting: Henry Cavendish (1731 – 1810) – Bloomsbury Bytes: “There is a black plaque to Henry Cavendish at 11 Bedford Square WC1, which is the north-east corner where Montague Place begins. It is difficult for the casual passer-by to notice, as it blends in rather well with its dark brick background. In this house, purchased around May 1783, Cavendish created a museum, a laboratory, and a scientific lending library of roughly 12,000 volumes contained in row upon rowsof elaborate sliding shelving, available to colleagues and other gentlemen who had been properly vouched for…”

Rhyme and reason: The Victorian poet scientists – New Scientist: “Poetry has been a long-standing tradition in the natural sciences, and Victorian scientists, in particular, had a wide-ranging education that fostered a powerful affinity with the Muse.”

They Froze for Science – and Got the Eggs – Neuron Culture: “The histories of exploration and science are littered with catastrophies like the Scott expedition, big ones like his polar push and the small ones like the penguin eggs: people and ideas and ventures embedded in ice and slowly obscured. These failures are necessary to the successes; Scott’s drive drove Amundsen, and Wilson’s questions about the origins of feathers later got answers, in transmuted forms, in today’s theories about birds’ descent from dinosaurs. The same desire, an ardor akin to Ahab’s, animates them all. It shows more in the failures. Who can’t be at their best when things go well? The real test is when things don’t quite work out.”

This dude strongly pushed the existence of intelligent Martian Canals. His initials also influenced the naming of Pluto. – Popperfont: “Science history rocks! This is a picture of Percival Lowell. More at his wiki entry.”

Maskelyne and Banks Revisited – The Board of Longitude 1714-1828: “After spending five weeks last summer as an intern and immersing myself in the NMM’s collections relating to Nevil Maskelyne, I have found myself intrigued by the character of his relationship with Joseph Banks. A previous post on this blog highlighted two episodes in the forty or so years that they knew each other, one from 1775 revealing a confident friendship between them and a shared scientific curiosity, and the other painfully polite, written in highly stilted and formal language in the months following a major dispute in 1784. Further reading has shed more light on the latter incident, and I have found documents that reveal the depth of the schism between the two men at this time.”

Art in the Lion’s Den – Laelaps: “Though Knight is best known for his restorations of prehistoric life – his dinosaur murals at Chicago’s Field Museum are arguably the finest ever composed – he could not have reconstructed primeval creatures so wondrously without instruction from the anatomy and attitudes of living animals.”

Hypotheses and Newton’s Rings – Early Modern Experimental Philosophy: “Newton’s “Hypothesis” paper provides a good example of his method of hypotheses. He remains carefully detached from his own hypothesis, using it only to ‘illustrate’ his theory and to suggest further experiments. Newton was also careful to keep his hypotheses well separate from his theory; the paper ends with a series of ‘Observations’ that contain no reference to his hypotheses at all!”

Richard Owen vs. Textbook Cardboard – Laelaps: “But this is historical hogwash. The dramatic battle between 19th century evolutionists and creationists over Archaeopteryx makes for a spicier narrative, I will admit, but does not hold together upon close scrutiny. Owen may have been an anti-Darwinian naturalist, but he was an evolutionist of another sort, and the high price he paid for Archaeopteryx had nothing to do with keeping the bird out of the reach of Huxley’s ilk. Rather, the primordial bird was to be one of many jewels that Owen set in the crown of his magisterial museum.”

£50 reward for industrial revolution pioneers on new bank note – Guardian: “Sir Mervyn King, the governor of the Bank of England, has often voiced his yearning for a “rebalancing” of the economy towards neglected manufacturing, and he will put the nation’s money where his mouth is next month when the Bank produces a new £50 note celebrating two pioneers of the industrial revolution. The Bank will evoke the memory of the inventor James Watt and his Birmingham business partner, Matthew Boulton on the new note.”


New entires in the BSHS Travel Guide: Observatory of Tycho Brahe, Sweden; The Carlsberg Laboratory, Copenhagen; Sigmund Freud Museum, Vienna; Semmelweiss Museum, Budapest; City of Science and Industry, France; and a call for Philadelphia-specific articles!

Cursed Glaciers – History of Geology: “Some historians suggest that this myth is based on observations of advancing glaciers during the period of the “Little Ice Age“, a period of cooling extending in the Alps from the 16th to the 19th centuries.”

History of science in science museums and science centers – Medical Museion: “I guess what bewildered me is that history of science has been the obvious vantage point for most science museums for more than a hundred years. In other words, science museums have by definition been museums that displayed science historically: science museums have been identical with science history museums. But then I realised that this call had been made by scholars who don’t at all take this for granted.

Science in the Scottish National Portrait Gallery – teleskopos: “This post relates instead to an extra-curricula visit to another newly renovated Edinburgh institution (see my Longitude Blog post on the National Museum of Scotland) – the Scottish National Portrait Gallery.”

An 18th-century astronomical tour – teleskopos: “Bugge’s journal was discovered in the Royal Library in Copenhagen by Kurt Møller Pedersen over forty years ago. Although Pedersen quickly brought it to the attention of scholars, circulating a transcription and translation in the 1970s and ‘preliminary’ edition in 1997, this is the long-anticipated scholarly edition of a text that is of great significance to historians of scientific instruments, observatories and machinery in the eighteenth century.”

Richard Feynman’s Grave – Zoonomian: “Today I paid my respects at the grave of physicist Richard Feynman, interred with his wife Gweneth at the Mountain View Cemetary in Altadena, California. Feynman died of cancer in 1988 and his wife died the following year.”

Charlie’s Rose – Zoonomian: “I stumbled upon these today in the gardens of the Huntington (Library, Art Collection, Botanical Gardens) Estate in San Marino. According to this rose dealer, the variety is hardy, with a ‘strong and delicious fragrance that varies between a soft, floral Tea and almost pure lemon according to weather conditions’. Sounds like it would be right at home at Darwin’s former home in Kent (where it may indeed be for all I know).”


Animals or Brutes? – Anita Guerrini: “As I have been reading a number of anatomy texts from the seventeenth century, I have been struck by the ambiguity of the term “animal.” Now, these texts are all in Latin (a few were translated into the vernacular, in this case French, but not many). There is a clear distinction drawn between “animal” (the same in French), “homo” (or “homme”) and “brutus” (or “brute”).”

A Sometimes Unnatural History – BibliOdyssey: “The images below (background cleaned) are taken from the multi-volume natural history work, ‘Getreue Abbildungen Naturhistorischer Gegenstände’ (1795-1807), by Johann Matthäus Bechstein.”

Some Final Thoughts on Maps – PACHSmörgåsbord: “Judging by the increase in sophistication and nuance in student papers, it seems that this experiment in pedagogy enjoyed at least some success. Unfortunately, unlike many experiments that might seem to offer immediate results, I may never know the ultimate success or failure of this experiment. I, at least, enjoyed the process enough and students seemed to like working with old maps enough to merit using maps again the next time I teach my Introduction to the History of Science.”

Will a new HMS Beagle set sail in 2013? – Guardian: “Once launched, the new Beagle will bring the adventure of science to life, retracing FitzRoy and Darwin’s voyage, serving as an ambassador for British science, history and industry, and taking scientists and sailors to sea. Both disciplines are about looking at horizons, wondering what lies beyond, and not stopping until you, your crewmates and lab-mates have found out.” (visit The HMS Beagle Project)

The Nervous Icon – Part III – Textbook History: “‘The Nervous Icon’ is my name for an illustration of the human nervous system that found its way into dozens of anatomy, physiology and biology textbooks published between the mid-1800s and the mid-1900s. I began tracing its history in The Nervous Icon – Part I, where I touched on the issues of artistry, copyright, and mechanical reproduction in science textbooks. I followed up a month later in The Nervous Icon – Part II, where I went ‘over my head’ into the history of encyclopedias and the tension caused by the conflict between the assumption that cultural artifacts were the property of the dominating imperialist power and the imperatives of the emerging global marketplace. As I said then, ‘big stuff for a blog.'”

A Pictorial History of the Mysterious Wolverine – The Wolverine Blog: “The only obvious thing about wolverines is the fact that they have always been – and still are – mostly a mystery. Wolverine biologist Jason Wilmot recently unearthed three images spanning the early decades of natural history, and they neatly summarize how little was known about the animal at the time.”

Consilience: Photographers Operating at the Intersection of Art and Science – Monsters & Madonnas: “In many ways, art and science are likely bedfellows. Both support a culture of experimentation that is inspired by curiosity, while attracting individuals interested in generating fresh ideas and forging new paths. Consequently, there is a discoverable history of unifying practices, practitioners, and organizations dedicated to artists and scientists dating back to the Lunar Society. Photography has a singular place in this unfolding history.”

Intel vs. Obelisk: The Renaissance Beauty of the Single-Chip Microprocessor – Ptak Science Books: “The moment that I saw this image1 of (what I think is) the 8086 processor I thought of its great visual similarities to one of the greatest engineering works of the 16th century, so much so that with a little imagination, the older work seems a pentimento of the newer.”

Highly Recommended: The Discovery of Evolution, by David Young – ScienceDenial: “I never thought I was interested in the history of science, much, until I started reading David Young’s The Discovery of Evolution. Now I’m not even sure where I go[t] this book, but it had been on my shelf a while before I picked it up and took it some place to read over lunch one day. I hope I didn’t steal it, but if I did I’d like whoever I took it from to know I really, really enjoyed reading it. (Just kidding. I didn’t steal it.)”

In Praise of Ephemeral Astrological Literature – PACHSmörgåsbord: “Whether or not The Economist’s analogy is accurate, I think ephemeral print has a lot to offer if we spend the time studying it. These pamphlets often reveal what the most sophisticated astrologers thought, how astronomical ideas were spreading amongst the learned, how influential astrologers aligned their work with local princes and political agendas, and what the public might have known about their world.”

Botanists finally ditch Latin and paper, enter 21st century – Culturing Science: “And if you’re a botanist consulting a lengthy record of described plant species, you don’t want to lose some of those descriptions into the black hole of cyberspace. But this year, the botanists decided the web was less spooky and now can describe species in any electronic journal that has an ISSN, for the purpose of archiving.”

Dogmas in Neuroscience and Further Thoughts on the Limits of Neurohistory – The Neuro Times: “Secondly doesn’t the existence of these dogmas, as well as the observation we don’t know the origins of the claim that we have 100 billion neurons, only elevate further the fact that in order to even begin a neurohistory project we would need a clearer, deeper, and refined history of neuroscience and neurology? The dogmas that Lent et al. describe point towards other unsettled questions.”

On Collecting and Collectors – PACHSmörgåsbord: “Some areas I wish Blom had spent some time exploring include arranging, displaying and mediating access to collected objects. How is it that collectors use their collections to establish and project intellectual, social, and political authority? How is the status of the possessor enhanced by having the authority to arrange objects, to establish relationships between those objects, by displaying them in particular ways? How does that person’s authority increase by controlling access to that body of objects? It is fascinating to think about these power dynamics on a personal level, but what happens when they are transferred onto larger institutions? Institutions like academies and museums are not simply conduits for accepted scientific knowledge but instead actively shape that knowledge through processes of collecting, housing, arranging, and displaying artifacts.”

January 6, 1912: Continental Drift! – History of Geology: “January 6, 1912 the German meteorologist Alfred Wegener presented in a lecture entitled “Die Heraushebung der Großformen der Erdrinde (Kontinente und Ozeane) auf geophysikalischer Grundlage” (The uprising of large features of earth’s curst (Continents and Oceans) on geophysical basis) for the first time his hypothesis of the ancient supercontinent Pangaea, from which all modern continents split apart.”

From the Contracting Earth to early Supercontinents – History of Geology: “Already when the first maps of the American continents were published (1507 and after), the similitude between the western coast of Africa and the eastern coast of South America intrigued geographers and naturalists and this fascination continued in the following centuries.”

Hunting the Higgs – Project Syndicate: “Fifty years ago, particle physicists faced an unexpected challenge. Their best mathematical models could account for some of the natural forces that explain the structure and behavior of matter at a fundamental level, such as electromagnetism and the weak nuclear force responsible for radioactive decay. But the models worked only if the particles inside of atoms had no mass. How could huge conglomerations of such particles – proteins, people, planets – behave as they do if their constituent parts weighed nothing at all?”

Introducing “Science Studies Dissertation Reviews” – Dissertation Reviews: “It is with great pleasure that we announce the forthcoming launch of “Science Studies Dissertation Reviews,” set to go live in Winter 2012. In the tradition of the Dissertation Reviews project, the new site will feature friendly, non-critical overviews of recently defended, unpublished dissertations in Science Studies. Approximately 20 dissertations are currently under review, with more to come.”

Darwin’s Many Origins – Zoonomian: “Meet the front end of the Huntington Library‘s 252 strong collection of Darwin’s Origin of Species – all 20 feet of them. I snapped this at the permanent ‘Beautiful Science’ exhibition last month, and have just gotten around to a bit of research… Henry Edwards Huntington acquired much of his collection, now at San Marino, by buying up ready-made collections or even whole libraries. But some books he bought individually, including, in 1860s New York, an 1859 first edition of the Origin of Species in original cloth – for $22.79.”

7 thoughts on “43rd edition of The Giant’s Shoulders: People, Places, and Things

  1. Pingback: The Giant’s Shoulders #43 is out — People, places & things! « The Giant’s Shoulders

  2. Pingback: The Dispersal of History of Science Posts: Giants’ Shoulder #43 | The Renaissance Mathematicus

  3. Pingback: The Dispersal of History of Science Blog Posts: Giants’ Shoulders #43 | Whewell's Ghost

  4. Pingback: The Dispersal of History of Science Blog Posts: Giants’ Shoulders #43 « The Giant’s Shoulders

  5. Pingback: Giants’ Shoulders #60 Part I: Five Full Years: A Retrospective | The Renaissance Mathematicus

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