BOOK: Burn: Michael Faraday’s Candle

So excited to see a kid’s picture book about Michael Faraday! (I have been working my way through John Tyndall letters as co-editor of volume 6 of The Correspondence of John Tyndall [volumes 1 and 2 have been published], and there are plenty of letters between Faraday and Tyndall). It would be fantastic if this author and illustrator work together on more history of science stories.

BURN: Michael Faraday's Candle. Answer the question,

Darcy Pattison, Burn: Michael Faraday’s Candle (Little Rock, AR: Mims House, 2016), 32 pp. Illustrated by Peter Willis.

Publisher’s description WHAT MAKES A CANDLE BURN? Solid wax is somehow changed into light and heat. But how? Travel back in time to December 28, 1848 in London, England to one of the most famous juvenile science Christmas lectures at the Royal Institution. British scientist Michael Faraday (1791-1867) encouraged kids to carefully observe a candle and to try to figure out how it burned. Since Faraday’s lecture, “The Chemical History of a Candle,” was published in 1861, it’s never been out of print; however, it’s never been published as a children’s picture book – till now. Faraday originally gave seven lectures on how a candle burns. Pattison has adapted the first 6000-word lecture to about 650 words for modern elementary students, especially for the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) curriculum. Known as one of the best science experimenters ever, Faraday’s passion was always to answer the basic questions of science: “What is the cause? Why does it occur?”

Purchase Burn: Michael Faraday’s Candle through the publisher or the independent Powell’s City of Books.

BOOK: Primates (graphic novel)

Yesterday, March 30, was the publication date for the paperback edition of Jim Ottaviani and Leland Myrick’s acclaimed graphic novel about the life and science of theoretical physicist Richard Feynman, simply titled Feynman. Ottaviani has written other graphic novel about scientists (such as Bone Sharps, Cowboys, and Thunder Lizards: A Tale of Edward Drinker Cope, Othniel Charles Marsh, and the Gilded Age of Paleontology and T-Minus: The Race to the Moon). His latest profiles the lives of three women who changed the way the public viewed scientists, and opened windows into the lives of our closest relatives.

Primates: The Fearless Science of Jane Goodall, Dian Fossey, and Biruté Galdikas, by Jim Ottaviani and illustrated by Maris Wicks (New York: First Second, 2013), 144 pp.

This is the true story of three scientists who risked their lives for research that forever changed the way we think of primates… including ourselves. Jane Goodall discovered chimpanzees using tools – a trait once thought to be unique to humans – and is now one of the world’s foremost animal rights advocates. Dian Fossey fiercely protected the mountain gorillas she studied, bringing the plight of these gentle apes to public view. Birute Galdikas moved to the Indonesian jungle to observe the elusive animal native people called “wild person in the woods.” She stayed to rehabilitate orphaned orangutans and revolutionize rainforest conservancy.

Recruited by the great anthropologist Louis Leakey, these remarkable women are responsible for some of the biggest advances in both primatology and our understanding of what it means to be human. Written by Jim Ottaviani, with art by rising comics star Maris Wicks, Primates is an inviting, immersive, and often funny look at the lives of three of the most important scientists of the twentieth century.

Primates will be published in June, but you can get a sneak peek from the publisher’s blog, here, and an exclusive excerpt from Boing Boing, here.

BOOK REVIEW: A Universe From Nothing: Why There Is Something Rather than Nothing by Lawrence M. Krauss

A Universe from Nothing: Why There Is Something Rather than Nothing. By Lawrence M. Krauss. New York: Free Press, 2011. 256 pp. $24.99 (hardcover).

For a book that has a lot to say about nothing, there is quite a lot in it. Lawrence Krauss, a cosmologist and Foundation Professor and Director of the Origins Project at Arizona State University, and an increasingly recognized spokesperson for atheism, gives a sweeping overview of the state of cosmology, with plenty of historical tidbits and open-ended questions for the curious. The overall argument is that the statement that “something cannot come from nothing” (that is, how can the Big Bang have occurred from nothing?) collapses under recent theoretical and observational research in astrophysics. Beyond providing the science and making it comprehensible to a nonphysicist such as myself, Krauss offers that these new explanations make religious explanations (God, gods, other deities, or what have you) increasingly unnecessary to explain the origin of the universe. This is not a science book, but rather a science and religion book, and Krauss proudly promotes atheism. Fine by me, but it is something readers should be aware of.

The book stems from a very successful YouTube video of Krauss’ lecture by the same name (currently, it has over 1,187,000 views). I’ve enjoyed the video several times, and there are great lines from it, so I was excited to hear that Krauss was extending his lecture into a book. I recently read Lisa Randall’s 2011 book Knocking on Heaven’s Door: How Physics and Scientific Thinking Illuminate the Universe and the Modern World (which I reviewed for the Portland Book Review), and she states that recent work in cosmology aims to “ultimately tell us about who we are and where we came from.” Krauss certainly does this in A Universe From Nothing, and here are some quotables:

The universe is the way it is, whether we like it or not. (xii)

One of the most poetic facts I know about the universe is that essentially every atom in your body was once inside a star that exploded. Moreover, the atoms in your left hand probably came from a different star than did those in your right. We are all, literally, star children, and our bodies are made of stardust. (17)

Over the course of the history of our galaxy, about 200 million stars have exploded. These myriad stars sacrificed themselves, if you wish, so that one day you could be born. I suppose that qualifies them as much as anything else for the role of saviors. (19) [in the lecture, Krauss stated it this way: “So, forget Jesus. The stars died so that you could be here today.”]

If we are all stardust, as I have written, it is also true, if inflation happened, that we all, literally, emerged from quantum nothingness. (98)

If the universe were any other way, we could not live in it. (136)

If we wish to draw philosophical conclusions about our own existence, our significance, and the significance of the universe itself, our conclusions should be based on empirical knowledge. A truly open mind means forcing out imaginations to conform to the evidence of reality, and not vice versa, whether or not we like the implications. (139)

But no one has ever said that the universe is guided by what we, in our petty myopic corners of space and time, might have originally thought was sensible. It certainly seems sensible to imagine that a priori, matter cannot spontaneously arise from empty space, so that something, in this sense, cannot arise from nothing. But when we allow for the dynamics of gravity and quantum mechanics, we find that this commonsense notion is no longer true. This is the beauty of science, and it should not be threatening. Science simply forces us to revise what is sensible to accommodate the universe, rather than vice versa. (151)

A universe without purpose or guidance may seem, for some, to make life itself meaningless. For others, including me, such a universe is invigorating. It makes the fact of our existence even more amazing, and it motivates us to draw meaning from our own actions and to make the most of our brief existence in the sun, simply because we are here, blessed with consciousness and with the opportunity to do so. Bronowski’s point, however, it that it doesn’t really matter either way, and what we would like for the universe is irrelevant. (181)

There is much to ponder here for those like me who see wonder and awe in the physical world, whether in nature and its “endless forms” or in the universe.

I’ll share one more quote from the book. Krauss provides a quote from Darwin at the beginning of chapter 5, in which he discusses the expanding and accelerating universe and dark energy and its unknown origin: “It is mere rubbish, thinking at present of the origin of life; one might as well think of the origin of matter.” This comes from a letter by Darwin to Joseph Dalton Hooker (March 29, 1863). After sharing with Hooker that he regretted using the word “Creator” in the last paragraph of On the Origin of Species, Darwin stated that he meant creator as a “some wholly unknown process.” Darwin never claimed to explain the origin of life itself. Later, Krauss uses this quote again, and unfortunately it is used poorly:

The metaphysical “rule,” which is held as ironclad conviction by those whom I have debated the issue of creation, namely that “out of nothing nothing comes,” has no foundation in science. Arguing that it is self-evident, unwavering, and unassailable is like arguing, as Darwin falsely did, when he made the suggestion that the origin of life was beyond the domain of science by building an analogy with the incorrect claim that matter cannot be created or destroyed. (174)

This is a rather unfair remark about Darwin. As one might expect from a scientist, here history is being determined by what is known in the present. We may very well know things about the origin of life and origin of matter now, but, as Darwin clearly stated, “thinking at present,” – meaning 1863, not 2011 – the state of scientific knowledge then did not include such things. The domains of science separated by 150 years would surely be different. This is presentism, and it does a disservice to understanding the past.

Recent articles of interest

From the journal The Plant Cell:

Charles Darwin and the Origins of Plant Evolutionary Developmental Biology

William E. Friedman and Pamela K. Diggle

Abstract Much has been written of the early history of comparative embryology and its influence on the emergence of an evolutionary developmental perspective. However, this literature, which dates back nearly a century, has been focused on metazoans, without acknowledgment of the contributions of comparative plant morphologists to the creation of a developmental view of biodiversity. We trace the origin of comparative plant developmental morphology from its inception in the eighteenth century works of Wolff and Goethe, through the mid nineteenth century discoveries of the general principles of leaf and floral organ morphogenesis. Much like the stimulus that von Baer provided as a nonevolutionary comparative embryologist to the creation of an evolutionary developmental view of animals, the comparative developmental studies of plant morphologists were the basis for the first articulation of the concept that plant (namely floral) evolution results from successive modifications of ontogeny. Perhaps most surprisingly, we show that the first person to carefully read and internalize the remarkable advances in the understanding of plant morphogenesis in the 1840s and 1850s is none other than Charles Darwin, whose notebooks, correspondence, and (then) unpublished manuscripts clearly demonstrate that he had discovered the developmental basis for the evolutionary transformation of plant form.

From Earth Sciences History:

Religious assumptions in Lord Kelvin’s estimates of the Earth’s age

Leonard G. Wilson

Abstract Lord Kelvin’s estimates of the Earth’s age were not necessary consequences of his physics. Religion influenced his physics and his arguments for a limited age of the Earth. Kelvin’s primary aim was to destroy Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection by attacking the uniformitarian geology on which Darwin’s theory was founded. His calculations of the age of the Earth contained a fundamental contradiction. He assumed that the Earth began as a hot liquid sphere, but Fourier’s mathematics, which he used to calculate the rate of cooling, applied only to heat conducted through a solid. Kelvin’s assumption of an initially hot liquid Earth was a necessary consequence of his thermodynamics. Energy could neither be created nor destroyed. The heat within the Earth must, therefore, be derived from its first creation by God. Kelvin never admitted the contradiction between the original hot liquid Earth and his calculation of its cooling on the assumption that the Earth was solid throughout, but in 1897 his imagined account of the initial Earth was a search for a solid Earth amenable to his calculations. The heat flow through the solid crust was very small in proportion to the total internal heat of the Earth. If Kelvin had included the total internal heat in his calculations, he would have arrived at much higher figures for the age of the Earth.

From the Journal of the History of Biology:

Karl Beurlen (1901–1985), Nature Mysticism, and Aryan Paleontology

Olivier Rieppel

Abstract The relatively late acceptance of Darwinism in German biology and paleontology is frequently attributed to a lingering of Lamarckism, a persisting influence of German idealistic Naturphilosophie and Goethean romanticism. These factors are largely held responsible for the vitalism underlying theories of saltational and orthogenetic evolutionary change that characterize the writings of many German paleontologists during the first half of the 20th century. A prominent exponent of that tradition was Karl Beurlen, who is credited with having been the first German paleontologist to present a full-fledged theory of saltational evolution and orthogenetic change. A review of Beurlen’s writings reveals motives and concerns far more complex, however, and firmly rooted in contemporary völkisch thought and Aryan Science. Beurlen’s mature theory of evolution can indeed be understood as his own contribution to Aryan Geology and Biology, tainted as it was with National-Socialist ideology. Evolutionary biologists of the time who opposed the theories of Beurlen and like-minded authors, i.e., idealistic morphology, typology, saltational change, orthogenesis and cyclism did so on Darwinian principles, which ultimately prevailed. But at the time when the battle was fought, their adherence to the principle of natural selection was likewise ideologically tainted, namely in terms of racial theory. National-Socialist ideology was unable to forge a unity of evolutionary theory in Germany even amongst those of its proponents who endorsed this ideology.

From the British Journal for the History of Science:

Charles Darwin’s use of theology in the Origin of Species

Stephen Dilley

Abstract This essay examines Darwin’s positiva (or positive) use of theology in the first edition of the Origin of Species in three steps. First, the essay analyses the Origin‘s theological language about God’s accessibility, honesty, methods of creating, relationship to natural laws and lack of responsibility for natural suffering; the essay contends that Darwin utilized positiva theology in order to help justify (and inform) descent with modification and to attack special creation. Second, the essay offers critical analysis of this theology, drawing in part on Darwin’s mature ruminations to suggest that, from an epistemic point of view, the Origin‘s positiva theology manifests several internal tensions. Finally, the essay reflects on the relative epistemic importance of positiva theology in the Origin‘s overall case for evolution. The essay concludes that this theology served as a handmaiden and accomplice to Darwin’s science.

Also from the British Journal for the History of Science:

By design: James Clerk Maxwell and the evangelical unification of science

Matthew Stanley

Abstract James Clerk Maxwell’s electromagnetic theory famously unified many of the Victorian laws of physics. This essay argues that Maxwell saw a deep theological significance in the unification of physical laws. He postulated a variation on the design argument that focused on the unity of phenomena rather than Paley’s emphasis on complexity. This argument of Maxwell’s is shown to be connected to his particular evangelical religious views. His evangelical perspective provided encouragement for him to pursue a unified physics that supplemented his other philosophical, technical and social influences. Maxwell’s version of the argument from design is also contrasted with modern ‘intelligent-design’ theory.

Einstein and physics

Most of my college science courses were related to biology and geology, not much in the way of physics. I just learned that I will be a science education intern for the exhibit Einstein this summer at the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry (Facebook /Flickr). Awesome!

So, I need to brush up on my physics. Any recommendations for books to check out? Online resources?

Cambridge Trip #8: Darwin’s Microscope at the Whipple Museum of the History of Science

Monday, 13 July 2009

Following a visit to the University Museum of Zoology in Cambridge, Richard and I headed over to the Whipple Museum of the History of Science to see the exhibit featuring Darwin’s microscope. On the way there, we checked out the Cambridge University Press Bookshop and spotted some interesting history of science spots:

Cambridge, England

Cambridge, England

Mobile Library, Cambridge, England

Mobile Library, Cambridge, England

At the bookshop, Richard went crazy and spent a deal on some Darwin books, including the not-so-cheap Charles Darwin’s Notebooks from the Voyage of the Beagle, edited by Gordon Chancellor and John van Wyhe. I bought one book, Charles Darwin: The Beagle Letters.

Darwin Display, Cambridge University Press Bookshop, Cambridge, England

Darwin Display, Cambridge University Press Bookshop, Cambridge, England

Darwin Display, Cambridge University Press Bookshop, Cambridge, England

Darwin Display, Cambridge University Press Bookshop, Cambridge, England

History of Science, Cambridge University Press Bookshop, Cambridge, England

History of Science, Cambridge University Press Bookshop, Cambridge, England

Ladybird Beetle, Cambridge, England

Ladybird Beetle, Cambridge, England

Cavendish Laboratory, Cambridge, England

Cavendish Laboratory, Cambridge, England

Cavendish Laboratory, Cambridge, England

Cavendish Laboratory, Cambridge, England

Plaque for J.J. Thompson, Cavendish Laboratory, Cambridge, England

Plaque for J.J. Thompson, Cavendish Laboratory, Cambridge, England

Crooked Doorway, Cambridge, England

Crooked Doorway, Cambridge, England

The Whipple Museum, which is in the same building that houses the Department of History and Philosophy of Science:

The Whipple Museum, University of Cambridge

The Whipple Museum, University of Cambridge

Department of History and Philosophy of Science, University of Cambridge

Department of History and Philosophy of Science, University of Cambridge

The exhibit Darwin’s Microscope (much more than a microscope was on display):

Darwins Microscope, Whipple Museum, University of Cambridge

Darwin's Microscope, Whipple Museum, University of Cambridge

Darwins Microscope, Whipple Museum, University of Cambridge

Darwin's Microscope, Whipple Museum, University of Cambridge

Darwins achromatic compound microscope, Whipple Museum, University of Cambridge

Darwin's achromatic compound microscope, Whipple Museum, University of Cambridge

Darwins achromatic compound microscope, Whipple Museum, University of Cambridge

Darwin's achromatic compound microscope (1847) for his barnacle research, Whipple Museum, University of Cambridge

Microscope slide storage, Whipple Museum, University of Cambridge

Microscope slide storage, Whipple Museum, University of Cambridge

Letter from Darwin to J.D. Hooker about the microscope, Whipple Museum of the History of Science, University of Cambridge

Letter from Darwin to J.D. Hooker about the microscope, Whipple Museum of the History of Science, University of Cambridge

Vol. II of Darwins A monograph on the sub-class Cirripedia (barnacles), Whipple Museum, University of Cambridge

Vol. II of Darwin's 'A monograph on the sub-class Cirripedia' (barnacles), Whipple Museum, University of Cambridge

In the same display case as the compound microscope were a bunch of evolutionary books and an older compound microscope similar to one Darwin had at Cambridge in the 1830s:

Older compound microscope, Whipple Museum, University of Cambridge

Older compound microscope, Whipple Museum, University of Cambridge

Evolutionary books, Whipple Museum, University of Cambridge

Evolutionary books, Whipple Museum, University of Cambridge

Evolutionary books, Whipple Museum, University of Cambridge

Evolutionary books, Whipple Museum, University of Cambridge

Part of this exhibit showcased The Darwin Correspondence Project, based at Cambridge (they have just published the 17th volume):

Darwin Correspondence Project display, Whipple Museum, University of Cambridge

Darwin Correspondence Project display, Whipple Museum, University of Cambridge

Darwin Correspondence Project display, Whipple Museum, University of Cambridge

Darwin Correspondence Project display, Whipple Museum, University of Cambridge

Darwin Correspondence Project display, Whipple Museum, University of Cambridge

Darwin Correspondence Project display, Whipple Museum, University of Cambridge

Darwin Correspondence Project display, Whipple Museum, University of Cambridge

Darwin Correspondence Project display, Whipple Museum, University of Cambridge

This image is not from the correspondence project, but from Richard, who, the day before leaving for Cambridge, ordered the new volume from his local bookshop, not realizing that he would be visiting the Cambridge University Press’s bookshop. Oh well.

Richards Darwin Correspondence Collection

Richard's Darwin Correspondence Collection

One display in the exhibit showcased in drawers a wide variety of Darwin memorabilia:

Darwin memorabilia, Whipple Museum, University of Cambridge

Darwin memorabilia, Whipple Museum, University of Cambridge

Darwin memorabilia, Whipple Museum, University of Cambridge

Darwin memorabilia, Whipple Museum, University of Cambridge

Darwin memorabilia, Whipple Museum, University of Cambridge

Darwin memorabilia, Whipple Museum, University of Cambridge

The caricature print in the image above I discussed in a post on my other blog, Transcribing Tyndall.

Darwin memorabilia, Whipple Museum, University of Cambridge

Darwin memorabilia, Whipple Museum, University of Cambridge

Darwin memorabilia, Whipple Museum, University of Cambridge

Darwin memorabilia, Whipple Museum, University of Cambridge

Darwin memorabilia, Whipple Museum, University of Cambridge

Darwin memorabilia, Whipple Museum, University of Cambridge

Darwin memorabilia, Whipple Museum, University of Cambridge

Darwin memorabilia, Whipple Museum, University of Cambridge

Darwin memorabilia, Whipple Museum, University of Cambridge

Darwin memorabilia, Whipple Museum, University of Cambridge

Darwin memorabilia, Whipple Museum, University of Cambridge

Darwin memorabilia, Whipple Museum, University of Cambridge

Another display showed late nineteenth-century responses to Darwin:

Responses to Darwin, Whipple Museum, University of Cambridge

Responses to Darwin, Whipple Museum, University of Cambridge

The caricature print above was also featured in the same post on Transcribing Tyndall.

Responses to Darwin, Whipple Museum, University of Cambridge

Responses to Darwin, Whipple Museum, University of Cambridge

Responses to Darwin, Whipple Museum, University of Cambridge

Responses to Darwin, Whipple Museum, University of Cambridge

Various posters and wall hangings:

Darwin wall hangings, Whipple Museum, University of Cambridge

Darwin wall hangings, Whipple Museum, University of Cambridge

Darwin wall hangings, Whipple Museum, University of Cambridge

Darwin wall hangings, Whipple Museum, University of Cambridge

Darwin wall hangings, Whipple Museum, University of Cambridge

Darwin wall hangings, Whipple Museum, University of Cambridge

Darwin wall hangings, Whipple Museum, University of Cambridge

Darwin wall hangings, Whipple Museum, University of Cambridge

Some shots from the rest of the museum:

Anatomical model of a fetus, Whipple Museum, University of Cambridge

Anatomical model of a fetus, Whipple Museum, University of Cambridge

Natural history displays, Whipple Museum, University of Cambridge

Natural history displays, Whipple Museum, University of Cambridge

Whipple Museum of the History of Science, University of Cambridge

Whipple Museum of the History of Science, University of Cambridge

Telescope, Whipple Museum, University of Cambridge

Telescope, Whipple Museum, University of Cambridge

Newton wants your money, Whipple Museum, University of Cambridge

Newton wants your money, Whipple Museum, University of Cambridge

R.S. Whipple, Founder of the Whipple Museum, University of Cambridge

R.S. Whipple, Founder of the Whipple Museum, University of Cambridge

After the Whipple Museum, we weren’t sure what to do next. Around the corner from the museum we ran into John van Wyhe, one of the Darwin historians I met at the conference (and owner of a Darwin groupie bike), as he was headed to his office at the building where the Whipple Museum is:

John van Wyhe, University of Cambridge

John van Wyhe, University of Cambridge. Photo by Richard Carter

Although it was Monday and Darwin’s room at Christ’s College was not open to the public, he quickly treated Richard and I to a look (other pictures from Christ’s I posted here). John was, after all, in charge of the restoration. Richard was also delighted to get his Beagle notebook signed by one of its editors. I will share photos from Darwin’s room in the next post.

You can view all the photos from my trip here, if you feel so inclined. Some of Richard’s Cambridge photos are here.

PREVIOUS: Cambridge Trip #7: Beetles, Finches and Barnacles at the University Museum of ZoologyCambridge Trip #6: Darwin the Geologist at the Sedgwick Museum of Earth SciencesCambridge Trip #5: Darwin Groupies Explore CambridgeCambridge Trip #4: Darwin in the Field Conference, Pt. 2Cambridge Trip #3: Darwin in the Field ConferenceCambridge Trip #2: Finding My WayCambridge Trip #1: Traveling

BOOK REVIEW: Tides of History by Michael S. Reidy

I received this book from the publisher last year, so I am now finally able to put up my review. But I also had to read it for my current graduate class on historical writing, taught by Michael Reidy (my advisor and the author of the book!). And the review:

Tides of History by Michael S. Reidy

Tides of History by Michael S. Reidy

Tides of History: Ocean Science and Her Majesty’s Navy. By Michael S. Reidy. Chicago, London: Chicago University Press, 2008. xiv + 389 pp. Illustrations, notes, bibliography, index. $40.00 (cloth).

In an essay in William K. Story’s edited volume Scientific Aspects of European Expansion (Varorium, 1996), historian Alan Frost shows how science conducted in the Pacific during European exploration of the late eighteenth century was essentially political in nature. Scientists acted with their respective nations in mind. Michael S. Reidy extends the notion of science for political purposes into the nineteenth century with Tides of History. But while the book’s subtitle, Ocean Science and Her Majesty’s Navy, underscores the connection between advancements in science and the imperial reach of maritime nations (predominantly Britain), Reidy aims for much more than just showing how the British used science to rule the waves. He has other interests in mind, and it is unfortunate that the title of his book misleads the reader of its primary content. Although Reidy does discuss the Admiralty and how tidal science was crucial to military matters, he is more interested in the scientist himself and his role – in particular one giant of science (William Whewell) and plenty of rather unknowns. Even larger still is Reidy’s contribution to a growing field of ocean history, a fresh understanding of history understood through looking at the spaces in between the land that most histories are focused with.

Much of Tides of History details the history of tidal science – of the data collection itself, and the theoretical understanding of the tides (whether or not it was based on data). The narrative of Reidy’s story, told through scientific publications, letters, and the use images (tables and graphs), almost mirrors the flux and reflux of the tides themselves, the ebb and flow of the seas across the globe. Tidal science, and the reasons for studying it, have shifted in importance to various parties through the centuries. Reidy outlines what has gone before, in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, before focusing on the nineteenth century, the highest period of Britain’s imperial expansion, and the regional and global tide experiments in the mid-1830s.

Reidy is fond of metaphors, and they abound in Tides of History. For example, Whewell “helped transform the spatial scope of science while simultaneously expanding the terrain of the scientist” (p. 240). This spatiality is important to Reidy in showing how Whewell transformed the study of tides into a Humboldtian research program, rather than the temporal nature of previous studies. In contrast to earlier and recent works on Whewell, Reidy shows how this evaluator of science in Britain was much more than just a man interested in the work of scientists, but a premier scientist himself. The study of tides, which held Whewell’s interest for more than two decades, also influenced Whewell’s philosophical contributions to science – how science should be done and who should do it. Despite Whewell’s insistence that only certain persons could be scientists – those who strived for theoretical understanding of phenomena – he recognized the efforts and contributions of the often overlooked figures in history. Data collectors, calculators, and computers, doing monotonous and tedious work with ink, provided crucial information for “scientists” to devise their theories with. By looking closely at the role of these “subordinate labourers,” as Whewell referred to them, Reidy gives us a much needed contribution to the history of science, a bottom-up history in a field which too often stresses the importance of the man of science. There were many men (and women) of science, whether or not they were considered “scientists.”

While Reidy succeeds in relating the study of the tides to those with economic interests in using that knowledge – merchants, traders, etc. – what is missing from Tides of History, despite its secondary role to an understanding of the emerging scientist in the early Victorian period, is how the military aspect of the study of the tides was actually used. Examples of how the Admiralty benefited from tidal knowledge, grounded in particular events (if records exist), would surely benefit an understanding of the importance of the study of the tides, and of the relationship of scientists with the larger society. Another mistake in Tides of History, in my opinion, is in the introduction of self-registering tide gauges in Reidy’s narrative. Through reading the text, we know that data collectors observed and marked down numbers concerning the tides. We do not know, however, if and how they utilized technological instruments in carrying out their tasks. So, the invention of the self-registering tide gauge, which made it possible to record data without the hand of a person, becomes not as exciting a turn in the narrative as if the reader truly understood how earlier “subordinated labourers” collected information about the rise and fall of tides.

Despite these few problems, Tides of History is a valuable contribution to understanding the culture of science in the early Victorian period, a time when the role of scientists was becoming more connected with commerce and government, in helping to ensure Britain’s imperialistic success and reaping rewards from it. Taken with Richard Drayton’s Nature’s Government: Science, Imperial Britain and the ‘Improvement’ of the World (Yale University Press, 2000), Tides of History offers a more complete picture of the relationship between science and society – of the political and economic importance of science and the increasingly important role of the scientist – in the nineteenth century. This is a valuable book for those interested in nineteenth-century science, the history of physical sciences, imperialism, environmental history, and maritime history to have on their shelves.

Today in Science History: John Tyndall born

From Today in Science History:

John Tyndall (Born 2 Aug 1820; died 4 Dec 1893). Irish physicist who became known to the scientific world in 1848 as the author of a substantial work on Crystals. In 1856 he traveled with Professor Huxley to Switzerland, after which he co-authored On the Structure and Motion of Glaciers. He also published Heat as a Mode of Motion (1863), On Radiation (1865), followed by Sound, then in 1870 he published Light. Included in these works were studies of acoustic properties of the atmosphere and the blue colour of the sky, which he suggested was due to the scattering of light by small particles of water.

Today in Science History

First, from The Red Notebook: Darwin puts pen to paper; and from Prof. Olsen: Gregor Mendel born

From Today in Science History:

Sir Richard Owen (Born 20 Jul 1804; died 18 Dec 1892). English anatomist and paleontologist who is remembered for his contributions to the study of fossil animals and for his strong opposition to the views of Charles Darwin. He created the word “Dinosaur” meaning “terrible reptile” (1842). Owen synthesized French anatomical work, especially from Cuvier and Geoffroy, with German transcendental anatomy. He gave us many of the terms still used today in anatomy and evolutionary biology, including “homology”. In 1856, he was appointed Superintendent of the British Museum (Natural History).

See Mystery of Mysteries and Prof. Olsen for more.

John Playfair (Died 20 Jul 1819; born 10 Mar 1748). Scottish mathematician, physicist, and geologist who is remembered for his axiom that two intersecting straight lines cannot both be parallel to a third straight line. His Illustrations of the Huttonian Theory of the Earth (1802) gave strong support to James Hutton’s principle of uniformitarianism, essential to a proper understanding of geology. Playfair was the first scientist to recognise that a river cuts its own valley, and he cited British examples of the gradual, fluvial origins of valleys, to challenge the catastrophic theory (based on the Biblical Flood in Genesis) that was still widely accepted. He was also the first to link the relocation of loose rocks to the movement of glaciers. Playfair published texts on geometry, physics, and astronomy.

Blogging Tyndall

This fall I will start working on a project with my advisor to transcribe letters of the 19th-century Irish physicist John Tyndall. The letters I transcribe will deal with his years mountaineering in the Alps. Adrian Thysse has three posts up today about John Tyndall:

And from Victorian Web, a short bio of Tyndall by John van Wyhe.

Today in Science History

From Today in Science History:

Lord Kelvin (William Thomson) (Born 26 June 1824; died 17 Dec 1907). Born as William Thomson, he became an influential physicist, mathematician and engineer who has been described as a Newton of his era. At Glasgow University, Scotland, he was a professor for over half a century. The name he made for himself was more than just a temperature scale. His activities ranged from being the brains behind the laying of a transatlantic telephone cable, to attempting to calculate the age of the earth from its rate of cooling. In 1892, when raised to the peerage as Baron Kelvin of Largs, he had chosen the name from the Kelvin River, near Glasgow. [See this post at The Red Notebook on Kelvin and Darwin]

Gilbert White (Died 26 June 1795; born 18 Jul 1720). English cleric and pioneering naturalist, known as the “father of English natural history.” Over the course of 20 years of his observations and two colleagues’ letters, he studied a wide range of flora and fauna seen around his hometown of Selborne, Hampshire. In 1789, he published this studious work. His book The Natural History and Antiquities of Selborne contained observations of nature drawn from life. The book has been in print continuously since 1789, and is the fourth most published book in the English language. [a blog for The Natural History of Selborne]

Today in Science History

From Today in Science History:

Sir Harry Hamilton Johnston (Born 12 June 1858; died 31 Aug 1927). British explorer, botanist, and pioneer colonial administrator. His interest in zoological specimens gave him a lucrative part-time income, illustrating books for the new sciences of biology, geography and anthropology. The combination of art, languages and a developing interest in the sciences marked Johnston as a new breed of scholar whose skills met colonialism’s need for exploration, expansion and documentation.Widely travelled in Africa and speaking many African languages, he was closely involved in what has been called the scramble for Africa by 19th-century colonial powers. He published 40 books on African subjects.

Karl von Frisch (Died 12 June 1982; born 20 Nov 1886). Zoologist whose studies of communication among bees added significantly to the knowledge of the chemical and visual sensors of insects and simple animals. He shared the 1973 Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine with animal behaviourists Konrad Lorenz and Nikolaas Tinbergen. He showed that bees have the ability to recognize different odours and tastes, and discovered their famous “waggle dance” used by bees to communicate among with others in the hive. This sequence of body movements indicates the direction and distance to food. He showed polarized light is used by the bees as a “compass” for navigation, even when the sun is not visible. In fish, he demonstrated their acute hearing, and ability to distinguish colours and brightness.

Fleeming Jenkin (Died 12 June 1885; born 25 Mar 1833). British engineer noted for his work in establishing units of electrical measurement. After earning an M.A. (1851), he worked for the next 10 years with engineering firms engaged in the design and manufacture of submarine telegraph cables and equipment for laying them. In 1861 his friend William Thomson (later Lord Kelvin – see this post) procured Jenkin’s appointment as reporter for the Committee of Electrical Standards of the British Association for the Advancement of Science. He helped compile and publish reports that established the ohm as the absolute unit of electrical resistance and described methods for precise resistance measurements.

Jenkin’s review of On the Origin of Species.