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V. SCIENTISTSWarren O. Hagstrom


VI. SCIENTIFIC COMMUNICATIONNorman Kaplan and Norman W. Storer



As an independent professional discipline, the history of science is a new field still emerging from a long and varied prehistory. Only since 1950, and initially only in the United States, has the majority of even its youngest practitioners been trained for, or committed to, a full-time scholarly career in the field. From their predecessors, most of whom were historians only by avocation and thus derived their goals and values principally from some other field, this younger generation inherits a constellation of sometimes irreconcilable objectives. The resulting tensions, though they have relaxed with increasing maturation of the profession, are still perceptible, particularly in the varied primary audiences to which the literature of the history of science continues to be addressed. Under the circumstances any brief report on development and current state is inevitably more personal and prognostic than for a longer-established profession.

Development of the field . Until very recently most of those who wrote the history of science were practicing scientists, sometimes eminent ones. Usually history was for them a by-product of pedagogy. They saw in it, besides intrinsic appeal, a means to elucidate the concepts of their specialty, to establish its tradition, and to attract students. The historical section with which so many technical treatises and monographs still open is contemporary illustration of what was for many centuries the primary form and exclusive source for the history of science. That traditional genre appeared in classical antiquity both in historical sections of technical treatises and in a few independent histories of the most developed ancient sciences, astronomy and mathematics. Similar works—together with a growing body of heroic biography—had a continuous history from the Renaissance through the eighteenth century, when their production was much stimulated by the Enlightenment’s vision of science as at once the source and the exemplar of progress. From the last fifty years of that period come the earliest historical studies that are sometimes still used as such, among them the historical narratives embedded in the technical works of Lagrange (mathematics) as well as the imposing separate treatises by Montucla (mathematics and physical science), Priestley (electricity and optics), and Delambre (astronomy). In the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, though alternative approaches had begun to develop, scientists continued to produce both occasional biographies and magistral histories of their own specialties, for example, Kopp (chemistry), Poggendorff (physics), Sachs (botany), Zittel and Geikie (geology), and Klein (mathematics).

A second main historiographic tradition, occasionally indistinguishable from the first, was more explicitly philosophical in its objectives. Early in the seventeenth century Francis Bacon proclaimed the utility of histories of learning to those who would discover the nature and proper use of human reason. Condorcet and Comte are only the most famous of the philosophically inclined writers who, following Bacon’s lead, attempted to base normative descriptions of true rationality on historical surveys of Western scientific thought. Before the nineteenth century this tradition remained predominantly programmatic, producing little significant historical research. But then, particularly in the writings of Whewell, Mach, and Duhem, philosophical concerns became a primary motive for creative activity in the history of science, and they have remained important since.

Both of these historiographic traditions, particularly when controlled by the textual-critical techniques of nineteenth-century German political history, produced occasional monuments of scholarship, which the contemporary historian ignores at his peril. But they simultaneously reinforced a concept of the field that has today been largely rejected by the nascent profession. The objective of these older histories of science was to clarify and deepen an understanding of contemporary scientific methods or concepts by displaying their evolution. Committed to such goals, the historian characteristically chose a single established science or branch of science—one whose status as sound knowledge could scarcely be doubted—and described when, where, and how the elements that in his day constituted its subject matter and presumptive method had come into being. Observations, laws, or theories which contemporary science had set aside as error or irrelevancy were seldom considered unless they pointed a methodological moral or explained a prolonged period of apparent sterility. Similar selective principles governed discussion of factors external to science. Religion, seen as a hindrance, and technology, seen as an occasional prerequisite to advance in instrumentation, were almost the only such factors which received attention. The outcome of this approach has recently been brilliantly parodied by the philosopher Joseph Agassi.

Until the early nineteenth century, of course, characteristics very much like these typified most historical writing. The romantics’ passion for distant times and places had to combine with the scholarly standards of Biblical criticism before even general historians could be brought to recognize the interest and integrity of value systems other than their own. (The nineteenth century is, for example, the period when the Middle Ages were first observed to have a history.) That transformation of sensibility which most contemporary historians would suppose essential to their field was not, however, at once reflected in the history of science. Though they agreed about nothing else, both the romantic and the scientist-historian continued to view the development of science as a quasi-mechanical march of the intellect, the successive surrender of nature’s secrets to sound methods skillfully deployed. Only in this century have historians of science gradually learned to see their subject matter as something different from a chronology of accumulating positive achievement in a technical specialty defined by hindsight. A number of factors contributed to this change.

Probably the most important was the influence, beginning in the late nineteenth century, of the history of philosophy. In that field only the most partisan could feel confident of his ability to distinguish positive knowledge from error and superstition. Dealing with ideas that had since lost their appeal, the historian could scarcely escape the force of an injunction which Bertrand Russell later phrased succinctly: “In studying a philosopher, the right attitude is neither reverence nor contempt, but first a kind of hypothetical sympathy, until it is possible to know what it feels like to believe in his theories.” That attitude toward past thinkers came to the history of science from philosophy. Partly it was learned from men like Lange and Cassirer who dealt historically with people or ideas that were also important for scientific development. (Burtt’s Metaphysical Foundations of Modern Physical Science and Lovejoy’s Great Chain of Being were, in this respect, especially influential.) And partly it was learned from a small group of Neo-Kantian epistemologists, particularly Brunschvicg and Meyerson, whose search for quasi-absolute categories of thought in older scientific ideas produced brilliant genetic analyses of concepts which the main tradition in the history of science had misunderstood or dismissed.

These lessons were reinforced by another decisive event in the emergence of the contemporary profession. Almost a century after the Middle Ages had become important to the general historian, Pierre Duhem’s search for the sources of modern science disclosed a tradition of medieval physical thought which, in contrast to Aristotle’s physics, could not be denied an essential role in the transformation of physical theory that occurred in the seventeenth century. Too many of the elements of Galileo’s physics and method were to be found there. But it was not possible, either, to assimilate it quite to Galileo’s physics and to that of Newton, leaving the structure of the so-called Scientific Revolution unchanged but extending it greatly in time. The essential novelties of seventeenth-century science would be understood only if medieval science were explored first on its own terms and then as the base from which the “New Science” sprang. More than any other, that challenge has shaped the modern historiography of science. The writings which it has evoked since 1920, particularly those of E. J. Dijksterhuis, Anneliese Maier, and especially Alexandre Koyré, are the models which many contemporaries aim to emulate. In addition, the discovery of medieval science and its Renaissance role has disclosed an area in which the history of science can and must be integrated with more traditional types of history. That task has barely begun, but the pioneering synthesis by Butterfield and the special studies by Panofsky and Frances Yates mark a path which will surely be broadened and followed.

A third factor in the formation of the modern historiography of science has been a repeated insistence that the student of scientific development concern himself with positive knowledge as a whole and that general histories of science replace histories of special sciences. Traceable as a program to Bacon, and more particularly to Comte, that demand scarcely influenced scholarly performance before the beginning of this century, when it was forcefully reiterated by the universally venerated Paul Tannery and then put to practice in the monumental researches of George Sarton. Subsequent experience has suggested that the sciences are not, in fact, all of a piece and that even the superhuman erudition required for a general history of science could scarcely tailor their joint evolution to a coherent narrative. But the attempt has been crucial, for it has highlighted the impossibility of attributing to the past the divisions of knowledge embodied in contemporary science curricula. Today, as historians increasingly turn back to the detailed investigation of individual branches of science, they study fields which actually existed in the periods that concern them, and they do so with an awareness of the state of other sciences at the time.

Still more recently, one other set of influences has begun to shape contemporary work in the history of science. Its result is an increased concern, deriving partly from general history and partly from German sociology and Marxist historiography, with the role of nonintellectual, particularly institutional and socioeconomic, factors in scientific development. Unlike the ones discussed above, however, these influences and the works responsive to them have to date scarcely been assimilated by the emerging profession. For all its novelties, the new historiography is still directed predominantly to the evolution of scientific ideas and of the tools (mathematical, observational, and experimental) through which these interact with each other and with nature. Its best practitioners have, like Koyré, usually minimized the importance of nonintellectual aspects of culture to the historical developments they consider. A few have acted as though the obtrusion of economic or institutional considerations into the history of science would be a denial of the integrity of science itself. As a result, there seem at times to be two distinct sorts of history of science, occasionally appearing between the same covers but rarely making firm or fruitful contact. The still dominant form, often called the “internal approach,” is concerned with the substance of science as knowledge. Its newer rival, often called the “external approach,” is concerned with the activity of scientists as a social group within a larger culture. Putting the two together is perhaps the greatest challenge now faced by the profession, and there are increasing signs of a response. Nevertheless, any survey of the field’s present state must unfortunately still treat the two as virtually separate enterprises.

Internal history. What are the maxims of the new internal historiography? Insofar as possible (it is never entirely so, nor could history be written if it were), the historian should set aside the science that he knows. His science should be learned from the textbooks and journals of the period he studies, and he should master these and the indigenous traditions they display before grappling with innovators whose discoveries or inventions changed the direction of scientific advance. Dealing with innovators, the historian should try to think as they did. Recognizing that scientists are often famous for results they did not intend, he should ask what problems his subject worked at and how these became problems for him. Recognizing that a historic discovery is rarely quite the one attributed to its author in later textbooks (pedagogic goals inevitably transform a narrative), the historian should ask what his subject thought he had discovered and what he took the basis of that discovery to be. And in this process of reconstruction the historian should pay particular attention to his subject’s apparent errors, not for their own sake but because they reveal far more of the mind at work than do the passages in which a scientist seems to record a result or an argument that modern science still retains.

For at least thirty years the attitudes which these maxims are designed to display have increasingly guided the best interpretive scholarship in the history of science, and it is with scholarship of that sort that this article is predominantly concerned. (There are other types, of course, though the distinction is not sharp, and much of the most worthwhile effort of historians of science is devoted to them. But this is not the place to consider work like that of, say, Needham, Neugebauer, and Thorndike, whose indispensable contribution has been to establish and make accessible texts and traditions previously known only through myth.) Nevertheless, the subject matter is immense; there have been few professional historians of science (in 1950 scarcely more than half a dozen in the United States); and their choice of topic has been far from random. There remain vast areas for which not even the basic developmental lines are clear.

Probably because of their special prestige, physics, chemistry, and astronomy dominate the historical literature of science. But even in these fields effort has been unevenly distributed, particularly in this century. Because they sought contemporary knowledge in the past, the nineteenth-century scientist—historians compiled surveys which often ranged from antiquity to their own day or close to it. In the twentieth century a few scientists, like Dugas, Jammer, Partington, Truesdell, and Whit-taker, have written from a similar viewpoint, and some of their surveys carry the history of special fields close to the present. But few practitioners of the most developed sciences still write histories, and the members of the emerging profession have up to this time been far more systematically and narrowly selective, with a number of unfortunate consequences. The deep and sympathetic immersion in the sources which their work demands virtually prohibits wide-ranging surveys, at least until more of the field has been examined in depth. Starting with a clean slate, as they at least feel they are, this group naturally tries first to establish the early phases of a science’s development, and few get beyond that point. Besides, until the last few years almost no member of the new group has had sufficient command of the science (particularly mathematics, usually the decisive hurdle) to become a vicarious participant in the more recent research of the technically most developed disciplines.

As a result, though the situation is now changing rapidly with the entry both of more and of better-prepared people into the field, the recent literature of the history of science tends to end at the point where the technical source materials cease to be accessible to a man with elementary college scientific training. There are fine studies of mathematics to Leibniz (Boyer, Michel); of astronomy and mechanics to Newton (Clagett, Costabel, Dijksterhuis, Koyré, and Maier), of electricity to Coulomb (Cohen), and of chemistry to Dalton (Boas, Crosland, Daumas, Guerlac, Metzger). But almost no work within the new tradition has as yet been published on the mathematical physical science of the eighteenth century or on any physical science in the nineteenth.

For the biological and earth sciences, the literature is even less well developed, partly because only those subspecialties which, like physiology, relate closely to medicine had achieved professional status before the late nineteenth century. There are few of the older surveys by scientists, and the members of the new profession are only now beginning in any number to explore these fields. In biology at least there is prospect of rapid change, but up to this point the only areas much studied are nineteenth-century Darwinism and the anatomy and physiology of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. On the second of these topics, however, the best of the book-length studies (e.g., O’Malley and Singer) deal usually with special problems and persons and thus scarcely display an evolving scientific tradition. The literature on evolution, in the absence of adequate histories of the technical specialties which provided Darwin with both data and problems, is written at a level of philosophical generality which makes it hard to see how his Origin of Species could have been a major achievement, much less an achievement in the sciences. Dupree’s model study of the botanist Asa Gray is among the few noteworthy exceptions.

As yet the new historiography has not touched the social sciences. In these fields the historical literature, where it exists, has been produced entirely by practitioners of the science concerned, Boring’s History of Experimental Psychology being perhaps the outstanding example. Like the older histories of the physical sciences, this literature is often indispensable, but as history it shares their limitations. (The situation is typical for relatively new sciences: practitioners in these fields are ordinarily expected to know about the development of their specialties, which thus regularly acquire a quasi-official history; thereafter something very like Gresham’s law applies.) This area therefore offers particular opportunities both to the historian of science and, even more, to the general intellectual or social historian, whose background is often especially appropriate to the demands of these fields. The preliminary publications of Stocking on the history of American anthropology provide a particularly fruitful example of the perspective which the general historian can apply to a scientific field whose concepts and vocabulary have only very recently become esoteric.

External history . Attempts to set science in a cultural context which might enhance understanding both of its development and of its effects have taken three characteristic forms, of which the oldest is the study of scientific institutions. Bishop Sprat prepared his pioneering history of the Royal Society of London almost before that organization had received its first charter, and there have since been innumerable in-house histories of individual scientific societies. These books are, however, useful principally as source materials for the historian, and only in this century have students of scientific development started to make use of them. Simultaneously they have begun seriously to examine the other types of institutions, particularly educational, which may promote or inhibit scientific advance. As elsewhere in the history of science, most of the literature on institutions deals with the seventeenth century. The best of it is scattered through periodicals (the once standard book-length accounts are regrettably out-of-date) from which it can be retrieved, together with much else concerning the history of science, through the annual “Critical BIBLIOGRAPHY” of the journal Isis and through the quarterly Bulletin signaletique of the Centre National de la Recherche Scienti-fique, Paris. Guerlac’s classic study on the professionalization of French chemistry, Schofield’s history of the Lunar Society, and a recent collaborative volume (Taton) on scientific education in France are among the very few works on eighteenth-century scientific institutions. For the nineteenth, only Cardwell’s study of England, Dupree’s of the United States, and Vucinich’s of Russia begin to replace the fragmentary but immensely suggestive remarks scattered, often in footnotes, through the first volume of Merz’s History of European Thought in the Nineteenth Century.

Intellectual historians have frequently considered the impact of science on various aspects of Western thought, particularly during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. For the period since 1700, however, these studies are peculiarly unsatisfying insofar as they aim to demonstrate the influence, and not merely the prestige, of science. The name of a Bacon, a Newton, or a Darwin is a potent symbol: there are many reasons to invoke it besides recording a substantive debt. And the recognition of isolated conceptual parallels, e.g., between the forces that keep a planet in its orbit and the system of checks and balances in the U.S. constitution, more often demonstrates interpretive ingenuity than the influence of science on other areas of life. No doubt scientific concepts, particularly those of broad scope, do help to change extrascientific ideas. But the analysis of their role in producing this kind of change demands immersion in the literature of science. The older historiography of science does not, by its nature, supply what is needed, and the new historiography is too recent and its products too fragmentary to have had much effect. Though the gap seems small, there is no chasm that more needs bridging than that between the historian of ideas and the historian of science. Fortunately there are a few works to point the way. Among the more recent are Nicolson’s pioneering studies of science in seventeenth- and eighteenth-century literature, West-fall’s discussion of natural religion, Gillispie’s chapter on science in the Enlightenment, and Roger’s monumental survey of the role of the life sciences in eighteenth-century French thought.

The concern with institutions and that with ideas merge naturally in a third approach to scientific development. This is the study of science in a geographical area too small to permit concentration on the evolution of any particular technical specialty but sufficiently homogeneous to enhance an understanding of science’s social role and setting. Of all the types of external history, this is the newest and most revealing, for it calls forth the widest range of historical and sociological experience and skill. The small but rapidly growing literature on science in America (Dupree, Hindle, Shryock) is a prominent example of this approach, and there is promise that current studies of science in the French Revolution may yield similar illumination. Merz, Lilley, and Ben-David point to aspects of the nineteenth century on which much similar effort must be expended. The topic which has, however, evoked the greatest activity and attention is the development of science in seventeenth-century England. Because it has become the center of vociferous debate both about the origin of modern science and about the nature of the history of science, this literature is an appropriate focus for separate discussion. Here it stands for a type of research: the problems it presents will provide perspective on the relations between the internal and external approaches to the history of science.

The Merton thesis . The most visible issue in the debate about seventeenth-century science has been the so-called Merton thesis, really two overlapping theses with distinguishable sources. Both aim ultimately to account for the special productiveness of seventeenth-century science by correlating its novel goals and values—summarized in the program of Bacon and his followers—with other aspects of contemporary society. The first, which owes something to Marxist historiography, emphasizes the extent to which the Baconians hoped to learn from the practical arts and in turn to make science useful. Repeatedly they studied the techniques of contemporary craftsmen—glassmakers, metallurgists, mariners, and the like—and many also devoted at least a portion of their attention to pressing practical problems of the day, e.g., those of navigation, land drainage, and deforestation. The new problems, data, and methods fostered by these novel concerns are, Merton supposes, a principal reason for the substantive transformation experienced by a number of sciences during the seventeenth century. The second thesis points to the same novelties of the period but looks to Puritanism as their primary stimulant. (There need be no conflict. Max Weber, whose pioneering suggestion Merton was investigating, had argued that Puritanism helped to legitimize a concern with technology and the useful arts.) The values of settled Puritan communities—for example, an emphasis upon justification through works and on direct communion with God through nature—are said to have fostered both the concern with science and the empirical, instrumental, and utilitarian tone which characterized it during the seventeenth century.

Both of these theses have since been extended and also attacked with vehemence, but no consensus has emerged. (An important confrontation, centering on papers by Hall and de Santillana, appears in the symposium of the Institute for the History of Science edited by Clagett; Zilsel’s pioneering paper on William Gilbert can be found in the collection of relevant articles from the Journal of the History of Ideas edited by Wiener and Noland. Most of the rest of the literature, which is voluminous, can be traced through the footnotes in a recently published controversy over the work of Christopher Hill.) In this literature the most persistent criticisms are those directed to Merton’s definition and application of the label “Puritan,” and it now seems clear that no term so narrowly doctrinal in its implications will serve. Difficulties of this sort can surely be eliminated, however, for the Baconian ideology was neither restricted to scientists nor uniformly spread through all classes and areas of Europe. Merton’s label may be inadequate, but there is no doubt that the phenomenon he describes did exist. The more significant arguments against his position are the residual ones which derive from the recent transformation in the history of science. Merton’s image of the Scientific Revolution, though long-standing, was rapidly being discredited as he wrote, particularly in the role it attributed to the Baconian movement.

Participants in the older historiographic tradition did sometimes declare that science as they conceived it owed nothing to economic values or religious doctrine. Nevertheless, Merton’s emphases on the importance of manual work, experimentation, and the direct confrontation with nature were familiar and congenial to them. The new generation of historians, in contrast, claims to have shown that the radical sixteenth-and seventeenth-century revisions of astronomy, mathematics, mechanics, and even optics owed very little to new instruments, experiments, or observations. Galileo’s primary method, they argue, was the traditional thought experiment of scholastic science brought to a new perfection. Bacon’s naive and ambitious program was an impotent delusion from the start. The attempts to be useful failed consistently; the mountains of data provided by new instruments were of little assistance in the transformation of existing scientific theory. If cultural novelties are required to explain why men like Galileo, Descartes, and Newton were suddenly able to see well-known phenomena in a new way, those novelties are predominantly intellectual and include Renaissance Neoplatonism, the revival of ancient atomism, and the rediscovery of Archimedes. Such intellectual currents were, however, at least as prevalent and productive in Roman Catholic Italy and France as in Puritan circles in Britain or Holland. And nowhere in Europe, where these currents were stronger among courtiers than among craftsmen, do they display a significant debt to technology. If Merton were right, the new image of the Scientific Revolution would apparently be wrong.

In their more detailed and careful versions, which include essential qualification, these arguments are entirely convincing, up to a point. The men who transformed scientific theory during the seventeenth century sometimes talked like Baconians, but it has yet to be shown that the ideology which a number of them embraced had a major effect, substantive or methodological, on their central contributions to science. Those contributions are best understood as the result of the internal evolution of a cluster of fields which, during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, were pursued with renewed vigor and in a new intellectual milieu. That point, however, can be relevant only to the revision of the Merton thesis, not to its rejection. One aspect of the ferment which historians have regularly labeled “the Scientific Revolution” was a radical programmatic movement centering in England and the Low Countries, though it was also visible for a time in Italy and France. That movement, which even the present form of Merton’s argument does make more comprehensible, drastically altered the appeal, the locus, and the nature of much scientific research during the seventeenth century, and the changes have been permanent. Very likely, as contemporary historians argue, none of these novel features played a large role in transforming scientific concepts during the seventeenth century, but historians must learn to deal with them nonetheless. Perhaps the following suggestions, whose more general import will be considered in the next section, may prove helpful.

Omitting the biological sciences, for which close ties to medical crafts and institutions dictate a more complex developmental pattern, the main branches of science transformed during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries were astronomy, mathematics, mechanics, and optics. It is their development which makes the Scientific Revolution seem a revolution in concepts. Significantly, however, this cluster of fields consists exclusively of classical sciences. Highly developed in antiquity, they found a place in the medieval university curriculum where several of them were significantly further developed. Their seventeenth-century metamorphosis, in which university-based men continued to play a significant role, can reasonably be portrayed as primarily an extension of an ancient and medieval tradition developing in a new conceptual environment. Only occasionally need one have recourse to the Baconian programmatic movement when explaining the transformation of these fields.

By the seventeenth century, however, these were not the only areas of intense scientific activity, and the others—among them the study of electricity and magnetism, of chemistry, and of thermal phenomena—display a different pattern. As sciences, as fields to be scrutinized systematically for an increased understanding of nature, they were all novelties during the Scientific Revolution. Their main roots were not in the learned university tradition but often in the established crafts, and they were all critically dependent both on the new program of experimentation and on the new instrumentation which craftsmen often helped to introduce. Except occasionally in medical schools, they rarely found a place in universities before the nineteenth century, and they were meanwhile pursued by amateurs loosely clustered around the new scientific societies that were the institutional manifestation of the Scientific Revolution. Obviously these are the fields, together with the new mode of practice they represent, which a revised Merton thesis may help us understand. Unlike that in the classical sciences, research in these fields added little to man’s understanding of nature during the seventeenth century, a fact which has made them easy to ignore when evaluating Merton’s viewpoint. But the achievements of the late eighteenth and of the nineteenth centuries will not be comprehensible until they are taken fully into account. The Baconian program, if initially barren of conceptual fruits, nevertheless inaugurated a number of the major modern sciences.

Internal and external history . Because they underscore distinctions between the earlier and later stages of a science’s evolution, these remarks about the Merton thesis illustrate aspects of scientific development recently discussed in a more general way by Kuhn. Early in the development of a new field, he suggests, social needs and values are a major determinant of the problems on which its practitioners concentrate. Also during this period, the concepts they deploy in solving problems are extensively conditioned by contemporary common sense, by a prevailing philosophical tradition, or by the most prestigious contemporary sciences. The new fields which emerged in the seventeenth century and a number of the modern social sciences provide examples. Kuhn argues, however, that the later evolution of a technical specialty is significantly different in ways at least foreshadowed by the development of the classical sciences during the Scientific Revolution. The practitioners of a mature science are men trained in a sophisticated body of traditional theory and of instrumental, mathematical, and verbal technique. As a result, they constitute a special subculture, one whose members are the exclusive audience for, and judges of, each other’s work. The problems on which such specialists work are no longer presented by the external society but by an internal challenge to increase the scope and precision of the fit between existing theory and nature. And the concepts used to resolve these problems are normally close relatives of those supplied by prior training for the specialty. In short, compared with other professional and creative pursuits, the practitioners of a mature science are effectively insulated from the cultural milieu in which they live their extra-professional lives.

That quite special, though still incomplete, insulation is the presumptive reason why the internal approach to the history of science, conceived as autonomous and self-contained, has seemed so nearly successful. To an extent unparalleled in other fields, the development of an individual technical specialty can be understood without going beyond the literature of that specialty and a few of its near neighbors. Only occasionally need the historian take note of a particular concept, problem, or technique which entered the field from outside. Nevertheless, the apparent autonomy of the internal approach is misleading in essentials, and the passion sometimes expended in its defense has obscured important problems. The insulation of a mature scientific community suggested by Kuhn’s analysis is an insulation primarily with respect to concepts and secondarily with respect to problem structure. There are, however, other aspects of scientific advance, such as its timing. These do depend critically on the factors emphasized by the external approach to scientific development. Particularly when the sciences are viewed as an interacting group rather than as a collection of specialties, the cumulative effects of external factors can be decisive.

Both the attraction of science as a career and the differential appeal of different fields are, for example, significantly conditioned by factors external to science. Furthermore, since progress in one field is sometimes dependent on the prior development of another, differential growth rates may affect an entire evolutionary pattern. Similar considerations, as noted above, play a major role in the inauguration and initial form of new sciences. In addition, a new technology or some other change in the conditions of society may selectively alter the felt importance of a specialty’s problems or even create new ones for it. By doing so they may sometimes accelerate the discovery of areas in which an established theory ought to work but does not, thereby hastening its rejection and replacement by a new one. Occasionally, they may even shape the substance of that new theory by ensuring that the crisis to which it responds occurs in one problem area rather than another. Or again, through the crucial intermediary of institutional reform, external conditions may create new channels of communication between previously disparate specialties, thus fostering crossfertilization which would otherwise have been absent or long delayed.

There are numerous other ways, including direct subsidy, in which the larger culture impinges on scientific development, but the preceding sketch should sufficiently display a direction in which the history of science must now develop. Though the internal and external approaches to the history of science have a sort of natural autonomy, they are, in fact, complementary concerns. Until they are practiced as such, each drawing from the other, important aspects of scientific development are unlikely to be understood. That mode of practice has hardly yet begun, as the response to the Merton thesis indicates, but perhaps the analytic categories it demands are becoming clear.

The relevance of the history of science . Turning in conclusion to the question about which judgments must be the most personal of all, one may ask about the potential harvest to be reaped from the work of this new profession. First and foremost will be more and better histories of science. Like any other scholarly discipline, the field’s primary responsibility must be to itself. Increasing signs of its selective impact on other enterprises may, however, justify brief analysis.

Among the areas to which the history of science relates, the one least likely to be significantly affected is scientific research itself. Advocates of the history of science have occasionally described their field as a rich repository of forgotten ideas and methods, a few of which might well dissolve contemporary scientific dilemmas. When a new concept or theory is successfully deployed in a science, some previously ignored precedent is usually discovered in the earlier literature of the field. It is natural to wonder whether attention to history might not have accelerated the innovation. Almost certainly, however, the answer is no. The quantity of material to be searched, the absence of appropriate indexing categories, and the subtle but usually vast differences between the anticipation and the effective innovation, all combine to suggest that reinvention rather than rediscovery will remain the most efficient source of scientific novelty.

The more likely effects of the history of science on the fields it chronicles are indirect, providing increased understanding of the scientific enterprise itself. Though a clearer grasp of the nature of scientific development is unlikely to resolve particular puzzles of research, it may well stimulate reconsideration of such matters as science education, administration, and policy. Probably, however, the implicit insights which historical study can produce will first need to be made explicit by the intervention of other disciplines, of which three now seem particularly likely to be effective.

Though the intrusion still evokes more heat than light, the philosophy of science is today the field in which the impact of the history of science is most apparent. Feyerabend, Hanson, Hesse, and Kuhn have all recently insisted on the inappropriateness of the traditional philosopher’s ideal image of science, and in search of an alternative they have all drawn heavily from history. Following directions pointed by the classic statements of Norman Campbell and Karl Popper (and sometimes also significantly influenced by Ludwig Wittgenstein), they have at least raised problems that the philosophy of science is no longer likely to ignore. The resolution of those problems is for the future, perhaps for the indefinitely distant future. There is as yet no developed and matured “new philosophy” of science. But already the questioning of older stereotypes, mostly positivistic, is proving a stimulus and release to some practitioners of those newer sciences which have most depended upon explicit canons of scientific method in their search for professional identity.

A second field in which the history of science is likely to have increasing effect is the sociology of science. Ultimately neither the concerns nor the techniques of that field need be historical. But in the present underdeveloped state of their specialty, sociologists of science can well learn from history something about the shape of the enterprise they investigate. The recent writings of Ben-David, Hagstrom, Merton, and others give evidence that they are doing so. Very likely it will be through sociology that the history of science has its primary impact on science policy and administration.

Closely related to the sociology of science (perhaps equivalent to it if the two are properly construed) is a field that, though it scarcely yet exists, is widely described as “the science of science.” Its goal, in the words of its leading exponent, Derek Price, is nothing less than “the theoretic analysis of the structure and behavior of science itself,” and its techniques are an eclectic combination of the historian’s, the sociologist’s, and the econometrician’s. No one can yet guess to what extent that goal is attainable, but any progress toward it will inevitably and immediately enhance the significance both to social scientists and to society of continuing scholarship in the history of science.

Thomas S. Kuhn

[Other relevant material may be found in the biographies ofKoyreandSarton.]


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The general topic of the philosophy of science can be divided into subareas by subject matter: the philosophy of physics, the philosophy of biology, the philosophy of the social sciences, and so on. But it may also be divided into discussion of structural problems in science, on the one hand, and substantive problems within specified sciences, on the other. Structural problems are those traditionally associated with such topics as scientific inference, classification, explanation, prediction, measurement, probability, and determinism. Substantive problems arise when a question is asked such as “How can learning theory be axiomatized?” or “How should anxiety be defined?” Substantive problems, as a class, merge gradually into abstract scientific problems, which are properly handled by scientists themselves.

The substantive philosophy of science usually requires some professional training in the relevant field, whereas the structural philosophy of science may require only a general scientific education. Both require professional training in philosophy or, to be more specific, in logic, broadly conceived (that is, not only in classical or in symbolic logic). The history of science is also of very great importance to the philosopher of science, for it provides him with more numerous and more diverse examples of conceptual schemes and theories than he could ever find in contemporary science, and such schemes and theories are his raw data.

It will be seen, then, that a large part of the philosophy of science stands to scientific theorizing, classifying, and so on, as experimental design stands to scientific experimenting. For the philosophy of science is simply the discussion of general criteria for theories, classifications, and the rest, and is necessary as long as the intuitions or assertions of scientists about what constitutes good procedure are in conflict or might be improved by analysis. Curiously enough, however, many scientists reject the philosophy of science as irrelevant to their own activities, although they constantly talk it and teach it and illustrate its relevance in their work, sometimes under the title “methodology” and sometimes just as advice without a title. It is only the hyperspecialized, rock-ribbed empiricist who can entirely avoid discussing the subject in his scientific work and teaching, and even he usually contradicts himself by espousing operationism as the epitome of empiricism—a rather elementary mistake which would have grave consequences for the validity and utility of his results if he acted on it. Often the antagonism of science to philosophy seems due to a low tolerance of ambiguity, and particularly to insecurity about involvement with the more debatable and less decidable issues of philosophy. This is surely an immature reaction, unless it can be shown that these issues need not be raised in the teaching and practice of science.

This article will provide (a) a brief discussion of those aspects of the structural philosophy of science which have special relevance for the social sciences and (b) some reference to substantive issues in the philosophy of particular social sciences. In general, these aspects will be intertwined, in order to illustrate the immediate relevance of the structural topics to substantive isues.

Main concerns of the philosophy of science . Science has been said to be concerned with observation, description, definition, classification, measurement, experimentation, generalization, explanation, prediction, evaluation, and control of the world. This list is of course much too comprehensive; to be at all useful it has to be narrowed down in the course of examining individual scientific activities (for instance, instead of analyzing description in general, we might ask what kind of describing is scientific, as opposed to poetic). In any case, there are as many (though probably no more) points of view about main topics in the philosophy of science as about main topics in any of the sciences. If the area of dispute sometimes appears greater than it is, this is because when a subtopic in philosophy is settled, it is given a new name and called a science. Philosophy is the mother of sciences and has spawned physics, astronomy, symbolic logic, economics, and psychology, among other subjects. The domain of fundamental and still unresolved conceptual disputes at any time is called philosophy and, of course, bears the cross of conflict. But, perhaps for that very reason, it is a residue that eternally regenerates, is perpetually fertile. The social sciences began with a similar handicap; what was well known about human behavior was called common sense, and only the muddy residue was left for psychology and the other social sciences to clarify. It is no wonder that a subject is difficult and debatable when it is defined to exclude the easy and certain.

Because “science” is a term for an activity as well as for a body of knowledge, we ought not to be surprised if it is continuous with the prescientific activities directed to the same ends, and if these, in turn, are an extension of prelinguistic adaptive behavior. This synoptic view of man’s cognitive development and current equipment should—and, I believe, does—provide some criteria for good scientific practice. We can begin by applying it to the various procedures connected with scientific concept formation: observation, description, definition, and classification, with measurement and generalization as closely related activities.

Concept clarification . It is now widely accepted in the philosophy of science that we must qualify or reject the traditional idea that the basic data from which the scientist forms his hypotheses and classifications are provided by a faculty of observation which is somehow independent of science. Not only has the attempt by sense-data theorists and phenomenologists to identify these basic data been a total failure, but the failure begins to appear explicable. We have come to see the “observation language“—the nonscientific language in which such basic data were supposed to be reported—as really just a “theory language,” with somewhat higher interjudge reliability than more abstract language, yet still subject to perceptual errors in its application and even to pervasive errors caused by infiltration by unnoticed theory. When errors of the latter kind are recognized, we may redescribe our observations or we may retain the old language and simply reinterpret it, perhaps metaphysically. Thus Feyerabend has pointed out (in conversation with the author) that the expression “The sun is rising,” although it originally incorporated a false astronomical theory, has been retained as a statement of pure observation. So there is no absolutely basic observation level on which all theory rests and, even more clearly, no sharp distinction between observation and theories. We must think instead of a constant interaction and exchange between observation, which seems immune from correction, and speculative theory. Indeed, the development of new instruments may simply render observable the hitherto unobservable (as when the electron microscope was developed) or the observed mistaken (as when it became possible to measure the curvature of the seemingly flat earth). Does this relativization of the distinction between observation and theory destroy the distinction’s utility? Not at all. Indeed, it strengthens our understanding of the hierarchical structure of science as a whole when we realize that observables of the nth level (for instance, in neurophysiology) may include some hypothetical constructs from the (n + l)th level (in this case, individual psychology).

What leads us, then, to introduce concepts at a given level? Not just the pressure of their existence on our blank brain. Rather, the preconscious selective effect of certain environmental and internal pressures began the process of concept formation in our ancestors, as in other organisms—a sequence of events that can be summarized as “discrimination under drive conditions.” The preverbal organism comes to react to certain stimulus configurations that represent ingestibles or predators, and it is simply an extension of this process when an interpersonal vocabulary is introduced to refer to these configurations. The psychologist refers to both the preverbal and the verbal stages of this process as concept formation, and although many philosophers prefer to restrict the term to the verbal stage, there is no doubt that the verbal stage develops from the preverbal one, whether or not it becomes qualitatively different in the course of development. [See CONCEPT FORMATION.]

Definition . Given the pragmatic view of concept formation outlined above, it is very natural to abandon classical definition theory (in which a definition is a set of logically necessary and sufficient conditions for the use of a term) and to adopt instead an approach based on the notions of indicator and of indicator clusters. The rationale for such an approach may be stated as follows. Within a formal system, such as mathematics or an invented language, we can find examples of classical definitions, but seldom, if ever, can we find them within a natural language or the language of a developing science. The reason for this is simply that natural phenomena are extremely untidy, and a language for referring to them must be flexible enough to accommodate this untidiness if it is to be scientifically useful. For instance, the concepts “subject,” “length,” “response,” “group,” “aggression,” and “temperature” cannot be given classical definitions (other than trivially circular ones). But we have no serious difficulty in learning or teaching these concepts, which we do by giving paradigm examples, contrasts, and explicitly approximate or conditional definitions. Any paradigm provides us, if it can be successfully analyzed, with a set of sufficient conditions for the application of the term, but it is not possible to insist that paradigms, let alone analysis of them, can never turn out to be erroneous. So the sense in which these conditions are sufficient is still not that of logical sufficiency. It is still more obvious that we often cannot specify any properties that are logically necessary for the application of the concept. We therefore adopt the notion of “weighted indicators,” or criteria—that is, properties which are relevant to the application of the term, but in varying degrees. Some of the properties may, in some cases, be virtually necessary; some small groups of them may be sufficient; but these are special cases. The clustering of these properties in property space indicates an entity for which it is useful to have a name, but there is typically considerable scatter and no sharp boundary to the cluster (the so-called open texture of concepts). The charm of a concise translation (that is, of a classical definition) is not often provided by the cluster approach, but it does preserve that most valuable feature of classical theory—a reliable verbal response that can be successfully taught. Contrasting and approximating, which are the other procedures involved in specification of meaning, depend on the psychological superiority of discrimination skills over absolute recognition skills and involve no new logical points.

At this point, it should be stressed that there are two elements in the theory of definition: the pragmatic and the literal. We have been talking about the limitations of the literal theory of definition as a kind of translation. But there is the independent question of how one can best—that is, most usefully—select the terms that one will mention in the definition, whether it is a translation or a cluster of indicators. A famous answer to this has often been taken as both literal and pragmatic, which makes it nonsensical instead of good pragmatic advice of a limited range of applicability. I refer to operationism (for which see especially Bridgman 1927). There are, of course, some areas where it is to be taken very seriously as advice, and psychology is one of them. (In theoretical physics, contrary to the common impression, it is extremely rare to seek or find operational definitions.) But if operationism is taken as requiring that definitions actually contain nothing but operations, then it is absurd, a category error—and, in addition, it is self-refuting, since the concept of an operation cannot be defined operationally. Definitions should therefore be of such a kind that we can apply some independently determinable criteria to decide when the defined term should be used (we can, if we wish, call the process of determining whether these criteria apply “operations"). But we cannot require that the only content of definitions should be operations, or we find ourselves caught in the dilemma of deciding when we have only one operation and, hence, only one concept. . . and so on.

Classification . The traditional requirements for classification also need to be relaxed. Instead of the Aristotelian requirement of exclusive and exhaustive subcategories, we must settle for minimized overlap and maximized coverage, balancing these desiderata against considerations of simplicity and applicability. The development of a scientific classification scheme is essentially a remapping of property space, using a new system of coordinates or a new projection. Hence, assessment of the scheme’s value very much depends, as in the map analogy, on the purposes for which it is intended (which may be as diverse as fast labeling, representation of a new theoretical insight, and easy recall) and very little on the idealized and context-free notion of “cutting Nature at the joints,” which was the goal of earlier taxonomists (and which still admirably expresses the feeling inspired by a successful classification scheme).

Measurement . The urge to measure is a kind of conditioned reflex among empirically trained scientists, and with some reason. Measurement requires—or, when developed, provides—an inter-subjectively reliable procedure for applying the potentially infinite descriptive vocabulary of number. For describing any continuous variable we need such a vocabulary, and for describing many discrete variables it is exceedingly useful because it creates the possibility of applying some mathematical apparatus. But the social scientist all too often assumes that scaling and measuring will make it likely that we can discover useful laws. In fact, many scales disguise the existence of regularities, and many others fail to reveal them. The descriptive utility of a scale must be considered independently of its theoretical fertility, for the two considerations may lead in different directions. The proliferation of scales, like the proliferation of statistical analyses, often merely clogs the channels of communication. There is no magic about numbers per se, and only hard thinking and good fortune, in combination, achieve a worthwhile new scale. The same is true of classification. The cluster concept is peculiarly suited to the needs of statistical scaling and to those of statistical inference in general. [See CLUSTERING; SCALING.]

Evaluation . The notion of measurement phases quite gradually into that of evaluation. “Pecking order," “peer-group ranking,” and “intelligence quotient” can all, in certain contexts, appear as value-impregnated scales. This is often disputed by those who think “value” is a dirty word. Social scientists are peculiarly susceptible to the charms of the Weberian myth of a value-free social science, which rests on a one-sided interpretation of the distinction between facts and values. In its more defensible form this distinction amounts to the assertion that (a) evaluation depends on establishing certain facts; and (b) evaluation goes beyond the facts on which it depends. To this it can be objected that evaluation may well result in facts, albeit facts different from those with which it begins.

Thus Consumer Reports can often substantiate evaluations such as “Brand X is the best dishwasher on the market today” on the basis of performance data plus data about the consumers’ wants. And that evaluation, when suitably supported, simply states a fact about Brand X. It is one thing to be cautious about importing dubious value premises into an argument; it is another to suppose that all value premises or conclusions are dubious, “mere matters of opinion.” It is not at all dubious that dishwashers should get the dishes clean, that clocks should keep good time, and so on. It may simply be a fact that Brand X of dishwasher excels at its task. Since the evaluation is nothing more than a combination of these facts, it is itself a fact, although it is also an evaluation.

Precisely this analysis applies to myriad issues in the social sciences—evaluation of the relative merits of protective tariff barriers and direct subsidies or of different forms of treatment for dysfunctional neurosis, to name only two examples. Of course, there are many other issues where only a relativized answer is possible, since legitimate differences of taste exist (that is, differences where no argument can establish the superiority of any particular taste). But this in no way distinguishes evaluation from theoretical interpretation. It will not do to say that “in principle” these differences can be resolved in the theoretical area when more facts are available, but not in the evaluation area. Not only are there very fundamental disagreements about the function of theory that make this improbable, but additional facts often reduce value disagreement. In any case, relativized answers, which are still value judgments, admit of no disagreement, and therefore do not involve subjectivity. It is simply naive to suppose that fields must, if they are to be regarded as objective, always contain answers to questions of the form “Which is the best X?” Neither mathematics nor engineering has this property, or any corresponding property with respect to “Which is the true solution to X?,” where the conditions of X are incompletely specified.

As to the final defense of the distinction between fact and value—that a particular choice of ultimate values, or ends, cannot be proved true—three answers apply: (1) No such choice has to be proved true, only relevant. (2) No one has yet produced a demonstrably ultimate value, and it seems clear that the hierarchical model is as inappropriate here as it is in epistemology. (There are no ultimate, or basic, facts, only some that are more reliable than others; and all can—under pressure—be given support by appeal to others.) (3) In the case of moral values, where some need for a single answer can be demonstrated, there is a perfectly good way of handling any moral disputes that are likely to arise in the social sciences. This is by appealing to the equality of prima-facie rights—the fundamental axiom of democracy. Justification of this is itself one of the most important tasks of the social sciences and requires contributions from game theory, political science, economics, sociology, and psychology, as well as from the obvious candidate, anthropology. It is the problem of deciding on the best system of sublegal mores—insofar, of course, as any answer is possible. But this type of problem is already familiar: it is an efficiency problem.

Indeed, the social sciences have for too long been reticent about pointing out the extent to which it is possible both to give answers to moral problems and to refute some of the current answers to them. For some reason, the sound point that there are many areas of morality where there cannot yet be any proof of the superiority of a particular answer is taken to imply that acting as if any answer were correct is defensible. But of course the only defensible position in such a situation is a compromise or, if possible, a suspension of action. In my opinion, the axiom of equal primafacie rights can be shown to be superior to any alternative, and also to be capable of generating a complete moral system. It achieves both of these ends by being the only such axiom that can be satisfactorily supported, and of course it roughly coincides with the Golden Rule and other basic maxims (details of this line of argument will be found in Scriven 1966). At any rate, it is time that the possibility of this kind of “strategic ethics” was examined by all the strategists who have sprung up to look at other kinds of social interaction in terms of the language of games.

In summary, the scientific approach to evaluation necessarily involves both applied science (finding the best solution to a practical problem) and pure science (finding the best estimate, hypothesis, or experimental design). Moreover, the element of evaluation enters into much “straight” measurement—that of intelligence, creativity, and social acceptability, for instance. The reason for this is as simple as the reason for introducing new classifications: we have to order our knowledge if we are to use it efficiently. It follows that the most appropriate kind of order is determined by the use to which that knowledge is to be put. One might put the point paradoxically and say that all science is applied science. The application may be to efficient explanation, accurate prediction, or improvement of the world, but it is still—in one important sense—an application. Nor can we assess (that is, evaluate) theories or instruments unless we have some analysis of their proposed use.

Data analysis . There are obviously limitations on the memory storage capacity of the human brain that would make it impotent in the face of even a modest amount of data about the path of a projectile or a planet, if these data were presented in discrete form. But if we can find some simple pattern that the data follow, especially if it is a pattern that we are familiar with from some other, preferably visual, experience, then we can handle it quite easily. (The preference for visual models is due to the vastly greater channel capacity of the visual modality; the notion of “handling” involves more than simple recovery, and even that involves more than storage capacity, since it includes look-up and read-out time.) This simple point can be taken as the start for a complete data-processing approach to the aspects of structural philosophy of science that remain to be discussed. It also pervades the parts already discussed, for the introduction of concepts is itself a device to cope with the “buzzing, blooming confusion” of sense experience.

Generalizations and laws . The simplest examples of the cognitive condensation described in the preceding section are laws and generalizations. They are so necessary that we are prepared to forgive them a very high degree of inaccuracy if only they will simplify the range of possibilities for us. Contrary to Karl Popper’s view, which stresses the equivalence of a law to the denial of counter-instances, the present view suggests that we are rightly very unimpressed by counterinstances in this irregular world, and extremely thankful if we can find a regularity that provides a reasonable approximation over a good range of instances. This is as true in the physical sciences as in the social, for the laws of gases, the laws of motion, gravitation, radiation, and so on, are all merely approximations at best. There are occasional exceptions (for example, the third law of thermodynamics), but the important feature of a law is that it introduces a pattern where none was before. In this sense its truth is its utility, not its lack of error. A great deal has been made in the literature of the fact that a law will support counterfactual inferences while an accidental generalization will not (Nagel 1961, pp. 68–73; compare Strawson 1952, pp. 85, 197, 200). On the present view, all this means is that we think natural laws are true of continuing or pervasive phenomena, i.e., of the nature of things. All other attempts to give logical analyses of the concept of law—for instance, the view that laws cannot contain reference to particular entities, or must support predictions—seem to me simply arbitrary.

Explanation . The task of explanation is the integration of “new” phenomena (whether subjectively or objectively new makes no difference) into the structure of knowledge. Typically, this consists in fitting these phenomena into a pattern with which we are already familiar. But explanation is not simply reduction to the familiar. Indeed, it may involve reducing the familiar to the unfamiliar, as Popper (1963, p. 63) has pointed out. But it must involve reducing the uncompre-hended phenomenon to phenomena that are comprehended, and it is hardly surprising if this sometimes increases the sense of familiarity.

It has long been argued that the way in which explanation is performed in science always involves subsuming the phenomenon to be explained under a known law [see SCIENTIFIC EXPLANATION]. In view of the known deficiencies in our scientific laws, explanation, if this theory were acceptable, would in any case be a rather imprecise affair. But the restriction to laws is too confining, unless one treats the term “law” so loosely that it covers almost any statement except a pure particular. The real danger in this model of explanation—the “deductive” model, as it is usually called—is that it seems to support the view that explanations are closely related to predictions. In contrast, the “pattern” model of explanation, which I prefer, allows for retrospectively applicable patterns as well as for those which can be grasped in advance of their completion. It happens that this is very important in the behavioral sciences, since there is, and always will be, a real shortage of “two-way” laws (that is, laws that both predict and explain). This has typically been treated by social scientists as a sign of the immaturity of their subject; but in fact it is simply a sign of its nature and is very like the situation in the “messier” areas of the physical sciences, especially engineering. When a bridge fails, or a mob riots, or a patient commits suicide, there are often a number of possible explanations, of which only one “fits the facts.” We thus have no difficulty in saying that this one is the explanation, although the facts available before the event were not enough to permit us to tell what would happen. Indeed, it may be that the chances in advance were very strongly against the actual outcome, and that we would therefore have been entitled to make a well-founded scientific prediction of the event’s nonoccurrence. It is not helpful to suggest in such cases that we are explaining by deduction from a law. What sort of law? That some factors can cause others? That only certain factors cause a certain effect? These are indeed general propositions, but they do not look much like laws of the usual kind, and they do not support any predictions at all. It is not in the least important whether or not we call them laws, but it is important to understand that we often support explanations by appealing to general claims that will not support predictions.

Prediction . On the other hand, it is often possible to predict on the basis of laws that do not explain. Any reliable correlation, however little we understand it, will give us a basis for predicting (that is, of course, provided there is temporal separation between the two correlated factors). To be able to predict, we need only to be able to infer that an event must occur at some conveniently remote time in the future. To explain, on the other hand, we have only to show why something occurred, not necessarily that it had to occur.

For a long time it was thought that the only way we could be sure to avoid ad hoc explanations was to require that (a) the grounds for the explanation be known to be true and (b) these same grounds imply only one possible outcome, the event or phenomenon to be explained. But there are many ways in which we can show that a particular explanation is correct in a particular case without having to show that the factors mentioned in the explanation would enable one to infer the explained event.

For example, we may demonstrate the presence and operation of a particular cause by exhibiting some clues that uniquely identify its modus op-erandi. Of course, we may still have reason to believe that there are certain other factors present which, in conjunction with the factors we have identified, would enable us to make a formal inference that the event we have explained was bound to occur. But in many cases we do not know what those other factors are, and we do not know the laws that would make the inference possible. In fact, our belief that we may still be able to make this inference merely indicates that we believe in determinism. It certainly does not prove that a good scientific explanation demonstrates the necessity of what it explains.

No doubt it is tempting to remark that a complete explanation would have this property, but even this approach is wrong. In the first place, there are many so-called complete scientific explanations that do not have it. Second, this approach recommends a use of the term “complete explanation” that has the unpromising property of identifying mere subsumption under a generalization as complete explanation. But the genius of Freud, for instance, was not manifested by proving that the “explanation” of obsessive behavior in a particular neurotic was that this behavior was common in neurotics. Rather, he claimed to show a causal connection between certain other factors and obsessive behavior; and a causal connection is neither as strong nor as weak as a high correlation, it is simply quite different.

Causes . We are often able to identify causes in the social sciences without being able to give the laws and other factors in conjunction with which they operate to bring about their effects. The basic control group study is a case in point. It may give us excellent grounds for supposing, let us say, that a particular drug accelerates the subjects’ rate of response, but it does not tell us what other factors are necessary conditions for this effect. Of course, we know that it is some set of the factors which are present, but we do not know which set. In more complex cases, even though a particular factor does not reliably lead to this effect, we may establish it as the cause simply by elimination of the alternative possible causes, either through their absence or through the presence of clues showing that, although present, they could not have been active this time. Of course, causal explanations are incomplete in the sense that there are always further interesting questions about the phenomenon that we would like answered. But this is also true even when we can subsume the explanation under a law: for instance, we can ask why the law is true. But causal explanations are often complete in the sense that they tell us exactly what we need to know, for our interest in a phenomenon is often very specific. Thus explanation is a context-dependent notion; explanations are devices for filling in our understanding, and the notion of the explanation makes sense only when there is a standard background of knowledge and understanding, as in the normal pedagogical development of an academic subject.

Understanding . The key notion behind that of explanation, and hence that of cause, is understanding. It must not be thought of purely as a subjective feeling; the feeling is only something associated with it. The condition of understanding itself is an objectively testable one; in fact, it regularly is tested by examinations, which are supposed to stress the detection of “real understanding,” not just rote knowledge. Understanding is integrated, related knowledge; more generally—so that the definition will apply to the understanding possessed by machines, animals, and children—it is the capacity to produce the appropriate response to novel stimuli within a certain range or field. It is a characteristic of tests for understanding that they present the student with new problems, and the possession of understanding is valuable just because it does embody this capacity to handle novelty.

Approaching it in this way, we see immediately that the question of how the brain can provide this capacity is of interest not only from a neurophysiological point of view but possibly also as a way of obtaining better insight into the nature of understanding itself. In fact, a remarkable overlap emerges between the requirements of efficient storage and understanding, as it is commonly conceived. Efficient storage, both to economize on storage capacity and to facilitate fast recovery and input, must use mapping, modeling, and simplifying procedures. But these are exactly what we use in the process of trying to understand phenomena, even in the more pragmatic process of trying to improve our classifications, descriptions, and predictions. Thus, to mention one example of how fruitful this conception is, the idea of simplicity, which has often been recognized as a criterion for satisfactory scientific theories, can be seen as equivalent to the familiar notion of economy, not as some mysterious aesthetic requirement. Nor is the whole aim of understanding to be seen as a concession to human weakness; for the most sophisticated and capacious computers we shall ever design will be hard pressed to store even part of the brain’s data and will therefore have to employ procedures that economize on storage space. Putting the matter more strongly, a simple map stores an infinity of facts with very little complication in the read-out procedures, in comparison with list storage, and an enormous improvement in speed of readout (that is, of recall); it also handles a quantity of information that would be beyond the capacity of ordinary list storage. (The difference between the use of models and the use of mnemonics is that the model stores an indefinite number of facts, which the mnemonic does not, and the model stores them in a way that is more directly related to truth.) Models, from analogies to axiomatizations, are the key to understanding. [See VERSTEHEN.]

Experimentation . The use of applied science for the purpose of controlling reality has its counterpart within the methodology of science itself in the area of experimentation. Thus applied science is to pure science as experimentation is to pure observation. In each case the armory of relevant methods is importantly different: the “purer” subjects are more concerned with understanding and description; the more applied ones, with causation and manipulation. Indeed, it does not appear possible to give an analysis of “cause” without some reference to manipulation, though a great deal can be said before coming to the irreducible element of intervention or action. [See CAUSATION.]

A number of topics have not been discussed here, although they are closely related. For example, the problem of the reduction of one science or theory to another is a combination of a problem about explanation with one about definition. I have also said very little, even implicitly, about the issue of free will versus determinism, and wish only to state that it now seems possible to reconcile the two positions, provided we first make a distinction between predictive and explanatory determinism. In conclusion, I should stress my conviction that there is very little in the social sciences that does not have a parallel in the physical sciences, but it has not been to these parallels that social scientists have turned for paradigms. They have turned instead to the absurdly over-simple paradigms of Newtonian mechanics and astronomy. Even there, the significant fact is that the problem of predicting the motion of pure point-masses, moving under the sole influence of the very simple force of gravity, passes from the realm where solutions and predictions are possible to the realm where solutions give way to (at best) explications as soon as the number of bodies is increased from two to three. It is surely absurd to imagine that the forces acting on human beings are simpler than those involved in the “three-body problem.” And if this is so, then we need a new “methodology of the complex domain,” perhaps along the lines indicated above.

Michael Scriven

[Directly related are the entriesCausation; Experimental Design; Models, Mathematical; Multivariate Analysis; Positivism; Prediction; Probability; Science, article onThe History OF Science;Scientific Explanation; Statistics, article OnThe Field; Systems Analysis, article onGeneral Systems Theory; Values; Verstehen; and in the biographies ofCohen; Galton; Hume; Koyre; Pearson; Peirce; Schlick; Weber, Max; Yule.]


Contemporary philosophers of science can be roughly classified as either post-positivists (who form the majority) or linguistic analysts. For examples of work by leading post-positivists, see Popper 1934; 1957; Carnap 1950; Reich-enbach 1951; Hempel 1952; 1965; Braithwaite 1953; Nagel 1961; Feyerabend 1962; Kemeny&Snell 1962; Suppes&Zinnes 1963. There are many important topics on whichthese authors disagree, but it seems fair to say that among the predecessors they would be prepared to acknowledge are such founders of modern positivism as Karl Pearson, Moritz Schlick, and Ernst Mach. Other outstanding earlier writers who, although somewhat untypical of the field, have contributed to the philosophy of science in general, not just the post-positivist branch of it, include C. S. Peirce, Max Weber, N. R. Campbell, P. W. Bridgman, and Harold Jeffreys. Works by philosophers of science who use at least some of the methods of the linguistic analysts, even if they would not all classify themselves as such, include, in the study of the physical sciences, Toulmin 1953; Polanyi 1958; in the study of the social sciences, Dray 1957; Winch 1958; Kaplan 1964; Scriven 1966; and, in the field of measurement and probability, Ellis 1966; Hacking 1965. Certain trends in the history of science, particularly in the emphasis, developed in Butterfield 1950 and Kuhn 1962, and by Alexandre Koyrt, on autonomous conceptual schemes as units of progress, have influenced the philosophy of science. These trends have in turn been influenced by philosophical works such as Feyerabend 1962; Hesse 1963. Among the extremely valuable contributions to the philosophy of science made by practicing social scientists, special note should be taken of Simon 1947–1956; Skinner 1953; Meehl 1954; Stevens 1958; Chomsky 1966. Of the general treatises available in 1966, only McEwen 1963 and Kaplan 1964 are concerned principally with the social sciences, although Nagel 1961 and Hempel 1965 deal with them to some extent. Lazarsfeld 1954; Natanson 1963; Braybrooke 1966 are interesting collections that focus exclusively on the social sciences. As an introduction to the philosophical problems of the social sciences, Kaplan 1964 is to be recommended to layman and expert alike, although the work takes an approach somewhat different from that presented in this article.

Braithwaite, R. B. 1953 Scientific Explanation: A Study of the Function of Theory, Probability and Law in Science. Cambridge Univ. Press. → A paperback edition was published in 1960 by Harper.

Braybrooke, David (editor) 1966 Philosophical Problems of the Social Sciences. New York: Macmillan.

Bridgman, P. W. (1927) 1946 The Logic of Modern Physics. New York: Macmillan.

Butterfield, Herbert (1950) 1957 The Origins of Modern Science, 1300–1800. 2d ed., rev. New York: Macmillan. → A paperback edition was published in 1962 by Collier.

Campbell, Norman R. (1920) 1957 Foundations of Science: The Philosophy of Theory and Experiment. New York: Dover. → First published as Physics: The Elements.

Carnap, Rudolf (1950) 1962 The Logical Foundations of Probability. 2d ed. Univ. of Chicago Press.

Chomsky, Noam 1966 Cartesian Linguistics: A Chapter in the History of Rationalist Thought. New York: Harper.

Dray, William (1957) 1964 Laws and Explanation in History. Oxford Univ. Press.

Ellis, Brian 1966 Basic Concepts of Measurement. Cambridge Univ. Press.

Feigl, Herbert; and Scriven, Michael (editors) 1956 The Foundations of Science and the Concepts of Psychology and Psychoanalysis. Minnesota Studies in the Philosophy of Science, Vol. 1. Minneapolis: Univ. of Minnesota Press.

Feyerabend, P. K. 1962 Explanation, Reduction and Empiricism. Pages 28–97 in Herbert Feigl and Grover Maxwell (editors), Scientific Explanation, Space, and Time. Minnesota Studies in the Philosophy of Science, Vol. 3. Minneapolis: Univ. of Minnesota Press. Hacking, Ian 1965 Logic of Statistical Inference. Cambridge Univ. Press.

Hempel, Carl G. 1952 Fundamentals of Concept Formation in Empirical Science. Volume 2, number 7, in International Encyclopedia of Unified Science. Univ. of Chicago Press.

Hempel, Carl G. 1965 Aspects of Scientific Explanation, and Other Essays in the Philosophy of Science. New York: Free Press.

Hesse, Mary B. 1963 Models and Analogies in Science. London: Sheed…Ward.

Jeffreys, Harold (1931) 1957 Scientific Inference. 2d ed. Cambridge Univ. Press.

Kaplan, Abraham 1964 The Conduct of Inquiry: Methodology for Behavioral Science. San Francisco: Chandler.

Kemeny, John G.; and Snell, J. Laurie 1962 Mathematical Models in the Social Sciences. Boston: Ginn.

Kuhn, Thomas S. 1962 The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. Univ. of Chicago Press. → A paperback edition was published in 1964.

Lazarsfeld, Paul F. (editor) (1954) 1955 Mathematical Thinking in the Social Sciences. 2d ed., rev. Glencoe, 111.: Free Press.

McEwEN, William P. 1963 The Problem of Socialscientific Knowledge. Totowa, N.J.: Bedminster.

Meehl, Paul E. (1954) 1956 Clinical Versus Statistical Prediction: A Theoretical Analysis and a Review of the Evidence. Minneapolis: Univ. of Minnesota Press.

Nagel, Ernest 1961 The Structure of Science: Problems in the Logic of Scientific Explanation. New York: Harcourt.

Natanson, Maurice (editor) 1963 Philosophy of the Social Sciences: A Reader. New York: Random House.

Polanyi, Michael 1958 Personal Knowledge: Towards a Post-critical Philosophy. Univ. of Chicago Press.

Popper, Karl R. (1934) 1959 The Logic of Scientific Discovery. New York: Basic Books. → First published as Logik der Forschung.

Popper, Karl R. 1957 The Poverty of Historicism. Boston: Beacon.

Popper, Karl R. 1963 Conjectures and Refutations: The Growth of Scientific Knowledge. New York: Basic Books; London: Routledge.

Reichenbach, Hans (1951) 1959 Probability Methods in Social Science. Pages 121–128 in Daniel Lerner and Harold D. Lasswell (editors), The Policy Sciences: Recent Developments in Scope and Method. Stanford Univ. Press.

Scriven, Michael 1956 A Possible Distinction Between Traditional Scientific Disciplines and the Study of Human Behavior. Pages 88–130 in Herbert Feigl and Michael Scriven (editors), The Foundations of Science and the Concepts of Psychology and Psychoanalysis. Minnesota Studies in the Philosophy of Science, Vol. 1. Minneapolis: Univ. of Minnesota Press.

Schiven, Michael 1959 Truisms as the Grounds for Historical Explanations. Pages 443–475 in Patrick L. Gardiner (editor), Theories of History. Glencoe, III.: Free Press.

Scriven, Michael 1962 Explanations, Predictions and Laws. Pages 170–230 in Herbert Feigl and Grover Maxwell (editors), Scientific Explanation, Space, and Time. Minnesota Studies in the Philosophy of Science, Vol. 3. Minneapolis: Univ. of Minnesota Press.

Scriven, Michael 1965 An Essential Unpredictability in Human Behavior. Pages 411–425 in Benjamin B. Wolman and Ernest Nagel (editors), Scientific Psychology: Principles and Approaches. New York: Basic Books.

Schiven, Michael 1966 Primary Philosophy. New York: McGraw-Hill.

Simon, Herbert A. (1947–1956) 1957 Models of Man; Social and Rational: Mathematical Essays on Rational Human Behavior in a Social Setting. New York: Wiley.

Skinner, B. F. (1953) 1964 Science and Human Behavior. New York: Macmillan.

Stevens, S. S. 1958 Problems and Methods of Psychophysics. Psychological Bulletin 55:177–196.

Strawson, P. F. 1952 Introduction to Logical Theory. London: Methuen; New York: Wiley.

Suppes, Patrick; and Zinnes, Joseph L. 1963 Basic Measurement Theory. Volume 1, pages 1—76 in R. Duncan Luce, Robert R. Bush, and Eugene Galanter (editors), Handbook of Mathematical Psychology. New York: Wiley.

Toulmin, Stephen 1953 The Philosophy of Science: An Introduction. London: Hutchinson’s University Library. → A paperback edition was published in 1960 by Harper.

Winch, Peter (1958) 1963 The Idea of a Social Science and Its Relation to Philosophy. London: Routledge; New York: Humanities.


If the sociology of knowledge is defined as the part of sociology that studies the nature of and relations between different types of idea systems, on the one side, and the relations between these idea systems and a variety of institutional (or social-structural) and personality factors, on the other, then the sociology of science is one part of the sociology of knowledge. It is the part that specializes in defining the nature of scientific ideas and in describing their relations both to other kinds of ideas (e.g., ideological, philosophical, aesthetic, religious) and to various institutional and personality factors. Parsons (1951, especially chapter 8) has given us what is still the best analytic definition of idea systems in general and their several specialized subtypes, although further analysis and operational specification of his classification are necessary.

The sociology of science, as is the case with all sociology, general or special, is primarily interested in the construction of a set of highly generalized, systematic, and relatively exhaustive concepts and propositions of relationship. In this enterprise it uses data from all historical periods and all cultures, since its main concern is not with history as such, but with establishing sociological concepts and propositions. The history of science, although it always should use such explicit sociological concepts and propositions, often does not, preferring its traditional, less examined, and frequently common-sense ways of treating its materials. In either case, the history of science, both advertently and inadvertently, may be productive of materials or even of new concepts and propositions for the sociology of science, but this is not its essential task. Thus, the sociology of science and the history of science overlap but do not coincide.

The sociology of science, finally, is interested both in fundamental scientific ideas themselves and in the application of these fundamental ideas, or of more empirical ideas, to technology. In its study of technology, again, the sociology of science uses both historical and contemporary data, drawn from a variety of cultures, regardless of the original purpose for which these data were collected, so long as they serve its primary goal of constructing a system of analytic concepts and propositions.

The social nature of science . One of the basic working assumptions of structural-functional theory in sociology is that man’s behavior in society is a response to certain functional problems that he confronts in his nonsocial and social environments. On this assumption, sociology sees man’s scientific behavior as his response to the functional problem created by his need to have adequate adjustive knowledge of the physical, biological, and social aspects of the empirical world. Such knowledge is indispensable for some form of adjustment to that world in its three essential and different aspects. Everywhere, as archeology, ethnology, history, and sociology have severally demonstrated, man in society has a certain amount of this scientific knowledge. The amount, of course, varies a great deal among societies. In other words, science, as Malinowski recognized (1916–1941), is a matter of degree, with some societies having only a relatively small amount and others having a great deal more. This, indeed, sets some of the essential problems for the sociology of science. For it is not only the universal occurrence of at least a small amount of scientific knowledge, but also the patterns of variation in the degree of development of such knowledge in different societies, and variations at different stages in the evolution of a single society, that the sociology of science has undertaken to explain.

In order to explain the degree of development of science considered as a complex whole, it is necessary to distinguish its component cultural, social, and psychological parts, for each of these can develop at somewhat different rates in different social situations. It is useful to define at least four general components of science as a whole, each of which has a measure of autonomy: substantive scientific ideas; scientific methodology, including both ideas and instruments; scientific roles; and motivational and reward systems for scientific roles. Let us consider, again because this sets important problems that the sociology of science has been trying to explain, how each of the components varies along certain dimensions.

Substantive scientific ideas vary along three dimensions: of generality, or abstractness, as it is also often called; of systematization; and of exhaustiveness for the relevant aspects of the phenomena. We may say that the more abstract, the more systematic, and the more nearly exhaustive a set of substantive scientific ideas is, the greater the degree of its scientific development. Among the interesting problems that the sociology of science tries to explain is the question of why the physical sciences on the whole have developed more rapidly in all three respects than have the biological sciences and why these, in turn, have developed more rapidly than the social sciences. Within each of these broad sectors of science, moreover, further variation in the degree of development of specialized subsciences poses similar problems for explanation. For example, the more rapid recent development of economics than of political science or sociology can be explained, in part, by the greater accessibility of data on price phenomena than of data on people’s political and social norms and actual behavior. This greater accessibility is due, in turn, and again in part, to the more pressing felt needs that governments and business firms have for price data.

Knowledge about the ideas and instruments (or technology) that make up scientific methodology also varies in its degree of development. It is clear that modern science has made great advances over earlier science in the sophistication of its knowledge about such essential methodological matters as the character of concepts and classifications, the logic of comparison and inference, and the functions of contrived and natural experimentation. Modern science is also at a great advantage over earlier science in the degree of its access to ordering and measuring facilities. Mathematics is, of course, the most important of such facilities, and its development has been of very great moment in the closely related development of all the sciences, although, again, to varying degrees among the several sciences, for interesting sociological reasons. In addition to mathematics, such instruments as thermometers, high-speed electronic computers, and a thousand others have contributed significantly to the advances of the sciences. Both the development of these measuring facilities and their adoption by the several sciences are important focuses for research in the sociology of science. Since they may develop sometimes as a direct result of changes in scientific ideas, but also sometimes independently, methodological ideas and instruments have various types of relationships with substantive scientific ideas. When they develop to some extent independently, as in the cases of the telescope or the computer, for example, methodological ideas and instruments may at certain times play the leading part in the development of a whole sector or subsector of science. Or again, it is an important sociological fact about the prospects of the social sciences that their ability to borrow a great deal of the methodological sophistication developed in the other sectors of science is a key asset for their own development.

There is also considerable variation among societies in the degree of differentiation and specialization of social roles for engaging in the many types of scientific behavior, in the proportion of members of the society engaged in these roles, in the kinds and amounts of support given to these roles, and in the degree of institutionalization of scientific roles. The sociology of science has been much concerned with these essential problems of the social organization or role component of science, so much so that we shall take them up below, in a separate and detailed discussion.

Finally, motivational and reward systems for scientific roles also vary among and within societies. They differ in the type of rewards, in the strength of motivation, and in the degree of diffusion of adequate incentives throughout the population as a whole. Again, we shall consider this matter more fully below.

The development of science

Viewed in the long perspective, science shows a history of continuity and cumulation from the earliest prehistory of man to the present. However, this history has been marked by quite different rates of development in different times and places. It is this unevenness in its progress, viewed in terms of shorter perspectives, that calls for explanation by the sociology of science. As the sociology of science has itself made progress, a few basic principles of explanation have come to appear sound. One is the principle that no single cultural, social, or psychological factor, such as religion or economic forces, can account for the growth of science as a whole or any of its several components or subsciences. Another such principle is that not even any single combination of factors, such as the religious and the economic, or the political and the educational, is sufficient for the tasks of the sociology of science. This is not to say that there are not some combinations of factors more favorable than others for certain kinds of specific development in science, as our discussion of the Protestant ethic will illustrate. There definitely are such favorable combinations, and the sociology of science has improved its ability to discover them by accepting the principle that certain types and rates of development may come from one set of factors (or one set of values of these factors taken as variables) and that other types and rates may come from a different set of factors (or a different set of variables-values).

The following discussion will consider some of the major factors that affect the development of science. They exert their influence on science always in combination, and the relative weight of the influence of each may vary in different specific instances.

Structural and cultural differentiation . The greater the degree of structural differentiation in a society, that is, of the specialization of roles between the major institutional sectors and within them as well, the more favorable the situation for the development of science. Greater structural differentiation provides the necesary situation not only for a variety of highly specialized scientific roles but also for their highly specialized ancillary and supporting roles in other institutional sectors.

Besides role differentiation, differentiation within culture, that is, in the various systems of ideas in society, is also favorable to the development of science. For example, as Charles Gillispie (1960) has shown, the development of what he calls “the edge of objectivity” of scientific ideas has increased as these ideas have progressively been differentiated from moral ideas about man’s place in the universe. The more that values, ideologies, aesthetic ideas, and philosophical ideas are distinguished both from one another and from substantive scientific ideas, the easier it is to see the special problems of each and to develop each and all of them.

Value systems . Certain values which the modern world tends to take for granted, but which have not existed in many past societies, certainly in nothing like the same degree, are much more favorable to the development of science than are their opposites. The high value the modern world puts on rationality as against traditionalism, on this-worldly activities as against other-worldly activities, on libertarianism as against authoritarianism, on active striving as against passive adaptation to the world, and on equality as against inequality—all these values support the development of the several components of science. Sometimes the support is direct, as in the case of the values of rationality and this-worldly interest, values which are especially powerful in combination, as they are in the modern world. Libertarianism is essential for academic freedom, which is one kind of important foundation for scientific progress. Sometimes the support from values is indirect, as when the value of equality increases the amount of social mobility and thus helps to select better talent for scientific roles.

Instrumental needs . Scientific knowledge is power, that is, power to adjust more or less satisfactorily to the nonsocial environment and to the internal and external social environment. Some scientific discovery and technological innovation, then, is a response to immediate instrumental needs for adjustment to what are defined as dangerous and harsh environments. Certainly this must have been an especially large influence on the development of science in the early stages of human society, when every bit of scientific knowledge was of great instrumental importance in a threatening and severe physical and social environment. But even powerful modern industrial societies respond strongly to their instrumental needs for science. Whatever their values in regard to science, they feel an urgent need to use it to strengthen their national defense, promote industrial and agricultural growth, and improve the health of their populations. Some scientists deplore this “exploitation” of science, that is, this encouragement of science “not for science’s own sake.” But the instrumental needs of even already powerful societies are defined by their citizens as more important under some circumstances than the value considerations that are preferred by scientists and by those who share the values that support science directly. Finally, the nonindustrial or underdeveloped societies of the present also push the acquisition of science for urgent instrumental needs, to cope with “the revolution of rising expectations” in their populations.

Economic factors . A variety of economic structures, needs, and resources, often combined with one or more other social factors, have had very large direct and indirect influences on the development of science. There is no blinking this fact, no matter how much some scientists may think it stains the “purity” of science and regardless of whether one thinks some Marxist sociologists of science have exaggerated it. Only a few of the myriad effects of economic activities on science can be given in illustration here. As Merton has shown (1936; 1939), in the case of seventeenth-century England, for example, the growing maritime interests, both commercial and naval shipping, were in need of more reliable techniques of navigation. The existing techniques included neither good chronometers nor any sure way of determining longitude at sea. These economic and military-political needs were a direct stimulus, through prizes offered for discoveries and inventions, to basic discoveries in astronomy and on the nature of the spring. Or again, earlier, in sixteenth-century Europe, economic needs for more powerful methods of pumping water out of mines than were provided by the existing Archimedean screw pumps led to work by Evangelista Torricelli and Vincenzo Viviani on the relations between atmospheric pressure and water level. On the basis of this work, successful suction pumps for industrial use were constructed. But this scientific work also led to the invention of the barometer by Torricelli, to the creation of a vacuum by Otto von Guericke, and to a whole host of scientific experiments and results with the so-called “air pump” by Robert Boyle and his colleagues in the newly founded Royal Society. This example shows how economic needs, science, and technology affect each other in complex and often mutually beneficial ways.

In the modern world, both industrial organizations and governments in all societies have provided many kinds of support for science in order to pursue economic interests and needs. Direct support exists in the form of governmental and industrial research laboratories; indirect support is given through tax provisions and other subsidies to both the universities and industry. One of the largest areas of governmental response to economic needs has been agricultural research, which is largely biological research but also includes the physical and social sciences. It should be noted that both “capitalist” and “socialist” societies and both “planning” and “nonplanning” societies have supported science through their responsiveness to the economic interests of special groups in the society and of society as a whole. The desirability of using science to meet economic needs and increase economic resources is no longer anywhere in question among the societies of the modern world.

Political structures and needs . Political and economic factors have often tended to be closely combined in their effects on science. Of course, the political factor has also had a great influence on science separately, for example, because of the military needs that governments have had. After the recent history of the part that governments have played in the development of atomic science for politico-military needs, this point hardly needs further illustration. But this connection between politico—military needs and science is far from new. Governments have always sought to increase military firepower through the development of science. Research on the nature of metals, on the causes of chemical reactions and explosions, and on the mathematics of the curves of ballistic missiles has been spurred by military needs.

Religion . Values and religion are closely connected in every society. A religion that supports modern values, which in turn favor science, is, of course, a strong support for the development of science. This specific connection is what Merton has sought to demonstrate in his analysis of the relations between the complex of values and religious beliefs that constitute the Protestant ethic, on the one hand, and the great development of seventeenth-century English science (1936; 1939). The values and beliefs of the Protestant ethic have now been secularized and diffused to many social milieus other than the ones in which they originally arose. In their secular form they are even more powerful supports for the development of science. The relations between a religion and science are always, it should be carefully noted, complex and at partial cross purposes. Thus, although the general beliefs and values of the liberal forms of Protestant Christianity have been favorable to the development of science, even these liberal elements have sometimes protested against specific scientific discoveries that have apparently contradicted basic doctrines of their own. Thus, as Gillispie (1951) has shown, some liberal Protestants who still held to the Biblical conceptions of miraculous floods and other catastrophes were opposed to the notion of geological uniformitarianism when this new scientific idea was first developed in the early nineteenth century. And, a little later, as Dupree (1959) and Lurie (1960) have suggested, there was the same kind of resistance for a while to Darwin’s discovery of uniformities in the development of man and the other animal species. In analyzing the relations between religion and science, the sociology of science treats them both as complex phenomena and looks for specific connections between their specific components.

The educational system . The maintenance and development of science is facilitated by an educational system that is sufficiently specialized for, and sympathetic to, the growing science of its time. For example, as we may learn from Ben-David (1960), new educational institutions developed for that purpose played an essential role in the development of French science during the early nineteenth century and in Germany a little later. All the modernizing countries of recent times, from Russia to the small and weak African countries, have greatly strengthened their educational systems at all levels because of their desire to improve their science. Before modern times, the universities were not the home of scientific development, which they have since become. As late as “the Great Instauration” of science in seventeenth-century England, the universities were still indifferent or hostile to science, but a variety of other extremely favorable social conditions helped science to flourish. This hostility continued for some time. Now, of course, a university that is hostile or indifferent to science can exist only in a society, or in one of its parts, that is content to remain a scientific backwater.

Social stratification system . A system of social stratification that emphasizes the value of equality and that, in fact, realizes a high degree of social mobility for the members of a society seems to be more favorable for the development of science than is the opposite, or closed, type of system. By providing a greater degree of equality for talent, wherever in the society it originates, the open type of system can provide greater resources of talent for manning scientific posts. Of course, if scientific roles are not highly valued, rising talent will go elsewhere, but the two factors in combination—a high value on science and the openness of the channels of social mobility—are very favorable to the development of science. In the modern world, both of these conditions have been realized in ever greater measure in the older industrial societies. And the newly modernizing societies, as Dedijer (1961) has described them, are making great efforts to bring them into being almost overnight.

Differentiation of the scientific role

In relatively undifferendated societies, past or contemporary, there are few roles for full-time “intellectuals,” as we may roughly characterize all those whose special function is to deal in some kind of idea system. However, as societies become less simple and more structurally differentiated, the role of intellectual enlarges and is occupied by at least a few individuals on a full-time basis and with support from a variety of sources: a religious organization, the political magnates, or inherited wealth. Certainly in Greece by the fifth century B.C., the role of intellectual had emerged and was occupied with great distinction by men who have influenced all subsequent thought—men like Plato and Aristotle. It should be noted, however, that the ideas with which such intellectuals dealt were relatively much less differentiated than ideas are in the modern world. On the whole, the intellectual still deals alike with religious, scientific, ethical, political, and philosophical ideas; indeed, the term “philosophy” covers all knowledge, all types of ideas. But it is not until the beginnings of the modern world that this further process of differentiation occurs, that is, differentiation between types of ideas, and makes way for the specialized roles dealing wholly or primarily with scientific ideas. This differentiation of the scientific role from other intellectual roles was slow in occurring, even in the modern world. In seventeenth-century England, the new science was still called “the new philosophy.” And the oldest scientific society in the United States, founded in 1743 by Benjamin Franklin, among others, was called the American Philosophical Society. So little differentiated was the specialized role of scientist and so few were those who occupied this role, by whatever name and with whatever means of support, that it was not until the nineteenth century that the very term “scientist” was coined (by the Rev. William Whewell, in England in the 1840s).

The process of differentiation of the role of scientist went slowly until the middle of the nineteenth century because of the difficulty of finding sources of support for it in the securely established social organizations and arrangements. Beginning in the sixteenth century, newly founded scientific societies provided various necessary facilities and supports for scientists, but only a handful of full-time jobs. Governments did something more, but still there were very few full-time positions in government museums or research organizations. Some distinguished scientists, men like Franklin and Boyle, supported themselves on inherited or earned wealth. Others worked at nonscientific jobs as well, or alternated between scientific and other activities; such a scientist was Antoine Lavoisier. Very little was done by the universities and colleges of the time; not until the nineteenth century, and in most places only in the latter half of that century, did they open their doors wide to scientists.

Full institutionalization was achieved, then, when universities, various governmental organizations, and many industrial firms recognized their great need for science, and established regular and permanent roles and careers for scientists. In addition, a variety of special research institutes, endowed by foundations, trade associations, and other special interest groups, or sometimes operated by private individuals for profit, provided further and ever more specialized jobs for scientists. The necessity and the legitimacy of the scientific role were increasingly acknowledged.

One rough measure of the establishment of the scientific role in the modern world is the quantitative increase in the numbers of those who occupy the role. As Derek Price (1963) has shown, during the last 300 to 400 years there has been an exponential growth rate in the number of scientists in the modern world. Starting from very small numbers, to be sure, the rate of growth is such that there has been a doubling of the number of scientists in something like every 10 to 15 years. Because of the nature of exponential growth rates, the recent increase in the number of scientists has been especially large. Price estimates that about 90 per cent of all the scientists who have ever lived are still alive today. Given this growth rate, as well as other reasons, it is small wonder that the place of science in the modern world is not yet as settled as many would like.

There is, unfortunately, no room here to treat some other aspects of the social organization of science. Such matters as patterns of authority, of collaboration, and of careers in scientific work have recently been well studied by Glaser (1964), Hagstrom (1965), and Zuckerman (1965), among others.

Motivations and rewards for scientists

The mere existence of social roles is not enough for their full institutionalization. Adequate and legitimate motivations in those who occupy the roles, and adequate and legitimate rewards from those who support the roles, must also exist. On the whole, in the modern world, and especially in the societies that modernized early, these motivations and rewards exist in sufficient measure.

What little evidence we have on the motives of working scientists indicates that, as in all other social roles, a variety of motives in different combinations is at work. For example, because the role of scientist now provides considerable stability, security, and prestige, many scientists are motivated in some measure to achieve these goals. Also, because specialization in basic scientific research provides considerable autonomy to the working scientist, many are motivated to achieve the independence and self-control that the role makes possible. In future social-psychological research on motivation for the scientific role, it will be desirable to keep in mind both the multiplicity of motives that can engage the competent scientist and the way in which the nature of his role structures certain typical combinations of motives. It would be interesting to establish the precise role of much-vaunted “curiosity” in the motivation of scientists. And it would also be desirable to use a typology of different scientific roles, along the lines suggested by Znaniecki (1940), such as theorist, experimenter, synthesizer, and similar functional types, to see if various typical combinations of motives exist in these different scientific specialties.

As for rewards, the scientific role is now given satisfactory measures of such rewards as security, prestige, and money income to attract its fair share of the talented members of modern societies. As compared with those in business occupations, scíentists tend to be rewarded with relatively more prestige for professional standing and relatively less money income. Among scientists themselves, and among the lay public to a lesser extent, there has developed a very elaborate set of symbolic rewards for differential prestige bestowed for differential achievement in science. The awarding of titles, prizes, medals, offices, and eponymous distinctions symbolizes the existing hierarchy of differential prestige. A Nobel Prize in any of the four scientific fields in which it is granted is only the best-known of the symbols of scientific achievement.

The reward of prestige in science is given primarily for originality in scientific discovery, but, since it is sometimes difficult to appraise the degree of originality, sheer productivity may carry off the honors. Like other men in other roles, scientists are deeply concerned about the just distribution of rewards for their activities. Despite the norm of humility that prevails among them and that does influence their behavior, they are motivated to achieve credit for being original, just as businessmen are motivated to receive credit for making a profit. As a result of their concern, as Merton (1957) has so well shown, scientists take pride in priority of discovery and often engage in bitter quarrels over claims to priority. In sum, the role of the scientist is subject, as are all social roles, to a structured set of motivations and rewards, some of which are similar to those in other roles and some of which are different. The scientist is in no sense a “selfless” creature above and beyond the influences of his social role.

During the last decade there has occurred the beginning of systematic research on what is called “the image” of the scientist that the public at large and various segments of the whole society, such as youth or the scientists themselves, actually hold. A favorable image of a social role is, of course, an important reward for those who fill it. The evidence accumulated by this research shows, on the whole, that the image of the scientist is a favorable one. But as Mead and Métraux (1957–1958) and Beardslee and O’Dowd (1961) have shown in their research, there are some negative tones in the picture—a fear and dislike for some of the characteristics and consequences of the scientific role. In short, there is some ambivalence toward scientists. In certain quarters, this admixture of negative feelings has been much deplored, despite the fact that such feelings probably exist for every social role. Because all social roles probably work at least some negative consequences for some people in some situations, it is utopian to expect a wholly positive image for scientists or for those who occupy any other social-role category.

Communication among scientists

Since one essential ingredient in the development of science is the combination of already existing ideas, effective communication among scientists is an indispensable part of scientific activities. One of the important social inventions in the early modern period in science was the creation of local, national, and international societies and journals as means for the speedier and more general communication of scientific work within the community of scientists. In order to “keep up” in any branch of science, that is, to learn about the new ideas he can use to discover still further new ideas, the working scientist now has to spend a valuable part of his time with the professional journals, carefully studying a few and scanning many others. In addition to reading the journals, scientists communicate at the meetings of professional associations, both formally and informally. Here, too, as science has developed, there has been a proliferation of specialized groups to match the specialized journals and the specialized activities they report. And, finally, through informal visits, letters, telephone calls, and preprint mimeographed materials, scientists strive to maintain the effective communication without which their activities would be slowed down and even stopped.

In his description of the exponential growth rates for different aspects of science, Price (1963) has also shown that there has been a doubling in the number of scientific journals every 10 to 15 years over the last three or four centuries. Because of this large increase, much of it necessary because of the growth of new scientific specialties, there has been some concern among scientists about the possibility of an excess of information; for some scientists, just “keeping up” has become ever more difficult. In response to this felt difficulty, abstracting services have been created and have multiplied, but still the problem of excessive and inefficient communication is felt to persist. At the present, therefore, various groups of scientists are trying to codify and computerize the processes of what is called “information retrieval” in science. So far they have not had very great success, partly for reasons suggested below. [See INFORMATION STORAGE AND RETRIEVAL.]

The structure and functions of communications processes among scientists present an obvious set of problems for the sociology of science—one on which much remains to be done. One interesting suggestion from general sociological ideas and from the research that has been done by Herbert Menzel (1959) is that scientists themselves sometimes think in terms of too rational a conception of the communication process; that is, they may be expecting too much from the journals and the formal meetings. In addition to these formal, manifest, and planned communication processes in science, there are the informal, latent, and unplanned ones. Scientists cannot always know precisely what they want and merely push a computer button to get it. Often, through “milling around” at meetings, through chance visits, through indirect channels, they get essential information which they can recognize as essential only when they get it. As a journey into emergent novelty, science must use both planned and unplanned patterns of communication. One of the newer and more interesting focuses of research in the sociology of science is the question of the function of each pattern of communication for different scientific needs and the distribution of these patterns among the different social situations in which scientists find themselves. [See DIFFUSION, article on INTERPERSONAL INFLUENCE.]

The processes of scientific discovery

In contrast with an individualistic, “heroic” conception of the processes of scientific discovery that has prevailed in some quarters, though less now than formerly, the sociology of science has sought to redress the balance of our understanding of these processes by demonstrating that they have essential social components. Starting with the fact of the cumulative nature of science, sociologists have pointed out that the established body of scientific ideas and methodologies at any given time itself has the most important influence on setting problems for scientists to solve and on providing leads for their solution. This determining effect of the established ideas and methods is the source of the innumerable examples of the pattern of independent multiple discovery in science. Given the prerequisites of a discovery in the established body of science, it is almost inevitable, as Ogburn (1922) and Merton (1961) have argued and demonstrated from the history of science, that independent multiples will occur. Some discoveries, of course, break somewhat more sharply than others with the fundamental notions of the established science; they have more emergent novelty. These are what Kuhn (1962) has called “scientific revolutions.” However, even these are far from ex nihilo. Although cumulative in important measure, they also set new directions for the relevant fields and specialties in science.

Recent theory and research in the sociology of science have also qualified the older picture of the processes of scientific discovery as based entirely on foresight, planning, rationality, and ready acceptance. These characteristics certainly can be seen in large measure in most discoveries. But, in addition, in many discoveries there is an admixture of the unplanned, the nonrational or irrational, and the obstructive, contributed by the discoverer himself or by others. These characteristics manifest themselves in the pattern of serendipity in discovery and in the pattern of resistance by scientists themselves to certain scientific discoveries. The serendipity pattern occurs, and in actual research it occurs very often, when the researcher comes by happy chance on something he was not looking for, that is, some anomaly that presents him with the unexpected opportunity to change his preconceptions about his research and make a new discovery (Barber 1952, pp. 203–205). The resistance pattern occurs when the scientist refuses to accept his own or someone else’s discovery because of theoretical or methodological preconceptions, the force of superior authority or prestige, or the prejudices of particular schools of thought (Barber … Hirsch 1962, chapter 32).

Of course, there has always been some resistance to scientific discoveries on the part of cultural and social institutions outside science. Religion, political and economic interests—indeed, the whole range of social factors that interact with science—have under some conditions opposed one or another scientific idea or requirement, just as they have also supported others. An important task for the sociology of science is to analyze specific sources of acceptance and resistance for specific types of scientific ideas and needs.

Science as a social problem

Like the relations among any of the parts of society, the relations between science and various other parts of society are often inharmonious, as the participants in these relations see them, or dysfunctional, as the objective observer sees them. Thus, sociology can also study science as what it calls, in general, “a social problem.” There are two aspects of science as a social problem. In one aspect, science is an activity whose participants feel, in some important measure, angry or hostile to society because their values and needs are not being properly met or respected. For example, scientists resent what they define as unnecessary controls on their work: they complain about insufficient financial support for their preferred types of research; they deplore politically imposed secrecy; and they try to throw off all nationalistic and other parochial limitations on their research and communication activities. However much these frustrations may be necessary in the light of other social needs than those of science, to scientists they are social problems calling for protest and reform. A variety of organized and unorganized means of protest now exist among scientists to cope with these problems.

In another aspect, science is a social problem to various social groups who consider some of its consequences harmful to themselves and who therefore want to restrict or even eliminate science. Over both the short run and the long, many of the consequences of science are in fact harmful to various social groups. However unintended in most instances, these harmful consequences raise the issue of the social responsibilities of scientists, who are in part their source. It has come to be seen that responsibility for the harmful social consequences of science belongs not directly with scientists but with the several established social and political processes for handling social problems. It has also come to be seen that scientists can play a variety of useful roles in these social and political processes. If scientists have no absolute responsibility for the troubles they help to bring, neither are they absolved from all concern. A number of social and political arrangements are now being worked out to permit scientists to act as expert advisers on the technical aspects of the social problems they have helped to bring into being or that they can foresee arising out of their activities.

Bernard Barber

[See alsoDiffusion; Innovation; Knowledge, Sociology OF; Medical Care, article onEthnomedicine; Technology; and the biographies ofOgburn; Weber, Max; Znaniecki.]


Barber, Bernard 1952 Science and the Social Order. Glencoe, 111.: Free Press. → A paperback edition was published in 1962 by Collier.

Barbek, Bernard 1956 Sociology of Science: A Trend Report and BIBLIOGRAPHY. Current Sociology 5, no. 2.

Barber, Bernard; and Hirsch, Walter (editors) 1962 The Sociology of Science. New York: Free Press. → Contains 38 selections and a BIBLIOGRAPHY.

Beardslee, David C.; and O’DowD, Donald D. 1961 The College-student Image of the Scientist. Science 133:997–1001.

Ben-David, Joseph 1960 Scientific Productivity and Academic Organization in Nineteenth-century Medicine. American Sociological Review 25:828–843.

Dedijer, Stevan 1961 Why Did Daedalus Leave? Science 133:2047–2052.

Dupree, A. Hunter 1959 Asa Gray: 1810–1888. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard Univ. Press.

Gillispie, Charles C. 1951 Genesis and Geology: A Study in the Relations of Scientific Thought, Natural Theology, and Social Opinion in Great Britain, 1790–1850. Harvard Historical Studies, Vol. 58. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard Univ. Press. → A paperback edition was published in 1959 by Harper.

Gillispie, Charles C. 1960 The Edge of Objectivity: An Essay in the History of Scientific Ideas. Princeton Univ. Press.

Glaser, Barney G. 1964 Organizational Scientists: Their Professional Careers. Indianapolis, Ind.: Bobbs-Merrill.

Hagstrom, Warren O. 1965 The Scientific Community. New York: Basic Books.

Kuhn, Thomas S. 1962 The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. Univ. of Chicago Press.

Lurie, Edward 1960 Louis Agassiz: A Life in Science. Univ. of Chicago Press.

Malinowski, Bronislaw (1916–1941) 1948 Magic, Science and Religion, and Other Essays. Glencoe, 111.: Free Press. → A paperback edition was published in 1954 by Doubleday.

Mead, Margaret; and MÉtraux, Rhoda 1957–1958 Image of the Scientist Among High-school Students. Science 126:384–390, 1200; 127:349–351.

Menzel, Herbert (1959) 1962 Planned and Unplanned Scientific Communication. Pages 417–441 in Bernard Barber and Walter Hirsch (editors), The Sociology of Science. New York: Free Press.

Merton, Robert K. (1936) 1962 Puritanism, Pietism and Science. Pages 33–66 in Bernard Barber and Walter Hirsch (editors), The Sociology of Science. New York: Free Press.

Merton, Robert K. (1939) 1957 Science and Economy of 17th Century England. Pages 607–627 in Robert K. Merton, Social Theory and Social Structure. Glencoe, 111.: Free Press.→First published in Volume 3 of Science and Society.

Merton, Robert K. 1957 Priorities in Scientific Discovery: A Chapter in the Sociology of Science. American Sociological Review 22:635–659.

Merton, Robert K. 1961 Singletons and Multiples in Scientific Discovery. American Philosophical Society, Proceedings 105:470–486.

Ogburn, William F. (1922) 1950 Social Change, With Respect to Culture and Original Nature. New edition with supplementary chapter. New York: Viking.

Parsons, Talcott 1951 The Social System. Glencoe, III.: Free Press.

Price, Derek J. DE Solla 1963 Little Science, Big Science. New York: Columbia Univ. Press. ZNANIECKI, FLORIAN 1940 The Social Role of the Man of Knowledge. New York: Columbia Univ. Press.

Zuckerman, Harriet A. 1965 Nobel Laureates in the United States: A Sociological Study of Scientific Collaboration. Ph.D. dissertation, Columbia Univ.


The spectacular achievements of scientists during World War II not only made science obviously more important as an instrument of national policy but also gave it a role of greater independence and initiative in the economic and political systems of the world.

At least since the Enlightenment, it had generally been assumed that the advancement of science would contribute to social and political progress, but the specific role of science, and of scientists, in economic affairs had generally been thought of as subordinate to that of the entrepreneur or manager and, in matters of government policy, to that of the politician and bureaucrat. Especially in the English-speaking countries, the way of thinking initiated by Bacon, and re-emphasized by Franklin and Jefferson, assumed that scientific progress would be maintained by the patient accumulation of facts required for the solution of practical problems, and that research should therefore be supported as incidental to particular industrial enterprises or governmental programs or as a by-product of the system of higher education.

Among leading scientists, this assumption had come to seem less obviously true in the late nineteenth or early twentieth century, in view of the superior accomplishments in fundamental science of various countries in western Europe. The success of Napoleonic France in creating, under governmental auspices, strong institutions for the support of basic science as well as technology, and the state-encouraged systematic advancement, late in the nineteenth century, of research in the universities and industry of Germany, made British and American scientists begin to doubt that the inductive and applied approach in the laboratory and the complete independence of science from political issues and governmental support were still the best means of advancing science.

These doubts were confirmed by the institutional innovations of World War II, which, particularly in the United States, put science in a quite different relation to government. In its military application, it was no longer merely an instrument for the improvement of weapons at the request of military planners; it was a source of independent initiative in the invention of entirely new systems of weapons, to which war planners were forced to adapt their strategies and diplomats their systems of international relations. Similarly, industrial research or development was no longer to be undertaken only at the initiative of the individual inventor or supported only on the basis of the calculation of the individual corporation; government planners began to look on it as a possible instrument by which government might foster the growth of the national economy and the solution of major social problems, and local communities became eager to foster it as an incentive to the development of their prosperity.

Even more important, political leaders no longer assumed that basic research would be adequately supported as a by-product of the system of industrial enterprise or private education; in the United States, where private universities were most jealous of their independence from political control, the federal government was called on to support, on an unprecedented scale, the basic research carried on in universities and in industrial laboratories. At the same time, scientists and scientific societies began to think of their role in society, not as one of detachment from governmental affairs and not as one of subordination to industrial managers and bureaucrats, but as one of responsibility for the nature of policies and of the institutional system in which science would be fostered and protected.

As a result, the relationship of science to government took on a new degree of significance and interest in the eyes of social scientists.

Since the fostering of science was to be a deliberate policy of government, the sociologists and psychologists were concerned with the identification of the types of personality and the nature of the educational and social environment that would develop creativity and encourage innovation (Research Conference . . . 1963; Roe 1953). In practical terms, they had to deal with the new systems of communication and computation, the management of laboratories, the relationship of scientists to administrators, and the status of professional and scientific groups in the social and political system (Hill 1964).

Since science was considered a potent force for economic growth, economists were led to study the criteria for the allocation of resources for the support of research and development (Nelson 1959). The relation of science and technology to the business cycle, the processes of innovation, and the relationship of business to government in the advancement of technology posed problems quite different from those of either classical or Marxian economics.

Students of politics and administration were similarly required to consider how far the new techniques of operations research and other methods developed by scientists could go in determining political issues, and what effect they would have on the traditional values and on legal and political processes. These theoretical questions had their practical parallels within government: the relationship of scientific to administrative personnel within the civil service, the status of scientists as advisers to political executives or as participants in political action, and the extent to which representative legislative bodies should organize themselves to deal directly with scientists and with issues concerning the support and application of science (Gilpin…Wright 1964; McCamy 1960).

Major areas of concern

Problems like those mentioned above had their greatest impact, of course, in the major nations, notably the United States, the United Kingdom, the nations of western Europe, and the Soviet Union, but during the 1950s they also began to be a concern of those interested in the economic and political development of other countries. Let us note three of the major fields in which these new problems arose and then consider their effect on scientific institutions, on governmental institutions, and on the nature of their relationship.

Science and military strength . The success of scientists in creating weapons that were not merely improvements on existing weapons systems but entirely beyond the imagination of military planners gave scientists quite a different status in government. Military strength could no longer be measured mainly in terms of mass armies and a system of industrial mobilization for the manufacture of munitions. It depended on the rate of scientific advance and the innovating ability of scientific institutions.

Accordingly, a substantial portion of the budgets of major countries came to be devoted to military research and development programs, and scientists and scientific institutions came to have a large share in the control of such programs.

As a result, the expenditures for research and development by government increased sharply, both in actual amounts and in proportion to other sources of support. In the United States, for example, total expenditure on research and development in 1940 (public and private) was well under $1 billion, the government share of the total was certainly less than one-fifth, and the military services provided much less than the Department of Agriculture. In 1964 the federal government provided about $15 billion, roughly two-thirds of the national total, but spent four-fifths of its funds through private corporations and universities. About $14 billion of the government total was contributed by the Department of Defense, the Atomic Energy Commission, and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, the three agencies whose motive for expenditure was most clearly the strengthening of national power and international prestige (U.S. National Science Foundation, Federal Funds . . .).

The newest and most powerful weapons systems have been developed, not in the traditional military laboratories, but in technological institutions directed by civilians. In the United States during World War II, the Office of Scientific Research and Development, a civilian agency within the Executive Office of the President, set up an extensive network of contractual relations with universities and industrial corporations, and the Manhattan District of the Army Engineers, which finally developed the atomic bomb, followed the same general pattern (Hewlett…Anderson 1962). As a result, the postwar structure of weapons research and development was one involving heavy reliance on private institutions by the military services, the Atomic Energy Commission, and (later) the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. In the planning of these programs, considerable influence was exercised by advisory committees representing the private scientific institutions. Their influence was greater in the decisions relating to the support of basic research, but it carried considerable weight even in the development of weapons systems (Price 1954).

Scientists in wartime proved to be useful not merely in developing particular weapons but also in devising more effective systems and procedures of tactics and strategy. Operations research applied rigorous and quantitative methods to the solution of problems faced by the military commander, the industrial manager, or the political executive. Such work was organized either within the regular framework of the military services or under the sponsorship of independent research corporations. The flexibility of the contracting method in the United States was shown when the government proceeded to sponsor the creation of private corporations, supported by government funds, for the purpose of assisting governmental authorities in making major decisions on government administration or policy (U.S. Bureau of the Budget 1962). Of these new institutions the RAND Corporation, set up to serve the Air Force, was perhaps the best known, and the techniques that it developed, drawing on the skills of social as well as physical scientists, became important tools for the civilian executives in the Defense Department who sought, in the 1960s, to exercise more effective control over military affairs. [See MILITARY POLICY.]

Science and economic growth . Soon after World War II, even those countries committed to the preservation of private economic enterprise had also committed themselves to a policy of maintaining a high degree of employment and fostering economic growth and prosperity. To these countries and others, it was obvious that some of the most dynamic economic growth was taking place in branches of industry which had been stimulated by the advance of technology for military purposes—-notably, electronics, aircraft, plastics, and computers.

Economists accordingly took note of the extent to which scientific research and technological development, as well as capital investment, contributed to economic growth. Accordingly, one of the principal motives which led governments to support scientific research was the belief that research and technical education were major factors in the increase in productivity (Denison 1962). Even though economists may not agree on the precise percentage of economic growth which may be attributed to technological advance and the improvement in technological and managerial education, the belief in their efficacy has helped to persuade the United States and most nations of western Europe to increase their research and development expenditures in recent years at a much more rapid rate than their gross national product (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development 1963, p. 22). In the United States the state governments and local business organizations have been persuaded that federal research subsidies have much to do with the location of new industries in their respective areas, and accordingly the expansion of universities and research laboratories has taken on an importance within the American political system much like that of the traditional forms of public works (such as the improvement of harbors or the building of dams).

At the same time, economists have become more skeptical about the extent to which research undertaken for military purposes will have useful byproducts for the civilian economy. In western Europe, where various countries have undertaken to plan the development of the economy, including those sectors carried on by private industry, efforts have been made to develop scientific research as a means of economic growth (Parliamentary and Scientific Conference . . . 1965). The National Economic Development Council of Great Britain and the Commissariat au Plan of France, for example, have set up special relationships with their respective national organizations for the planning of scientific research expenditures.

In the United States, on the other hand, it proved more difficult to build up federal government research and development programs specifically for the purpose of assisting in the development of private industry. The opposition of private business interests restrained the expansion of certain programs of scientific research and technological assistance in the Department of Commerce, for example, even while federal research support was being increased in other fields relating to the private economy, notably in agriculture and natural resources.

The apparent influence of science and technology in advancing economic growth led naturally to the hope that science could play an important role in the advancement of the underdeveloped countries. This hope found expression in the programs of the several specialized agencies of the United Nations, notably UNESCO, the Food and Agriculture Organization, and the World Health Organization. It became an important element also in the foreign aid and technical assistance programs of various individual nations—notably the United States, which was able to draw on its century of experience in agricultural education and research. [See ECONOMIC GROWTH.]

The health sciences . Some of the most striking practical accomplishments of the sciences have been in the fields of medicine and public health, and the medical profession and hospitals accordingly have been involved in the research programs supported by government to a rapidly increasing degree.

In the United States the National Institutes of Health (NIH) of the U.S. Public Health Service became during the 1950s the principal supporter of biological and medical sciences, not merely in the United States but throughout the world. American universities were receiving grants for basic research in even larger amounts from the NIH than from the military services or the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, and NIH grants throughout Europe had begun to add significantly to the research funds available to university scientists and to encourage the development of new patterns of research organization.

The official health programs supported by grants from the U.S. government and from the World Health Organization continued and extended the earlier international programs for the eradication of disease of such charitable organizations as the Rockefeller Foundation and developed them further with the help of techniques developed or advanced by wartime research programs. The success of such efforts in reducing the death rate intensified concern with the problem of a population increasing at a rate which seemed to threaten the food supply and the economic progress of the various underdeveloped regions, especially the newly independent countries of Asia and Africa. [See PUBLIC HEALTH.]

Institutions of basic science

Universities, which in their organization still retain traces of their medieval ecclesiastical origin, are in most countries the principal institutions for the conduct of basic research. In the major countries of continental Europe, they generally came under the patronage of the state, and their programs of scientific and technological research were seen as serving national purposes. Particularly in France and Germany, strong centers of fundamental research were thus developed with government support at a time when the ancient British universities were still dominated by classical studies and were generally uninterested in the advancement of science, and American institutions of higher learning were either denominational colleges or state institutions preoccupied with comparatively low levels of vocational and technical education (Ashby 1958; Cohen 1963).

The twentieth-century progress of science in the United Kingdom came in the basic sciences and mathematics at Cambridge (and later Oxford) and even more notably in some of the newer universities that even in the nineteenth century had been concerned with technological training and the needs of industry. A major share of the cost of these universities was taken over by the national treasury but was channeled through the University Grants Committee in such a way as to insulate the universities from political control.

In the United States, basic research before World War ii was carried on mainly by the major universities, private or state, which received extensive assistance from the philanthropic foundations in the form of grants for special research projects. The leadership of the scientific societies and some of the philanthropic foundations had, by World War ii, been persuaded that the nation should greatly increase its emphasis on fundamental research (U.S. National Science Foundation 1960). The patterns that had been developed by the grant-making programs of the private foundations were influential in determining the system of government support for such research in private and state universities after 1945. That system supplied funds from several executive departments and agencies to universities and private corporations, under a system in which panels and committees of advisers from the private institutions were given great influence in the allocation of grants for specific projects. At the same time, the President’s Science Advisory Committee, its members drawn mainly from private institutions, put great emphasis on a policy of keeping basic research and the teaching of graduate students closely connected within the universities, a policy that in addition to its pedagogical advantages had the merit of strengthening the autonomy of the academic and scientific community (U.S. President’s Science Advisory Committee 1960).

The Soviet Union, on the other hand, chose to divide the functions of higher education from those of advanced research and generally to assign them to separate institutions. Research was directed through a system headed by the Committee on the Coordination of Research and Development, the Academy of Sciences, and corresponding academies for the several constituent republics (DeWitt 1961, pp. 434–435). In theory, the entire program is under the guidance of the principles of dialectical materialism; in practice, this guidance seems to affect the conduct of research least in the physical sciences, more in the biological sciences, and still more in the social sciences and humanities.

Scientists in administration and politics

Basic as well as applied research is conducted not merely in universities but also in government laboratories set up to further the purposes of particular departments or ministries. The way in which their work, as well as the work of scientists in industry and universities, will be related to government policy and government programs depends to a great extent on the status, within the political system and the administrative service, of men trained in the sciences and related professions.

In the Soviet Union, the break with traditional systems of education and the great emphasis on scientific and technological training cleared the way for the advancement of scientists and engineers to positions in the higher ranks of the bureauracy, and their advancement was further encouraged by the absence of separate cadres of private business managers and of institutions for their education. By contrast, the career administrative systems of western Europe and the United Kingdom have been comparatively resistant to the promotion of scientists and engineers to high administrative positions. In Germany, for example, a legal education remains the normal basis for administrative advancement, and in Great Britain the highest class of the civil service is still dominated by permanent officials whose education was in history, the classics, and related fields of knowledge.

The personnel system of the United States, which lacks an elite corps and encourages exchanges between the civil service and private life at all levels in the hierarchy, has made it comparatively easy for scientists and men with technological education to rise to high administrative positions. The continuous interchange between governmental and private careers makes the government service a much less distinct part of society, and the distinction between governmental and private careers is further confused by the recent growth of the practice of contracting with private corporations and universities for the performance of government functions, especially research and development programs. As a result, the leading scientists, based in private institutions, who are called on to serve in a part-time or advisory capacity within the structure of government acquire an unprecedented degree of influence.

In the United States this advisory function takes the institutional form of a hierarchy of advisory committees, some of a continuing nature and some ad hoc, set up in the principal civilian agencies and military services, and in the White House itself. The most difficult administrative problems relating to the use of such committees have to do with their relationship to the main line of administrative authority, including the full-time staff. The first tendency after World War II was to look to the part-time advisers alone for the principal policy and administrative decisions, notably in the major advisory committee attached to the Executive Office of the President and the Office of the Secretary of Defense. But with the abolition of the Research and Development Board of the Department of Defense and the eventual substitution of a much more powerful individual officer, the director of defense research and engineering, and with the transformation of the President’s Science Advisory Committee by the provision of a full-time chairman supported by a full-time staff, a more effective relationship was devised between the part-time adviser and the full-time official, and more sophisticated concepts were worked out with respect to the particular ways in which part-time advisers could most usefully be employed (Gilpin…Wright 1964).

The entire system is under the powerful influence, and often the detailed control, of congressional committees that have been making direct use of independent scientific advisers, especially through the mechanism of the National Academy of Sciences. In countries with parliamentary forms of government the general response to a similar need was the creation of interministerial committees to deal with government-wide scientific problems, often drawing on the advice of committees including private scholars. Thus in the Federal Republic of Germany an interministerial committee exists side by side with an advisory council on science and the humanities and a committee on cultural policy and publicity of the parliament. Similarly, in France an interministerial committee reporting to the premier is advised by a consultative committee of scientists and economists, both committees being served by a single secretariat (the Delegation Gerierale a la Recherche Scientifique et Technique). The Delegation Generate works closely with the national planning agency (Parliamentary and Scientific Conference . . . 1965).

In the United Kingdom the Advisory Council on Scientific Policy was set up to advise the lord president of the council, who was responsible for the general program of civilian science in Great Britain. The lord president’s responsibilities were later transferred to a newly created minister for science, whose functions were divided in 1964 by the newly elected Labour government between a minister for science and education and a minister for technology. Unlike the United States or the major countries of western Europe, the United Kingdom has no standing parliamentary committees dealing with particular scientific and technological programs, but it has the informal Parliamentary and Scientific Committee, including members of both houses of Parliament and representatives of more than one hundred scientific and technical organizations, to further the processes of consultation and the exchange of information between the worlds of politics and science.

The interest of national governments in science policy has been furthered by studies conducted by various international organizations. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization have all urged more comprehensive and consistent policies for the support and the coordination of scientific programs, and for more responsible forms of organization to deal with science at high policy levels.

Similar international discussions led to the formation of more effective international associations for the promotion of the several sciences, most of them being grouped under the International Council of Scientific Unions with the support of UNESCO, and to the formation of international organizations for the conduct of scientific programs. Some of these latter organizations were set up for the operation of specific temporary programs, such as the International Geophysical Year, and others provided regional organizations for tasks too expensive or complex for single nations to undertake (for example, the European Organization for Nuclear Research, the European Atomic Energy Community, and the European Space Research Organization).

The conviction that scientists have a moral and political responsibility for the consequences of their research led many of them to abandon their old posture of political indifference or neutrality and to organize to take part in public affairs not merely as subordinate advisers but as active participants. This conviction led to the formation of many organizations for public education and the expression of policy opinions, their status and methods of operation depending greatly on the degree of freedom permitted to voluntary associations by the philosophy and traditions of the various countries. In the United Kingdom and western Europe, the leadership of such organizations tended before World War II toward a socialist or Marxist political philosophy. Since 1946 this tendency has been counterbalanced by theoretical arguments and organizing efforts in support of scientific freedom and against political control of research or economic enterprise. A good example is the program of the Congress for Cultural Freedom. In the United States, the political activity of scientists has been less influenced by ideology and less committed to particular political parties; it has concentrated more on specific policy issues and on the fostering of interest in public affairs within the scientific community (Price 1965).

Don K. Price

[See alsoNational Security; Policy Sciences; Technology, article onTechnology And International Relations.]


Some of the principal sources in the field are government reports and documents. International Science Report deals with the organization of science in various countries (the first two reports dealt with India and Germany.) The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development has published a series of Country Reviews on the policies for science and education, and a series of Country Reports on the organization of scientific research of various European countries. The most useful bibliographies are U.S. National Science Foundation, Office of Special Studies 1959 and Current Projects in Economic and Social Implications of Science and Technology, a survey issued annually since 1957 by the foundation. U.S. data on the financing of research appear in the annual series of the U.S. National Science Foundation, Federal Funds for Research, Development, and Other Scientific Activities. In the United States a valuable additional source of data is the hearings and reports of various congressional committees, notably the Appropriations Committee of each house, the House Committee on Science and Astronautics, the Senate Committee on Aeronautical and Space Sciences, the committees of the two houses on government operations, and the Joint Committee on Atomic Energy. Discussions of continuing problems may be found in the periodicals Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, Minerva, and Science.

Ashby, Eric 1958 Technology and the Academics: An Essay on Universities and the Scientific Revolution. London and New York: Macmillan.

Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. → Published since 1945.

Cohen, I. Bernard 1963 Science in America: The Nineteenth Century. Pages 167–189 in Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr. and Morton White (editors), Paths of American Thought. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

Denison, Edward F. 1962 The Sources of Economic Growth in the United States and the Alternatives Before Us. New York: Committee for Economic Development.

Dewitt, Nicholas 1961 Education and Professional Employment in the U.S.S.R. Washington: National Science Foundation.

Dupree, A. Hunter 1957 Science in the Federal Government: A History of Policies and Activities to 1940. Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap.

Gilpin, Robert; and Wright, Christopher (editors) 1964 Scientists and National Policy-making. New York: Columbia Univ. Press.

Great Britain, Committee OF Enquiry Into The Organisation OF Civil Science 1963 [Trend Report]. Papers by Command, Cmnd. 2171. London: H.M. Stationery Office.

Hewlett, Richard G.; and Anderson, Oscar E. JR. 1962 A History of the United States Atomic Energy Commission. Volume 1: The New World: 1939–1946. University Park: Pennsylvania State Univ. Press.

Hill, Karl (editor) 1964 The Management of Scientists. Boston: Beacon.

Hitch, Charles J. 1958 Character of Research and Development in a Competitive Economy. Pages 129—139 in Conference on Research and Development and Its Impact on the Economy, Washington, D.C., 1958, Proceedings. Washington: National Science Foundation.

Hitch, Charles J.; and McKean, R. N. 1960 The Economics of Defense in the Nuclear Age. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard Univ. Press.

Hogg, Quintin M. 1963 Science and Politics. London: Faber. → The author is Viscount Hailsham.

International Science Report. → Published since 1962 by the National Science Foundation, Office of International Science Activities.

Kidd, Charles V. 1959 American Universities and Federal Research. Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap.

Kuhn, Thomas S. (1962) 1963 The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. Univ. of Chicago Press.

McCamy, James L. 1960 Science and Public Administration. University: Univ. of Alabama Press.

Merton, Robert K. (1936) 1962 Puritanism, Pietism and Science. Pages 33–66 in Bernard Barber and Walter Hirsch (editors), The Sociology of Science. New York: Free Press.

Minerva (London). → Published since 1962.

National Research Council, Committee ON Science And Public Policy 1964 Federal Support of Basic Research in Institutions of Higher Learning. Publication No. 1185. Washington: National Academy of Sciences-National Research Council.

Nelson, Richard R. 1959 The Economics of Invention: A Survey of the Literature. Journal of Business 32: 101–127.

Organization For Economic Cooperation And Development 1963 Science, Economic Growth and Government Policy. Paris: The Organization.

Organization For Economic Cooperation And Development, Advisory Group ON Science Policy 1963 Science and the Policies of Governments: The Implications of Science and Technology for National and International Affairs. Paris: The Organization.

Organization For Economic Cooperation And Development Country Reports on the Organisation of Scientific Research. → Published since 1963.

Organization For Economic Cooperation And Development Country Reviews.

Parliamentary And Scientific Conference, Second, Vienna, 1964 1965 Science and Parliament. Paris: Council of Europe and Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

Peck, Merton J.; and Scherer, Frederick M. 1962 The Weapons Acquisition Process: An Economic Analysis. Boston: Harvard Univ., Graduate School of Business Administration, Division of Research.

Price, Don K. 1954 Government and Science: Their Dynamic Relation in American Democracy. New York Univ. Press. → A paperback edition was published in 1962 by Oxford University Press.

Price, Don K. 1965 The Scientific Estate. Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap.

Research Conference ON The Identification OF Creative Scientific Talent 1963 Scientific Creativity: Its Recognition and Development. Edited by Calvin W. Taylor and Frank Barron. New York: Wiley.

Roe, Anne 1953 The Making of a Scientist. New York: Dodd.

Science. → Published since 1883 by the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Snow, Charles P. 1961 Science and Government. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard Univ. Press.

Universities-National Bureau Committee For Economic Research 1962 The Rate and Direction of Inventive Activity: Economic and Social Factors. National Bureau of Economic Research, Special Conference Series, No. 13. Princeton Univ. Press.

U.S. Bureau OF The Budget 1962 Report to the President on Government Contracting for Research and Development. Washington: Government Printing Office.

U.S. National Science Foundation 1960 A Study of Scientific and Technical Manpower; A Program of Collection, Tabulation, and Analysis of Data of the National Science Foundation: A Report .... U.S. House of Representatives, 86th Congress, 2d Session. Washington: Government Printing Office.

U.S. National Science Foundation Federal Funds for Research, Development, and Other Scientific Activities. → Published since 1950/1951. Volumes 1–12 were published as Federal Funds for Science.

U.S. National Science Foundation, Office OF Science Information Service Current Projects in Economic and Social Implications of Science and Technology. → Published since 1957.

U.S. National Science Foundation, Office OF Special Studies 1959 BIBLIOGRAPHY on the Economic and Social Implications of Research and Development. Washington: The Foundation.

U.S. Office OF Scientific Research And Development 1945 Science: The Endless Frontier. Washington: Government Printing Office.

U.S. President’S Science Advisory Committee 1960 Scientific Progress, the Universities and the Federal Government: Statement. Washington: Government Printing Office.


The word “scientist” was introduced into the English language around 1840 to distinguish those who seek empirical regularities in nature from philosophers, scholars, and intellectuals in a more general sense (Ross 1962). Mathematicians and logicians are usually regarded as scientists, although mathematics ceased being regarded as an empirical science by 1890–1910, and today the rubric also covers specialists in the social sciences almost without qualification. Other European languages have no terms strictly equivalent to “scientist.” The French savant, Italian scienziato, German Wissenschaftler, and Russian ucheny also refer to philosophers, historians, and other systematic scholars. The absence of a verbal distinction is sometimes reflected in the organization of science and scholarship; for example, philosophers and historians are included in the Soviet Academy of Sciences.

Persons in a wide variety of statuses and roles are described as scientists or identify themselves as scientists in English-speaking societies today. In a narrow sense, a scientist is a man of scientific knowledge—one who adds to what is known in the sciences by writing articles or books. This is perhaps the only sense in which the word should be used without qualification. However, “scientists” also engage in applied research, attempting to make discoveries which will lead to new industrial, medical, and agricultural products or processes; in industrial development, applying scientific knowledge to specific problems of innovation in production; and in the routine testing and analyzing of commodities and processes. Such persons are called applied scientists and are not easily distinguished from engineers and technicians. Persons called scientists may also engage in teaching science in institutions of higher education, in writing accounts of science for laymen, and in administration. Finally, a scientist may be defined as a person who has received a college degree in a scientific field.

The population of scientists. Estimates of the number of scientists vary according to the definition of the term and are, in any case, difficult to make. In the United States around 1962, there were more than one million persons with scientific or technical degrees, more than 275,000 members of professional scientific societies, more than 118,000 persons listed in American Men of Science, and roughly 100,000 engaged in basic or applied scientific research. The number of persons making substantial contributions to knowledge is, of course, much less than 100,000. The United States leads the world in the number of scientists. Between one-fourth and one-third of all scientists may be Americans, and most of the remainder are in the other industrialized nations. (For example, seven leading industrial nations accounted for more than 80 per cent of the articles abstracted in Chemical Abstracts in 1960. There is naturally an even greater concentration of scientific languages: English, German, Russian, and French accounted for more than 90 per cent of the more than ten thousand articles abstracted in Index Chemicus for 1963.) Many scientists move to the United States from other nations, industrialized as well as under-developed, to obtain better conditions for performing research; this concentration has caused concern among leaders in many nations.

The numbers cited above are changing rapidly. The growth in the number of scientists since the later Middle Ages has been exponential; thus, the scientists living in 1960 probably constituted more than 90 per cent of all those who ever lived (Price 1963). The rate of growth around 1960 would double the number of research scientists in roughly fifteen years. This rate of growth, however, must decline within the next generation in developed nations.

In the United States in 1952, about half of the science doctorates were received in the physical sciences and mathematics, about 22 per cent in the biological sciences, and about 28 per cent in the social sciences, including psychology. The relative proportions in these major subareas of science have not changed much in the last half century. Social scientists constitute a much larger proportion of scientists in the United States than they do in most other nations.

Evolution of scientific roles . The concept of the scientist developed only with the professionalization of science in the first half of the nineteenth century; previously, scientific activities were a subsidiary aspect of other social roles. Florian Znaniecki (1940) has written a concise sociological account of the historical differentiation of scientific roles. In most preindustrial societies, science has been the activity of practical actors. In ancient and medieval Europe, scientists were academic and often religious teachers. Beginning about the time of Galileo’s move in 1611 from the University of Padua to the court of Cosimo de’ Medici in Florence, scientists left the universities, and during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries the amateur scientist flourished: either the gentleman scientist, like Robert Boyle, or the middle-class amateur, like Joseph Priestley. Scientists again became established in universities after the French Revolution. The twentieth century has seen the rapid growth of research establishments in business firms and government agencies. Of Americans receiving the doctorate in 1958, 56 per cent of the physical scientists, 31 per cent of the biological scientists, and 19 per cent of the social scientists took employment in industry or government. In the United States, most basic research is conducted in academic settings, but most of it is conducted in nonacademic research institutes in the Soviet Union and in some western European nations.

Scientific careers

Roughly 90 per cent of American physical scientists, and slightly smaller proportions of biological and social scientists, are men. Like other professionals, they are recruited disproportionately from upper-middle-class families; but, unlike others, they are much less likely to be from Roman Catholic families and more likely to be from Protestant or Jewish families than would be expected by chance. During the interwar years, a small number of small liberal arts colleges contributed a disproportionately large share of those who went on to become scientists. Much of this resulted from selective recruitment into these colleges, but some probably resulted from their distinctive scholarly ethos. The growth of scientific education has been accompanied by a growth in the proportion of scientists produced by large public and private undergraduate institutions.

Education . Scientific education was revolutionized in nineteenth-century Germany by the dissertation: the requirement that the student conduct original research before receiving a degree. This innovation was soon copied in other nations. Today scientific education is prolonged and highly specialized, especially in its later stages. The dissertation research is usually conducted in a quasi-apprenticeship relation with a university professor, and students often make significant contributions to the research of their professors. Almost all American graduate students in the sciences receive stipends for this work. The median number of years elapsed between the bachelor’s degree and the doctorate for Americans receiving the doctorate in 1957 was six in the physical sciences, seven in the biological sciences, and eight in the social sciences (see Berelson 1960 on this and other aspects of graduate education).

Although many American universities give advanced training in the sciences (110 gave doctorates in chemistry in 1960), students tend to be concentrated in those institutions best known for basic research; the 15 universities with highest prestige accounted for almost half the doctorates in the sciences in 1957. The best graduate schools tend to recruit students from the best undergraduate schools, and their students are much more likely to be employed in leading universities than are graduates of institutions of lesser renown. Among those receiving advanced degrees, those who do best academically and identify most closely with their professors are most likely to go on to do research and teaching in universities; government and industrial laboratories tend to recruit those who do less well and are less committed to a research career.

Career mobility . There is now considerable mobility between universities and research establishments in government and industry; for example, more than one-third of American chemists have been employed in at least two of the three locales (Strauss … Rainwater 1962, chapter 6). The barriers to mobility of this sort were much greater before World War II and apparently are still great in most of the countries of western Europe. There is much less mobility between the major fields of science because of the specialized education required to enter any one of them.

Scientists in all types of establishments are likely to combine research with other activities; a large majority of scientists combine research with such other activities as teaching, administration, and technical consultation. Vertical mobility takes different forms in different locales. Advancement in universities does not usually involve a qualitative change in the nature of the work; it still involves teaching and research. In government, and especially in industry, vertical mobility often involves advancement to administrative positions and the abandonment of research; many firms recruit managers for line operations from among their research scientists (Kornhauser 1962, chapter 5).

Incentives and occupational personality

Scientists in basic research are strongly motivated to solve intellectual problems that they regard as intrinsically important, but the most important social incentive for them is their desire to obtain recognition from their colleagues for their research accomplishments. This desire leads the scientist to publish his results, and it influences his decisions in the selection of research problems and methods. Scientists compete strenuously to be the first to publish discoveries, and simultaneous discoveries by two or more scientists occur frequently. When there is some question about which scientist made a discovery first, a priority dispute may arise. The frequency of such disputes and the intense bitterness which often accompanies them are telling evidence of the value scientists place upon the esteem of their colleagues (Merton 1957; 1963); however, priority disputes have become less frequent in the twentieth century. Industrial and governmental research establishments which conduct applied or secret research make it more difficult for their scientific employees to be recognized, and such establishments must offer relatively high salaries to scientists in order to induce them to accept this deficiency.

Values and personality . Compared with non-scientists, scientists are more inclined to prize the recognition of their colleagues and their professional autonomy above the rewards of income, organizational power, and community prestige. They are nevertheless among the most prestigious occupational groups. “Scientists” were ranked third in prestige among 90 occupations—just behind U.S. Supreme Court justices and physicians—by a cross section of the U.S. population in 1963; some scientific specialties were, however, ranked a good deal lower. There is some evidence that these distinctive occupational values characterize scientists even as university undergraduates (Rosenberg 1957; Davis 1966).

Many of the distinctive personality characteristics of scientists also appear to be produced more by selection than by university or occupational socialization. Scientists tend to be highly intelligent; possessors of U.S. doctorates in the sciences have a mean IQ of over 130 (from a population with mean 100 and standard deviation 20), which is not much different from the mean IQ of similarly qualified persons in other fields or the mean IQ of medical and law school graduates (Price 1963, chapter 2). Although the evidence is sketchy and incomplete, and although there is much variation among scientists, it also appears that physical and biological scientists tend to be “intensely masculine,” to avoid close interpersonal contacts, and to avoid and be disturbed by emotions of hostility and dependency. These characteristics may help generate the scientist’s desire for recognition for his accomplishments from his colleagues. Physical scientists tend to like music and dislike poetry and art. As might be expected, creative scientists are unusually hardworking, to the extent of appearing almost obsessed with their work (see Research Conference . . . 1963 for summaries of studies on the personality characteristics of scientists). Stereotypes of scientists held by high school and university students are in crude accord with these psychological findings (Mead…Metraux 1957–1958; Beardslee…O’Dowd 1961).

It has been argued that the values of the Puritans—rational mastery of one’s environment, worldly activity for the glorification of God, and individualism—helped to motivate them to pursue science in seventeenth-century England, and have resulted, even today, in a higher valuation of science among Protestants than among Roman Catholics; this is a matter of dispute, however (Merton 1939; Feuer 1963). In any case, scientists today are among the least religious groups in the American population, with respect to both religious beliefs and religious practices. Those in the behavioral and biological sciences, where religion and science are most likely to come into conflict, are least likely to be religious. Scientists also tend to support parties of the left in national politics. With regard to both religion and politics, there is evidence that the more productive scientists are less conservative than the less productive.

Scientific productivity . It is generally difficult to account for variations in scientific productivity in terms of personality or background variables. There is great variation in productivity; the probability that a scientist will produce n or more papers (if he produces at least one) is roughly proportional to 1/n, and 50 per cent of the papers are written by about 6 per cent of the scientists (Price 1963, table 2, p. 45). The best background predictors of scientific productivity are the times required to get the doctorate and college grades, but these account for little of the variation. Contrary to common belief, productivity does not decline with age until advanced ages, 60 or over, are reached.

Social contexts may have greater effects on productivity, but these effects are not readily distinguished from the selectivity of the contexts themselves. Graduates and faculty of leading universities are more productive than others. Scientists who have adequate facilities and research assistance are more productive than those who do not, and those who maintain continuity in their research topics are more productive than those who do not. However, the kinds of contacts with colleagues and the quality of specialization make a difference. Scientists who perform multiple functions combining research with teaching or administration, have been shown to be more productive than those who devote full time to research. Scientists who have frequent contacts with colleagues possessing different research interests are more productive than those with few contacts or contacts only with others of very similar interests. Social isolation especially is associated with low productivity for most scientists; this is a major handicap for scientists working in underdeveloped nations.

The organization of science

Scientists engaged in basic research are necessarily given considerable autonomy. If they are not free to evaluate the truth or falsehood of theories or the adequacy of research findings, science ceases to exist; and scientists also are usually free to select research problems and techniques within broad limits. Such autonomy exists in many universities and in a few governmental and industrial establishments. University departments place some restrictions on this freedom; for example, some research in logic or statistics may be felt to be not “really” mathematics, and scientists in mathematics departments may be discouraged from performing it. This may produce organizational strains, and these strains are sometimes resolved by the differentiation of existing disciplines and departments. The number of recognizably different scientific disciplines probably trebled between 1900 and 1960, and the formation of new disciplines shows no signs of stopping.

The autonomy of basic scientists conflicts with a frequent need to engage in cooperative research. Traditionally this conflict has been resolved by forming temporary teams of freely collaborating scientists or teams of a professor and his students. More recently, in fields like nuclear physics, cooperative research has been formalized; permanent groups of professional scientists are formed in which authority is centralized and a formal division of labor is established. In most fields in universities, however, the traditional forms of teamwork are much more common than such formally organized groups.

Industry and government . The importance that scientists place upon purely scientific goals, their desire to be autonomous, and their sensitivity to the responses of their disciplinary colleagues produce strains when they are employed by industrial and governmental agencies to help achieve practical goals. For example, the desire to select their own research problems leads them to resist accepting directions from organization superiors. Also, scientists tend to prefer working in units with their disciplinary colleagues to working in professionally heterogeneous groups that are organized on the basis of industrial functions; and the desire to inform others of their discoveries conflicts with requirements of industrial and military secrecy. The typical industrial incentives of salary and power are less important for scientists than for other categories of employees, and, if scientists accept these incentives as primary, their commitments to scientific values and their scientific competences may be eroded.

Various ways have evolved for accommodating industrial organization and the typical organization of the scientific community (Kornhauser 1962). Industrial scientists are selected from among those most willing to accept the importance of industrial goals, and occupational socialization furthers this acceptance. In addition, industrial research organizations are often differentiated into fundamental research units and units more directly involved in practical tasks, and scientists are assigned to different units on the basis of interests and skills. Research supervisors are recruited from among superior scientists and tend to use persuasion more than formal direction. “Parallel hierarchies” of advancement may be offered, so that some scientists are promoted to positions giving them greater autonomy in research, while others are promoted to administrative positions. Finally, the patent system and similar procedures make it possible for scientists to publish some research findings while safeguarding the proprietary interests of firms in discoveries. These types of accommodations make possible the incorporation of scientists into industry without the sterilization of science.

Professional societies . In addition to their work establishments, scientists as scientists are organized into a wide variety of societies and associations. Most of the vast number of such groups are devoted to a specialized subject matter, and their major activities involve the communication of discoveries through meetings and journals. The oldest societies and those with highest prestige, like the Royal Society of London and the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, are interdisciplinary, and membership in them is by election. Such groups engage in facilitating scientific communication, but they also play important roles in formulating the science policies of national governments. So also do large national groups that are open to almost all scientists, such as the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the British Association for the Advancement of Science, and the Deutscher Verband Technisch-Wissenschaftlicher Vereine.

While there has been a tendency for the scientific “society” to give way to the professional “association,” none of these types of organizations is directly involved with questions of wage rates and working conditions. At most, these groups forward the occupational interests of scientists by protecting job titles through state licensing and certification, by elevating educational standards, and by lobbying for increased governmental support. There are a few trade unions for “scientists,” but engineers and technologists dominate them and they are relatively ineffective.

What is a scientist?

The concept of the scientist was originally formulated primarily to distinguish specialists in the natural sciences from philosophers, historians, and other intellectuals; the distinction began to emerge as clear and significant only around 1800. Today the differences between philosophy and an empirical, generalizing, value-free science are clearly recognized. It is known that the pursuit of science requires the full-time efforts of its workers, and provisions for scientific employment are abundant. Perhaps we have succeeded only too well in distinguishing scientists from other intellectuals. Today our major difficulties involve distinguishing scientists from engineers and technicians. Even when a scientist is clearly a man of knowledge, his knowledge is apt to be highly specialized and communicable to few others, even within his own discipline. Are scientists intellectuals? Or are they a culture (or cultures) apart? C. P. Snow’s 1959 book, The Two Cultures and the Scientific Revolution, stimulated extensive public discussions of this (the essays in Holton 1965 are a good sample of the result).

Perhaps university professors find it too easy to discover a cleavage between scientists and others. Taking a longer view, one might conclude that scientific knowledge and the scientific approach to the world have been dispersed very widely and deeply in the populations of industrialized nations. Most of us have been deeply influenced by scientists in what we believe and how we believe. The willingness of populations to tolerate and support scientists may be some testimonial to this influence.

Warren O. Hagstrom

[See alsoCreativity, article onSocial Aspects; Engineering; Intellectuals; Knowledge, Sociology OF; and the biography ofZnaniecki.]


Barber, Bernard; and Hirsch, Walter (editors) 1962 The Sociology of Science. New York: Free Press. → The articles by Beardslee…O’Dowd (1961), Mead…Metraux (1957–1958), Merton (1939; 1957) are reprinted in this collection. Includes a BIBLIOGRAPHY.

Beardslee, David C.; and O’Dowo, Donald D. 1961 The College-student Image of the Scientist. Science 133:997–1001.

Berelson, Bernard 1960 Graduate Education in the United States. New York: McGraw-Hill.

Davis, James A. 1966 Undergraduate Career Decisions. Chicago: Aldine.

Feuer, Lewis S. 1963 The Scientific Intellectual: The Psychological and Sociological Origins of Modern Science. New York: Basic Books.

Hagstrom, Warren O. 1965 The Scientific Community. New York: Basic Books.

Harmon, Linsey R. 1965 Profiles of Ph.D’s in the Sciences: Summary Report on Follow-up of Doctorate Cohorts, 1935–1960. Publication 1293. Washington: National Academy of Sciences-National Research Council.

Holton, Gerald (editor) 1965 Science and Culture: A Study of Cohesive and Disjunctive Forces. Boston: Houghton Mifflin. → First published in Volume 94 of Dsedalus.

Kornhauser, William 1962 Scientists in Industry: Conflict and Accommodation. Berkeley: Univ. of California Press.

Mead, Margaret; and Metraux, Rhoda 1957–1958 Image of the Scientist Among High-school Students. Science 126:384–390, 1200; 127:349–351.

Merton, Robert K. (1939) 1957 Science and Economy of 17th Century England. Pages 607–627 in Robert K. Merton, Social Theory and Social Structure. Glencoe, III.: Free Press. → First published in Volume 3 of Science and Society.

Mehton, Rorert K. 1957 Priorities in Scientific Discovery: A Chapter in the Sociology of Science. American Sociological Review 22:635–659.

Merton, Robert K. 1963 Resistance to the Systematic Study of Multiple Discoveries in Science. Archives europeennes de sociologie 4:237–282.

Price, Derek J. DE Solla 1963 Little Science, Big Science. New York: Columbia Univ. Press.

Research Conference ON The Identification OF Creative Scientific Talent 1963 Scientific Creativity: Its Recognition and Development. Edited by Calvin W. Taylor and Frank Barron. New York: Wiley. → Includes a BIBLIOGRAPHY on pages 391–407.

Rosenberg, Morris 1957 Occupations and Values. Glencoe, 111.: Free Press.

Ross, Sydney 1962 “Scientist”: The Story of a Word. Annals of Science 18:65–85.

Snow, C. P. 1959 The Two Cultures and the Scientific Revolution. Cambridge Univ. Press.

Snow, C. P. 1964 The Two Cultures: And a Second Look. 2d ed. Cambridge Univ. Press. → An expanded version of Snow 1959.

Strauss, Anselm L.; and Rainwater, Lee 1962 The Professional Scientist: A Study of American Chemists. Chicago: Aldine.

U.S. National Science Foundation 1965 Scientific and Technical Manpower Resources: Summary Information on Employment Characteristics, Supply and Training, prepared by Norman Seltzer. Nsf 64–28. Washington: Government Printing Office.

Znaniecki, Florian 1940 The Social Role of the Man of Knowledge. New York: Columbia Univ. Press.


The term “scientific communication” refers to the exchange of information and ideas among scientists in their roles as scientists. Menzel (1958, p. 6) defines it as “the totality of publications, facilities, occasions, institutional arrangements, and customs which affect the direct or indirect transmission of scientific messages among scientists.” It is distinguished from everyday communication about physical reality in that it has reference to a particular body of generalized, codified knowledge. Ideally, each and every communication contributes to the corpus of accepted knowledge identified as science. This is accomplished chiefly by extending the boundaries, by modifying previously held hypotheses, and by introducing additional precision, clarification, or verification of existing knowledge.

Although the preferred means and the practices associated with scientific communication have undergone change in the last few centuries, full and open communication of scientific results has always been a foundation stone of modern science. With the establishment of the academies in the seventeenth century, word-of-mouth exchange of information and informal meetings were very quickly supplemented by informal correspondence and exchange of letters concerning scientific work and, later, by a quasi-institutionalized arrangement embodied in the office of secretary or correspondent; finally, these were followed by formal journals containing the proceedings of meetings and other communications. The scientific enterprise of that era was small enough to permit reasonably adequate communication on the basis of the small number of journals and the occasional publication of books, supplemented by face-to-face interaction and correspondence by letter.

The so-called “communications explosion” in science is new primarily in the sense that it is now widely recognized as a problem. But as Price (1963) has pointed out, the amount of scientific publication has been growing exponentially, doubling every ten to fifteen years over the past three centuries. While there is no universal agreement, one of the more “conservative” estimates is that there are over thirty thousand scientific journals presently in existence and that there are more than a million papers published in them each year (Gottschalk…Desmond 1962; Bourne 1962). The sheer number of papers being produced annually has brought open recognition of a number of serious communication problems. Among the more important ones are the time lag between the completion of a paper for publication and its appearance in a journal; the increasing difficulty of “keeping up with the literature"; and the increasing difficulties in searching the literature and retrieving relevant information. For these as well as a number of other reasons centering on a growing awareness of the importance of science for national welfare, economic growth, and even survival, interest in the communications problems of science has mushroomed since the 1950s.

The communications explosion within science has given rise to concerted efforts to deal with the problem on many fronts, especially with the aid of new technological advances. Through the use of computers and a variety of other technical devices, efforts are being made to facilitate the storage and retrieval of information, and considerable progress is being made along these lines (see Stevens 1965). However, some questions have been raised about this approach in terms of the changing functions of scientific communication. While professional librarians, documentalists, editors, linguists, abstractors, mathematicians, and others now broadly characterized as information experts seek to improve the effectiveness of scientific communication largely by technical means, social scientists have begun to examine the social aspects of the scientific communications process.

The study of scientific communication

Despite the growing interest in and support for studying the scientific communications system, there is still little systematic knowledge about it. A review of what is known must, therefore, be guided by a broad conceptual scheme rather than restricted to the specific questions now thought to be crucial for an understanding of the subject. The scheme has three major components: the functions of scientific communication, for scientists as well as for science generally; the various channels through which communications flow; the intervening variables or situational factors which influence the relationships beween channels and functions.

Functions of communication . Menzel (1958) lists a number of functions performed by scientific communication: (1) providing answers to specific questions; (2) helping the scientist to stay abreast of new developments in his field; (3) helping him to acquire an understanding of a new field; (4) giving him a sense of the major trends in his field and of the relative importance of his own work; (5) verifying the reliability of information by additional testimony; (6) redirecting or broadening his span of interest and attention; and (7) obtaining critical response to his own work. He notes, too, Merton’s seminal discussion (1957) of the importance to scientists of professional recognition—a major reward for scientific achievement which is also carried by the communications system of science.

An understanding of these functions helps to pinpoint specific problems in the communications process and calls attention to the importance of the many different forms of communication behavior in which scientists engage. This is undoubtedly an important first step in going beyond the purely technical aspects of the storage and retrieval of scientific information, and studies concerned with these functions should lead not only to a better understanding of the communications process in science but also, it is hoped, may have practical utility in suggesting ways to improve the process.

One of the most important functions of communications for science as a whole is to provide a cumulative record of the “certified” knowledge which exists at any given point in time. Without such a record it is doubtful that science could continue to develop as a viable system. This record constitutes the point of reference for each scientist, providing him with the foundation from which he may make his own contributions toward extending what is known. This is not to imply that what is already in the record is immutable. Quite the contrary—the record is always subject to change in the light of new evidence, newly available techniques, and new discoveries. But whether a contribution is an extension of previously accepted knowledge or a new interpretation of what is already known, it is always and necessarily a matter of the record.

The current communications crisis raises questions about the nature of this record as well as about a number of widely held assumptions concerning the nature of the scientific communications process. For example, the fact that a paper has been published has usually implied that it has been reviewed by a jury of competent peers. However, there is at least the suspicion that the continued proliferation of journals has inevitably “watered down” the rigor of professional review. It is not even always possible to establish a simple correlation between the quality of any particular scientific paper and the reputation of the particular journal in which it appears. In any case, the quality of papers published is becoming an increasingly important problem. No matter how much retrieval procedures may be improved, the question of what is worth retrieving deserves much more attention.

Another major assumption has been that once a paper is published, not only is it accessible to the scientific community, but also it will actually be read by the scientists concerned. However, the flood of publications has tended to undermine the accessibility of relevant papers, at least within the traditional communications practices. Not only may a single paper be buried in the flood of all papers published, but accessibility is also impeded by the growing trend toward increased specialization of journals, so that relevant papers may appear in sources not normally reviewed. Finally, the flood of publications has made it impossible for any one scientist to read more than a small fraction of what is potentially relevant. Some preliminary studies indicate that perhaps only about 25 scientists may actually read any particular paper which is published.

Further, an increase in the amount of information in the field tends to place greater strain on the integrative capacities of theory in that field, so that relationships among the contributions of different scientists become more difficult to determine. As a body of knowledge becomes “disorganized” in this way, the significance and even the validity of new contributions are more difficult to assess, and effective scientific communication may become a property only of small networks of scientists working on the same specific topics rather than of an entire discipline (Hagstrom 1965).

Channels of communication . The growing awareness of informal or relatively private channels of communication among scientists (U.S. President’s . . . 1963; Schilling 1963–1964; Kaplan 1964) is but one aspect of the general problem of the different channels of communication and the different functions of each. The various channels of scientific communication are usually thought of as ranging from the most formal to the most informal, in terms of the degree to which the information flowing through them is codified and generally available to all scientists. It is perhaps more useful, however, to think of them as ranging from structured or planned channels which are known about in advance (such as journals, books, and even announced meetings) to unstructured channels through which information is accidentally acquired (such as finding useful information in the literature while searching for something else, or a casual conversation which yields unlooked-for information). A further complication must be introduced insofar as we are dealing with a highly fluid situation in which yesterday’s unstructured channels become tomorrow’s structured ones. The ease with which one can talk by telephone to a colleague three thousand miles away may make this a far more effective means of finding particular bits of information than the ordinarily accepted techniques of searching the literature.

While precise knowledge of the proportion of information important to scientists acquired through various channels is still lacking, everything we know indicates that there is a much greater reliance on “accidental” and unstructured channels than has formerly been realized. Menzel (1958, p. 47) emphasizes that “it becomes imperative to consider the information network as a system. . . . What is little better than an accident from the point of view of an individual may well emerge as a predictable occurrence from a larger point of view."

While it is possible to try to match different channels with the different functions performed by scientific communication as discussed above, in practice such an exercise appears to be futile. Each of the functions listed can be, and apparently is, actually served by many different channels. Thus, it is entirely possible that the answer to a specific question can be found in an article in a published journal, in a preprint which arrived in the morning mail, during the course of a telephone conversation with a colleague about some other matter, or in a chance encounter in the corridors outside a scientific congress. A review article might be the best single source for providing a sense of the major trends in a field, but one might also get the same results, and often more quickly, from talking to a number of colleagues closely involved in the field. In the present circumstances, it seems safe to say that merely exploring one channel or source (especially a traditional one) is not necessarily the most effective way of treading through the maze of messages being communicated.

Participation in structured channels . The literature of science, primarily journals, constitutes the most important structured channel of communication within science; roughly two-thirds of the scientists studied by several investigators cited the journals as the most important single channel through which they learned of new developments in their fields of primary interest (Menzel 1958; 1960). To keep up with secondary fields, scientists typically turn first to recent textbooks and then to abstracts and review articles for guidance (Menzel 1958). The degree to which a body of knowledge is theoretically well-organized seems to influence the concentration of important information in specific channels; Menzel found chemists (a relatively well-organized field) reporting that two-thirds of the articles they read would be found in the three journals they listed as “most important,” while zoologists (a relatively unorganized field) reported that only a quarter of their reading would be found in three such journals. He found also that an average of 8.18 journals was needed to account for 75 per cent of the nominations of “three most important journals” by chemists, while the comparable figure for zoologists was 15.76 journals (1960).

Price (1963, table 2, p. 45) suggests that 6 per cent of the men in a field will produce half the published literature in that field and 2 per cent will produce about a quarter of it. Reasoning after Lotka (1926) that the number of scientists producing n papers is proportional to 1/n2 (an inverse-square law of productivity), he calculates that the average scientist should produce about 3.5 papers during his working career. Meltzer (1956), however, found that U.S. physiologists had produced an average of four to five papers (including chapters in books and coauthored papers) within three years, and Schilling (1963–1964) seems to arrive at an even higher figure for the lifetime productivity of bioscientists.

Such figures are not directly related to the use of the literature; Price (1963) finds that the “half life” of a given article is about 15 years; that is, half of the articles cited by papers published in a given year will be less than 15 years old. Various other studies indicate that the half life in use is much shorter than this; more than half of the withdrawals from two technical libraries studied were less than five years old, and more than half of the “reading acts” by scientists in a U.S. government laboratory were devoted to materials less than two months old (Menzel 1960).

The amount of time a scientist devotes to the use of structured channels probably varies greatly with situational factors, although little is known about this at present. On the basis of some 25,000 random-time observations of 1,500 U.S. chemists, Halbert and Ackoff (1958) conclude that nearly 50 per cent of their subjects’ time is spent in some form of communication and a third of it in specifically scientific communication. Roughly 10 per cent of the chemists’ time is spent in general discussion, slightly less than this in receiving information orally, the same amount in reading unpublished materials, and about 5 per cent is spent in reading published materials. Estimates of the proportion of reading done for “specific uses” rather than for “general interest” vary from 20 to 80 per cent, and they are probably influenced heavily by the ways in which the data were gathered as well as by situational factors (Menzel 1960).

A number of studies report that the average amount of time per week spent in reading published materials is about five hours, but situational factors are again highly important. Scientists in basic research seem to devote only half as much time to reading as do scientists in applied research; however, the former are much more concerned with archival literature, while the latter make greater use of unpublished literature (Menzel 1960). Tornudd (1958) suggests that physical isolation from channels of oral communication produces greater dependence among Danish and Finnish scientists upon published literature, and the rate at which a field is developing seems also to be important—the more rapid the advances, the greater the reliance upon relatively unstructured channels (Menzel 1958).

Schilling’s study of bioscientists (1963–1964) found that age is unrelated to dependence on written, as compared with oral, channels; the bioscientists typically rate the latter as only half as important as the former. Moreover, women in the biological sciences seem slightly more dependent on the literature, probably because they have fewer opportunities to engage in unstructured communication : they visit other laboratories less often, hold fewer professional offices, and receive fewer preprints.

As the amount of published literature increases, scientists are turning to other structured channels as well as to unstructured channels. Orr (1964) notes a steady increase in the number of meetings and conferences held in the biomedical sciences each year since 1927, an increase in the attendance at such meetings, and a slight increase since 1947 in the percentage of research funds used for travel. Menzel’s study of 76 scientists (1958) found that they attended an average of 2.5 meetings per year, and Garvey (see American Psychological Association . . . 1964) found that psychologists in an academic setting attended an average of three per year, while those in a government laboratory averaged about two. Yet Menzel notes that relatively few scientists admit obtaining significant information from the formal presentations at meetings and concludes that “the functions of scientific meetings are not those which ostensibly motivate the bulk of their programs, but other forms of communication—symposia, corridor meetings, the presence in one room of those interested in a single area ...” (1960, vol. l,p. 47).

Unstructured communication . Unstructured (sometimes called informal or unplanned) communication among scientists often provides specific information which a scientist knows he needs, but probably its major importance lies in providing him with useful information which he did not know existed. Scientists generally report between 65 and 90 per cent success in locating needed information in the literature (Menzel 1960; Tornudd 1958), but they obviously cannot estimate their success in obtaining information of which they are unaware.

Such unknown information varies from the specific (a new experimental technique) to the general (news that another individual is working on a particular problem), but it is almost always obtained, directly or indirectly, “by accident.” Considering the usual delays in publication and the general difficulties involved in keeping abreast of the literature, it is presumptive evidence of the efficiency of unstructured channels that only about one scientist in five reports ever having received information “too late"—that is, information which would have influenced the course of his research had he received it sooner (Menzel 1960).

Menzel notes four major unstructured channels through which information reaches scientists: a scientist informs a colleague of his current interests and is given an item of pertinent information in return; a colleague conveys information which he knows the scientist will be interested in; a colleague volunteers the information while they are together for a different purpose; and he finds a useful item of information in the literature while searching for something else. In all but the last, the scientist is dependent on his colleagues, who will know of his needs and interests only if he tells them or if they are indicated by his previous publications. The effectiveness with which a scientist uses these channels, then, would seem to be related both to his ability to make his needs known and to the frequency with which he comes into contact with other scientists in his field.

The flow of professional recognition . Unstructured channels can operate effectively only so long as scientists feel the need to assist each other and share the values of “communism” and “disinterestedness” which encourage them to share their findings freely, without regard for personal gain (Merton [1949] 1957, pp. 556–560). Yet personal gain of an honorific nature is involved; Merton has referred to this as professional recognition (1957), and Storer (1966) has suggested that it is “competent response” to a contribution. If information flows in one direction through the various channels of scientific communication, response to it flows in the other. Anything which signifies the value, to one or more scientists, of information received from others—eponymy, prizes, election to professional office, footnotes, even personal thanks—serves to sustain the scientist’s motivation through confirming the goodness of his work and his successful performance as a scientist. Glaser (1964) has documented some of the consequences for the motivation and career plans of scientists when there is a lack of “adequate recognition,” but work on the various channels through which recognition flows has barely begun (Kaplan 1965a).

Improving scientific communication

The extent and success of efforts to speed and to make more effective the dissemination of information in science vary greatly by fields. In physics, the weekly Physical Review Letters has made it possible to bring brief announcements of recent findings to readers, usually within a month of submission, and there is a variety of other newsletters, data-card services, and regular announcements of work in progress which are now being established in different fields. The American Psychological Association’s Project on Scientific Information Exchange in Psychology represents a major effort to develop and then apply new information to the improvement of communication within the field of psychology.

Another technique, facilitated by the use of highspeed computers, is the citation index, which enables one to trace the influence of a given paper forward in time; this will apparently be of value to historians and sociologists of science as well as to those concerned with the substantive content of the materials cited (Institute for Scientific Information 1964). The suggestion that archival publication be partially replaced by central depositories, from which materials may be acquired on request after learning of them through title lists and abstracts, has not yet met with success; the obstacles to its adoption apparently lie more in the desire of scientists to be assured that their contributions will go to a “guaranteed” audience (as when published in a journal) than in the technical problems involved (U.S. President’s . . . 1963).

Suggestions have also been made toward providing greater opportunity for scientists to make use of unstructured channels of communication: encouraging attendance at meetings and visits to other institutions, arranging teaching duties so as to leave some days free for travel, and allowing more time at announced meetings for discussion sessions (Menzel 1958). Such suggestions are basically concerned with increasing the amount of personal contact among scientists, and their success will probably be contingent upon the amount of funds available for such purposes.

It may be predicted that the study of scientific communication will become increasingly important as the difficulty of disseminating information widely and rapidly mounts. The field requires much more work in conceptualizing the nature of the communications network and its relation to the social structure of science, as well as in the collection of more data. While much of the concern expressed today about problems of scientific communication focuses on developing new techniques for the storage and retrieval of information, and while some concern is focused on the social aspects of the communications process, very little attention has been devoted to the underlying problem of what should be communicated and in what form.

Finally, there is little doubt that each scientist will have to bear a greater responsibility for the transfer of information and not leave it largely to the professional documentalist. As a recent analysis of the problems of scientific communication (U.S. President’s . . . 1963, p. 1) notes, “The technical community generally must devote a larger share than heretofore of its time and resources to the discriminating management of the ever increasing technical record. Doing less will lead to fragmented and ineffective science and technology."

Norman Kaplan AND Norman W. Storer

[See also Conferences; Diffusion, article on Inter- Personal Influence; Information Storage And Retrieval.]


American Psychological Association, Project ON Scientific Information Exchange IN Psychology 1964 The Discovery and Dissemination of Scientific Information Among Psychologists in Two Research Environments. American Psychological Association, Project on Scientific Information Exchange in Psychology, Report No. 11.

American Psychologist 21, no. 11. → This issue (November, 1966) contains eight articles on scientific communication, particularly in the field of psychology.

Barber, Bernard; and Hihsch, Walter (editors) 1962 The Sociology of Science. New York: Free Press.

Bourne, Charles P. 1962 The World’s Technical Journal Literature: An Estimate of Volume, Origin, Language, Field, Indexing, and Abstracting. American Documentation 13:159–168.

Glaser, Barney G. 1964 Organizational Scientists: Their Professional Careers. Indianapolis, Ind.: Bobbs-Merrill.

Gottschalk, C. M.; and Desmond, W. F. 1962 Worldwide Census of Scientific and Technical Serials. Paper delivered at the annual meeting of the American Documentation Institute. Unpublished manuscript.

Hagsthom, Warren O. 1965 The Scientific Community. New York: Basic Books.

Halbert, Michael H.; and Ackoff, Russell L. 1958 An Operations Research Study of the Dissemination of Scientific Information. Pages 87–120 in International Conference on Scientific Information, 1958, Preprints of Papers for the International Conference on Scientific Information, Washington, D.C., November 16–21, 1958. Area i. Washington: National Academy of Sciences-National Research Council.

Institute For Scientific Information 1964 The Use of Citation Data in Writing the History of Science, by Eugene Garfield et al. Philadelphia: The Institute. → Constitutes a report of research for the U.S. Air Force Office of Scientific Research under contract AF 49(638)-1256.

International Conference ON Scientific Information, 1958 1958 Preprints of Papers for the International Conference on Scientific Information, Washington, D.C., November 16–21, 1958. Areas i-viii. Washington: National Academy of Sciences-National Research Council.

Kaplan, Norman 1964 Sociology of Science. Pages 852–881 in Robert E. L. Faris (editor), Handbook of Modern Sociology. Chicago: Rand McNally.

Kaplan, Norman 1965 The Norms of Citation Behavior: Prolegomena to the Footnote. American Documentation 16:179–184.

Kaplan, Norman (editor) 1965 … Science and Society. Chicago: Rand McNally.

Little [Arthur D.] Inc. 1959 Basic Research in the Navy. 2 vols. Cambridge, Mass.: Arthur D. Little, Inc.

Lotka, Alfred J. 1926 The Frequency Distribution of Scientific Productivity. Journal of the Washington Academy of Sciences 16:317–323.

Meltzer, Leo 1956 Scientific Productivity in Organizational Settings. Journal of Social Issues 12, no. 2: 32–40.

Menzel, Herbert 1958 The Flow of Information Among Scientists: Problems, Opportunities and Research Questions. Unpublished manuscript, Columbia Univ., Bureau of Applied Social Research.

Menzel, Herbert 1960 Review of Studies in the Flow of Information Among Scientists. 2 vols. in 1. Unpublished manuscript, Columbia Univ., Bureau of Applied Social Research.

Merton, Robert K. (1949) 1957 Social Theory and Social Structure. Rev.…enl. ed. Glencoe, 111.: Free Press.

Merton, Robert K. 1957 Priorities in Scientific Discovery: A Chapter in the Sociology of Science. American Sociological Review 22:635–659.

Orr, Richard H. 1964 Communication Problems in Biochemical Research: Report of a Study. Federation Proceedings 23:1117–1132.

Price, Derek J. DE Solla 1963 Little Science, Big Science. New York: Columbia Univ. Press.

Schilling, Charles W. 1963–1964 Informal Communication Among Bioscientists. Parts 1–2. Unpublished manuscript, George Washington Univ., Biological Sciences Communication Project.

Stevens, Mary E. 1965 Automatic Indexing: A State-of-the-art Report. National Bureau of Standards Monograph No. 91. Washington: Government Printing Office. → Includes a BIBLIOGRAPHY of 662 items on pages 183–220.

Stoher, Norman W. 1966 The Social System of Science. New York: Holt.

Tornudd, Elin 1958 Study on the Use of Scientific Literature and Reference Services by Scandinavian Scientists and Engineers Engaged in Research and Development. Pages 9–65 in International Conference on Scientific Information, 1958, Preprints of Papers for the International Conference on Scientific Information, Washington, D.C., November 16–21, 1958. Area i. Washington: National Academy of Sciences-National Research Council.

U.S. President’S Science Advisory Committee 1963 Science, Government, and Information: The Responsibilities of the Technical Community and the Government in the Transfer of Information; a Report. Washington: Government Printing Office.


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A scientific revolution occurred during the Renaissance and Reformation when humanist scholars took a renewed interest in the work of ancient philosophers. Greek texts in particular were given updated translations and interpretations. Scientists then developed new theories that eventually replaced the Greek concepts that had dominated science for almost two thousand years. Science became a separate field from philosophy (a search to define values and reality through reason and thought rather than scientific observation) and technology (the application of practical knowledge, such as engineering), which had been the major areas of thought in ancient times. An even more important development was that science now had a practical function. For instance, scientists were asking how things happened in nature, whereas the ancients were mainly concerned with why things happened. This shift in thinking had a profound impact on all aspects of life, and by the end of the 1600s science had replaced Christianity as the center of European civilization.

Aristotle influences science

The works of the Greek philosopher Aristotle (384–322 b.c.) were especially popular among fifteenth-and sixteenth-century scientists. Aristotle was a student of the Greek philosopher Plato (c. 428–c. 348 b.c.), whose academy he attended for twenty years. Aristotle then founded his own school of philosophy, the Lyceum, near Athens, a Greek city-state. Aristotle preferred to teach while strolling around the school, and his students followed along. For this reason members of the Lyceum were called Peripatetics, a name that came from the Greek word for "walking about."

Both Plato and Aristotle had a strong influence on European culture in the Middle Ages. Plato was favored by early Christians because of his teachings on the human soul (eternal spirit) and creation. Aristotle surpassed Plato in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries when his long-lost works on the arts and sciences became available in Latin translations. Aristotle's writings filled several hundred scrolls (rolls of long strips of parchment), which were divided into three classes. The first were notes to aid the memory and prepare for further work, but all of these have been lost. The second were written for the general reading public, in dialogue (question and answer, or conversation) form. They included titles such as On Philosophy, On Justice, and On Ideas. Only fragments of these works survive, though some idea of their contents can be gained from comments made by later Greek and Roman scholars. The third class consisted of treatises written in a brief, direct style meant for school use. The surviving works of Aristotle belong to this class.

Pioneered classification

Aristotle was a pioneer in the systematic classification of all fields of knowledge. He considered the ideal form of knowledge to be science, which he defined as universal and necessary knowledge gained through analyzing the causes of things. According to Aristotle, one type of science starts with things that are known and its only aim is to acquire knowledge. He called this theoretical science and gave it three divisions: natural, mathematical, and divine. For Aristotle, another kind of science starts with the person who gains knowledge, and it is aimed at either taking action or making something. If the goal involves human action or conduct, he called it practical science. If the goal involves something to be made, he called it productive science.

For Aristotle the first theoretical science is natural philosophy, which is concerned with the examination of nature. He investigated topics such as chance, motion, the infinite, place, the void, and time. He also studied the soul and its powers. For Aristotle the second theoretical science is mathematics. It is concerned with numbers, lines, surfaces, and solids, which can be understood through a process of abstraction (formulation of ideas). He also described "mixed sciences," which apply mathematics to the study of natural things. Among the mixed sciences are optics (geometric study of light), astronomy (study of celestial bodies, such as planets, stars, the Sun, and the Moon), and mechanics. The third theoretical science is metaphysics, or the study of the nature of reality and existence.

Aristotle's practical sciences, also called moral philosophy, include ethics (a field that tries to define good and bad behavior) and politics (guiding or influencing government policy). The subject matter of the practical sciences is human conduct, and the aim is to achieve the good, which can be described as the mean, or midpoint, between excessive behavior and lax behavior. The good can be achieved through sound judgment of the prudent person. To be prudent, a person needs the moral virtues of moderation, courage, and justice. Such virtues, in Aristotle's view, have to be instilled in young children through correct education. Good laws and customs are all-important for this process. Also essential are good health, good fortune, sufficient riches, and friends, all of which make possible a life of contemplation (concentration on spiritual matters). For Aristotle, the life of contemplation is the highest human activity, for it alone produces happiness. According to his view, the best form of government aims at the common good of all people, not the needs of a particular class, and provides conditions in which happiness can be achieved.

Aristotle discussed productive sciences in his treatises on poetics (theory of poetry) and rhetoric (effective speaking and writing). In a work titled Poetics he stated that the role of the poet (artist) is to create a representation of nature (humans and their world) through a process he called mimesis (the Greek word for imitation). To explain the function of mimesis Aristotle focused on tragedy, an ancient form of dramatic presentation that traces the rise and fall of a great man. According to Aristotle, tragedy is the ideal imitation of human experience because it enables spectators to release their own emotions of pity and fear by vicariously (through imagination or sympathy) participating in the events of the drama. In his Rhetoric he examined the nature of a persuasive argument in terms of appeals to logic (thought or argument based on reason), the emotions, and ethics. He then showed how to present a persuasive argument through proper delivery, style, and composition.

Almagest is basis of astronomy

Renaissance science was also influenced by the Egyptian scholar Ptolemy (Claudius Ptolemaeus; a.d. c. 100–c. 170), who wrote on astronomy, geography (study of the physical and cultural features of Earth's surface), optics, and related sciences. Little is known about Ptolemy's life. Most of what is known about him comes from his own works and some ancient texts. Since his name was derived from both Latin (Claudius) and Egyptian (Ptolemy), he probably came from a mixed family. He wrote his best-known work, the Almagest, around 150. Since he produced several other major works after the Almagest, he probably lived into the reign of Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius (died 180). Ptolemy appears to have spent his whole life in Alexandria, Egypt.

Ptolemy's views on the heavens are developed primarily in the Almagest, his masterpiece of mathematical astronomy. Originally called the Mathematical Syntaxis (Mathematical compilation) in Greek, the work was given the medieval Arabic title al-majisti, which became almagesti or almagestum in medieval Latin. The Latin form produced the title Almagest.

The Almagest is written in thirteen books, covering all aspects of mathematical astronomy as it was understood in antiquity. To attain knowledge of the universe, Ptolemy argued, one must study astronomy because it leads to the Prime Mover, the first cause of all heavenly motions—that is, God. Ptolemy followed earlier Greek thinkers such as Aristotle, who believed that Earth is the center of a perfectly balanced universe. Ptolemy argued that the universe has a spherical shape and that stars and planets move in spherical patterns. He also contended that Earth is spherical and remains in a fixed position at the center of the universe. However, its size is insignificant in comparison to the heavens.

Revived ancient theory

In the Almagest Ptolemy also dealt with problems that had been puzzling mathematical astronomers. For instance, he discarded Aristotle's idea that Earth is at the exact center of the orbits (paths) of all heavenly bodies. Instead, he adopted the ancient Greek concept that heavenly bodies revolve around Earth in eccentric (not exactly centered) circles. Early Greek astronomers had introduced this idea to explain why the seasons of the year are not of the same length. Thinking that the Sun revolved around Earth, they drew diagrams of the universe that showed the Sun moving in a circle that was not exactly centered on Earth. Thus they were able to determine that some seasons were longer than others because the Sun was farther away from Earth at certain times of the year. Another problem was that the planets appeared to stop at some point as they move around Earth and then go backward before proceeding once again on their circular orbits. To account for this, the early astronomers drew diagrams that placed the planets on little circles known as epicycles, which they then placed on big circles called deferents. As the deferents moved, they carried the epicycles with them. Consequently, from the vantage point of Earth, during this process a planet would appear to stop and go backward for a time before continuing in its proper circular orbit.

In the Almagest, Ptolemy introduced the concept of the equant point, which he combined with eccentric circles, epicycles, and deferents. The equant point was located at the exact center of an eccentric circle, which was also a deferent—that is, it was a large circle on which epicycles, or small circles, moved around Earth. By combining all these devices, Ptolemy managed to create mathematical models that fit very well with observations of heavenly bodies. His system was the basis for mathematical astronomy until the publication of Nicolaus Copernicus's On the Revolution of the Heavenly Spheres in 1543 (see "Astronomy" section later in this chapter).

Scientific method

The ancient Greeks introduced the concept of following a particular order, or method, to study nature or solve an abstract problem. Interest in method was revived during the Renaissance, when it was combined with the new science to produce the idea of the "scientific method."

The Greek teaching on method originated with the medical writer Hippocrates of Cos (c. 460–c. 377 b.c.). It is described in Plato's Phaedrus as a technique of dividing and collecting ideas or things that are observed. Out of this grew Plato's "dialectical method," which consisted of four stages: analysis, definition, division, and probative. These stages were closely associated with art. Aristotle extended Plato's idea to all rational investigation, not merely that of the arts. For the sciences, which aimed at precise and certain knowledge, Aristotle wrote the Analytics to provide detailed methods of analysis and definition. A further influence came from the Greek physician Galen (129–c. 199), who accepted Aristotle's ideas but took inspiration also from Hippocrates and Plato. Galen focused first on analysis, then on synthesis (combination), and associated both with definition and division. The Egyptian mathematician Pappus (after 300–350) likewise wrote on methods, though he confined his attention to geometry. His account influenced Renaissance mathematicians. Finally, Greek scholars who studied Aristotle were a major source of renewed interest in method. Many of them also accepted the views of Plato, so they set out to incorporate the four dialectical methods of Plato with Aristotle's various logical teachings.

Galileo expands method

Renaissance writers of texts in classical Latin never stressed method to the same extent as the Greeks. Instead, they concentrated on order. For instance, the Italian philosopher Jacopo Zabarella (1533–1589) stated that order means simply that one thing should be learned before another. In contrast, method means that what is known first will lead to or produce a second stage of scientific knowledge. Zabarella influenced the great Italian astronomer Galileo Galilei (called Galileo;1564–1642; see "Astronomy" section later in this chapter), who expanded on Zabarella's concepts. The clearest account of Galileo's ideas is found in Logical Treatises. Drawing upon Zabarella's work, Galileo developed a twofold process of scientific investigation. The first part involves using reason to determine the cause of something. The second part goes in reverse to determine the effect of a specific action (cause). Operating between these two processes is the intellect (rational thought), also mentioned by Zabarella, which will assure that the proper conclusions about cause and effect are reached. As explained by Zabarella, the result of this third step is a unique form of knowledge called scientia (science).

Galileo expanded Zabarella's third stage by including geometrical reasoning and experimentation. Galileo claimed he achieved scientific results in this third stage by making the first detailed observations of the mountains on the Moon, the satellites (celestial bodies that orbit a larger body) of Jupiter, and the laws of falling bodies. He also went beyond Zabarella's theory to cover probable reasoning—the conclusion that, on the basis of specific observations, certain conditions must exist. Using this form of reasoning, Galileo concluded that the tides (regular rising and falling of oceans and other bodies of water) are a probable cause of the motion of Earth.

Practical science stressed

Scientific method in the Renaissance also was influenced by the French philosopher Petrus Ramus (Pierre de La Ramée; 1515–1572) and the English philosopher Francis Bacon (1561–1626). Ramus was an educational reformer and humanist who reacted against the Aristotelian logic he had been taught at the University of Paris. Ramus especially wished to revive the mathematical arts of arithmetic, geometry, astronomy, and physics (the science that deals with energy and matter and their interactions). He wanted to show that they could be put to practical uses. He thought Aristotle's theories on physics were too complicated for educational purposes. Ramus recommended starting with Aristotle's works on mechanical problems and meteorology (study of weather patterns) and biology (study of living organisms and their processes). He also thought classical texts on mathematics and natural history should be part of the university curriculum. He placed great emphasis on method, but what he meant by this was more a method of teaching than of conducting scientific study.

Bacon was also interested in educational reform, and he stressed the practical aspects of science. Despite being a contemporary of Galileo and other founders of modern science, he knew little of their achievements. Instead, he based his ideas on classical sources and his contributions to science were limited to theories he described in his books. Bacon himself did not make scientific observations or conduct experiments. Like Ramus, he felt that Aristotle's system was not suited to discovery of new truth. Bacon also rejected Plato's ideas because they turned the mind inward upon itself, "away from observation and away from things." Bacon proposed a new method that emphasized "the commerce of the mind with things." Science was to be experimental, to take note of how human activity produces changes in things and not merely to record what happens independently of what men do. Bacon called this "active science." In addition, science should be a practical instrument for human betterment. His views are best summed up in the section of Novum organum (New method) titled "The New Philosophy or Active Science." Bacon stated that a scientist must make observations of the natural world and then base reports and interpretations only upon these feelings. A scientist cannot know anything more about nature than what he or she discovers through direct observation.

Bacon introduces new method

The most important work by Bacon was Novum organum published in 1620. The foundation of Bacon's science was to be natural history, which would serve as the base of a "ladder of axioms." (An axiom is a statement accepted as being true.) At the top of the ladder would be physics, which in turn would lead to metaphysics, or a form of physics that could be applied to all aspects of nature. Both physics and metaphysics would then provide explanations for causes of things in the natural world. To explain his theories, Bacon developed a set of tables that would assist in a process known as "Baconian induction," which involved observing specific facts of nature and reaching general conclusions based on those facts. Bacon's new method was never completely successful. However, his emphasis on experimentation set an ideal for the Royal Society—founded in England in 1660—one of the most prestigious scientific institutions in the world.


At the beginning of the Renaissance astronomy was linked, as it had been since ancient times, with cosmology and astrology. It did not develop into a separate scientific field until the late seventeenth century. Cosmology is the study of the nature of the universe as an ordered structure. Cosmology is closely allied with philosophy and theology (the study of religious faith, practice, and experience). Astrology is the "science" of the influences of heavenly bodies on earthly matters, including the lives and fortunes of humans. Astronomy is the study of the number, size, and motions of heavenly bodies. Some of the most famous Renaissance views of the universe, such as infinity (unlimited time and space), were developed not by astronomers but by philosophers and theologians. These ideas were then incorporated into astronomy.

Copernicus starts scientific revolution

The scientific revolution began in astronomy, with the work of Polish theologian Nicolaus Copernicus (1473–1543), Danish astronomer Tycho Brahe (1546–1601), German mathematician Johannes Kepler (1571–1630), and Galileo.

Copernicus had a life-long career as a canon (clergyman at a cathedral) in the Roman Catholic Church, pursuing the study of astronomy in his spare time. He graduated from the University of Cracow in Poland in 1494. Although he did not attend any classes in astronomy, he began to collect books on astronomy and mathematics during his student years. In 1496 Copernicus was appointed a canon in Frauenburg (now Frombork), Germany. Shortly after arriving at Frauenburg, he set out for Bologna, Italy, to study canon (church) law. In Bologna, he came under the influence of the astronomer Domenico Maria de Novara and recorded the positions of some planets. He did the same in Rome, where he spent the Jubilee Year of 1500. (A jubilee, occurring every twenty-five years, is a time of special solemnity declared by the pope, head of the Roman Catholic Church.)

In 1503 Copernicus earned the degree of doctor in canon law, then studied medicine in Padua until 1506. After returning to Frauenburg, Copernicus began mulling over the problems of astronomy, and the concept of the heliocentric (Sun-centered) system of planets in particular. He outlined the system in a short manuscript, known as the Commentariolus (Small commentary), which he completed in about 1512. At the outset of this work Copernicus listed seven axioms, each of which stated a feature of the heliocentric system. The third and most controversial axiom stated that since all planets revolve on orbits around the Sun, the Sun must therefore be the center of the universe. This idea was controversial because all astronomers at the time accepted Ptolemy's theory that the Sun revolved around Earth, a view that was enforced by the church, which found evidence for it in the Bible.

Copernicus's fame began to spread. In 1514 he received an invitation to be present as an astronomer at the Lateran Council, a church conference that had as one of its aims the reform of the calendar. He did not attend. His secretiveness only seemed to enhance his reputation. In 1522 the secretary to the king of Poland asked Copernicus to give an opinion on De motu octavae spherae (On the motion of the eighth sphere), which had just been published by Johann Werner, a respected mathematician. This time Copernicus responded in a letter expressing a rather low regard for Werner's work. In the letter Copernicus also stated that he was writing his own study on the motion of the stars. He could pursue his study only in his spare time, however, because his responsibilities as a canon kept him busy. Although he did not publish anything about astronomy, rumors continued to circulate about the revolutionary nature of his theory.

Turns world upside down

Not all the comments about Copernicus were flattering. The Protestant reformer Martin Luther (1483–1546) denounced Copernicus for foolishly trying to overturn established theories on astronomy. In 1531 a satirical play was produced about Copernicus in Elbing, Prussia, by a local schoolmaster. In Rome things went better. In 1533 John Widmanstad, a secretary of the pope, lectured on Copernicus's theory before Pope Clement VII (1478–1534; reigned 1523–34) and several cardinals (church officials who rank directly below the pope). Three years later Cardinal Schönberg wrote Copernicus a letter, urging him to publish his thoughts. It was a useless request. Probably nobody knew exactly how far Copernicus had progressed with his work until Georg Joachim Rheticus (1514–1576), a young scholar from Wittenberg, Germany, arrived in Frauenburg in 1539.

When Rheticus returned to Wittenberg, he had already printed an account, known as the Narratio prima, (First report) of Copernicus's nearly completed book. Rheticus was also instrumental in having the book published in Nuremberg. Andreas Osiander (1498–1552), a Lutheran clergyman, was also involved in the publication process. Osiander might have been the one who gave the work its title, De revolutionibus orbium coelestium (On the revolution of the heavenly spheres), which is not found in the manuscript. The printed copy of the six-volume work reached Copernicus only a few hours before his death on May 24, 1543. The thousand copies of the first edition of the book did not sell out, and the work was reprinted only three times prior to the twentieth century. Nevertheless, Copernicus gave important information about the orbits of the planets. His book began a revolution in human thought by serving as the cornerstone of modern astronomy.

Brahe changes observation methods

The next significant advance in astronomy was made later in the sixteenth century by Tycho Brahe, one of the most colorful figures in scientific history. Rejecting the theories of both Ptolemy and Copernicus, he made major changes in observations of the stars and planets. The son of a Swedish nobleman, Brahe was "adopted" (some say kidnapped) at age one by his childless uncle. He received an excellent education. When he was thirteen he entered the University of Copenhagen to study rhetoric and philosophy. He was well on his way toward a career in politics when he witnessed an eclipse of the Sun (a circumstance when the Moon passes in front of and temporarily blocks out the Sun) on August 21, 1560. Brahe spent the next two years studying mathematics and astronomy, then he moved on to the University of Leipzig. In August 1563, when he was not quite seventeen, Brahe made his first recorded observation, a close grouping of stars between the planets Jupiter and Saturn. He also developed interests in alchemy (science devoted to converting base metals into gold) and in astrology (see "Alchemy" and "Astrology" sections later in this chapter), which he mistakenly considered scientific disciplines. He began to cast horoscopes, or predictions of a person's future based on the positions of heavenly bodies.

In November 1572 a supernova (explosion of a very large star) burst into view in the constellation of Cassiopeia, and Brahe was enthralled. The new star became brighter than the planet Venus and was visible for eighteen months. He described it in such detail in a book that the new star became known as "Tycho's star." This book accomplished three things. First, the title, De Nova Stella (Concerning the new star), linked the term "nova" to all exploding stars. Second, it made clear that Brahe had been unable to make a parallax measurement (angular distance in the direction of a celestial body as measured from two points on Earth's orbit) for the nova, revealing that it was much more distant than the Moon. This conclusion was a crushing blow to Aristotle's teachings that the heavens were perfect and unchanging. Since Aristotle stated that all bodies in the universe were fixed (unchanging), they could therefore be measured. However, Brahe was not able to get a measurement for the nova, so this means the nova did not remain in the same location. Consequently, it would suggest that other bodies in the universe also changed positions, thus disproving Aristotle's theory of an unchanging universe. The third achievement of Brahe's book was to establish his reputation as an astronomer.

Builds first observatory

Brahe was quite arrogant, and he managed to anger nearly every person with whom he came into contact. At the age of nineteen he was involved in a dispute over a mathematical point. He and his opponent had a duel (a form of combat with weapons between two persons in the presence of witnesses), during which the opponent shot off Brahe's nose. Brahe spent the rest of his life wearing an artificial nose made of silver. Fortunately for Brahe, one of the few people who were not alienated by him was Frederick II (1534–1588; ruled 1559–88), the king of Denmark and a great patron of science. In 1576 Frederick provided Brahe with an annual income and gave him a small island called Hveen (now Ven) off the southwest coast of Sweden. The king funded the building of an observatory, which was the first real astronomical observatory in history. Brahe was always mindful of his noble background, so he made sure that no expense was spared. The principal building, Uraniborg (Castle of the Heavens), was the main residence. Next to it was built the main observatory, Stjerneborg (Castle of the Stars).

In 1577 a bright comet (a celestial body consisting of a fuzzy head surrounding a bright nucleus) was visible in the skies, and Brahe observed it with great care. Measurements showed that it, too, was farther away from Earth than the Moon and therefore did not conform to Aristotle's teachings. Brahe reluctantly came to the conclusion that the path of the comet was not circular but elongated. This conclusion meant it would have to pass through the "spheres" that carried the planets around the sky, which would be impossible; one possible explanation for the comet's movement was that these spheres did not exist. This concept was personally troubling to Brahe, who rejected Copernicus's Sun-centered theory because it violated Scripture (text of the Bible). It also contradicted the teachings of Ptolemy, who contended that Earth is spherical and remains in a fixed position at the center of the universe.

Makes accurate observations

Brahe spent twenty years at Hveen, recording exceptionally accurate observations. He used many scientific instruments. Among them was a huge quadrant, an instrument used for measuring altitudes. It is in the shape of a quarter part of a circle, much like a wedge of pie. Each of the two straight edges of a quadrant is called a radius (plural of radii). Radius is a term in geometry (mathematical study of surfaces and angles) for the distance of a line from the center of a circle to the perimeter, or outer curved edge. The two radii of Brahe's quadrant measured 6 feet (1.83 meters). Other devices were sextants (instruments used for measuring angular distances), a bipartite arc (two-part half circle), astrolabes (instruments to observe and calculate the distance of celestial bodies), and various armillae (instruments composed of rings showing positions of celestial spheres). Brahe's measurements were the most precise that could be made without the aid of a telescope (a tube-shaped instrument with a lens or mirror used for viewing distant objects). He corrected nearly every known astronomical measurement and made possible the calendar reform approved by Pope Gregory XIII (1502–1585; reigned 1572–85) in 1582. Brahe himself did not adopt the new calendar until 1599.

Frederick II died in 1588. His son, Christian IV (1577–1648; ruled 1588–1648), was only eleven, so the country was ruled by regents (interim rulers), who let Brahe do whatever he wanted. When Christian took the throne in 1596, he quickly lost patience with the expensive, haughty astronomer. Brahe was relieved of his royal duties the following year. He moved to Prague, the capital of Bohemia (now Czech Republic), where he resumed his observations as the mathematician-astronomer to Holy Roman Emperor Rudolf II (1552–1612; ruled 1576–1612). Brahe employed a young German assistant named Johannes Kepler, to whom he gave all his observations on the planet Mars. He assigned Kepler the task of preparing tables of planetary motion. This decision would turn out to be among the most significant of Brahe's life, since Kepler went on to use Brahe's data to discover the three laws of the motions of planets.

Gregorian Calendar

The Gregorian calendar, approved by Pope Gregory XIII in 1582, was a revision of the Julian calendar. The Julian calendar was introduced by Roman Emperor Julius Caesar in 46 b.c. It was used in Europe until the Gregorian calendar was officially adopted by the Catholic Church.

Julius Caesar had devised his calendar in order to make up for accumulated slippage in the Egyptian Calendar, which was used in ancient times. He added two extra months as well as twenty-three days to February, thus making the year 46 b.c. 455 days long. Gregory XIII issued his new calendar to make up for the accumulated error in the Julian calendar. The pope decreed that October 5, 1582, would be October 15, thus eliminating ten days. Not everyone changed over to the Gregorian calendar at once. Catholic Europe adopted it within two years, and many Protestant countries did so by 1700. England imposed it on its colonies in 1752, and Sweden accepted it in 1753. Many non-European countries adopted it in the nineteenth century, with China doing so in 1912, Turkey in 1917, and Russia in 1918.

Kepler discovers laws of universe

Kepler was originally trained as a theologian (scholar of religion) at the University of Tübingen in Germany, where he received a bachelor of arts degree in 1591. But he was also interested in astronomy, and in 1594 he accepted the post of the mathematician of the province in Graz. One of his duties was composing an almanac, in which the main events of the coming year were to be predicted. Kepler's first almanac was a great success. Two of his predictions—an invasion by the Turks and a severe winter—came true and established his reputation as an astrologer. He also spent his time studying problems in astronomy, working out theories of the circular orbits of planets.

In 1600 Kepler accepted the position of assistant to Brahe and moved to Prague. When Brahe died the following year, Kepler was appointed his successor. Kepler's first task was to prepare Brahe's collection of astronomical studies for publication. The outstanding feature of Brahe's work was that he surpassed all other astronomers before him in making precise observations of the positions of stars and planets. Kepler tried to utilize Brahe's data in support of the circular orbits of planets. He was therefore forced to make one of the most revolutionary assumptions in the history of astronomy. He found that there was a difference of eight minutes of arc between his own calculations and Brahe's data about Mars. (An arc is the path of a celestial body above and below the horizon of Earth. Minutes of arc is the length of time required for the body to move along its path.) This difference could be explained only if the orbit of Mars was not circular but elliptical (oval-shaped), which indicated that the orbits of all planets were elliptical, a theory that became known as Kepler's first law. Kepler then developed his second law, which states that the imaginary line joining Mars to the Sun sweeps over equal areas in equal times in an elliptical orbit. He published these two laws in his lengthy discussion of the orbit of the planet Mars, the Astronomia nova (New astronomy; 1609).

Introduces theory of "magnetic arms"

In 1611 Rudolf stepped down from the throne, and Kepler immediately looked for a new job. He took the post of provincial mathematician in Linz (in present-day Austria). While he was in Linz he published Harmonice mundi (Harmony of the world; 1618), in which he stated his third law. According to Kepler's third law, a planet's revolution (the time it takes to make one complete circle) is proportional to the cube of its average distance from the Sun. In other words, once one knows how long it takes a planet to complete an orbit, one can calculate its relative distance from the Sun. Kepler based this theory on his conviction that God created a balanced universe. Later he wrote, "Since God established everything in the universe along quantitative norms, he endowed man with a mind to comprehend them. For just as the eye is fitted for the perception of colors, the ear for sounds, so is man's mind created not for anything but for the grasping of quantities."

While living in Linz, Kepler also wrote Epitome astronomiae Copernicanae, (Epitome of Copernican astronomy) which was published in parts between 1618 and 1621. It was the first astronomical study that abandoned the idea of circles carrying the various planets in their orbits. Kepler thus raised the question of what kind of force was holding the planets in their paths. He concluded that it was a physical force consisting of "magnetic arms" that stretched out from the Sun. By identifying a physical force in the universe, Kepler laid the foundation for a relationship between physics and astronomy. In 1628, two years before his death, he published Tabulae Rudolphinae (Rudolfine tables; 1628), a catalog of stars. This work added 223 stars to the 777 stars that had been observed by Brahe. The tables were used by astronomers for the next century.

Galileo proves Copernican theory

The most revolutionary contribution to the field of astronomy was made by Galileo. In 1581 Galileo entered the University of Pisa to study medicine, but two years later he became interested in mathematics and the physical sciences. Financial difficulties forced him to leave the university in 1585 before he completed his degree. Returning to his home city of Florence, Galileo spent three years vainly searching for a suitable teaching position. During that time he wrote works that gained him a reputation as a mathematician and natural philosopher (natural scientist; one who specializes in such fields as physics, chemistry, and biology). He then secured a teaching post at the University of Pisa in 1589. From the beginning of his academic career, he was an eager participant in disputes and controversies. For instance, he made fun of the custom of wearing academic gowns. He was willing to condone ordinary clothes, he said, but the best thing was to go naked.

When Galileo's father died in 1591, Galileo was left with the responsibility for his mother, brothers, and sisters. He had to look for a better position, which he found in 1592 at the University of Padua in the Republic of Venice. In 1604 Galileo publicly declared that he supported Copernicus's theory of a Sun-centered universe. He then gave three public lectures before large audiences in Venice. He argued that a new star, which had appeared earlier that year, was major evidence in support of Copernicus's views. More important was a letter Galileo wrote that year, in which he stated his theory of natural motion. By natural motion Galileo meant that a body will fall freely in space, and he proposed the law of free fall to account for this phenomenon.

Comes into conflict with church

In 1609 Galileo learned about the success of some Dutch eyeglass makers in combining lenses into what later came to be called the telescope. He feverishly set to work, and on August 25 he presented to the Venetian Senate a telescope as his own invention. The success was tremendous. He obtained a lifelong contract at the University of Padua, but he also stirred up resentment when it was learned that he was not the original inventor. Within a few months, however, Galileo had gathered astonishing evidence about mountains on Earth's Moon and about moons circling Jupiter. He also identified a large number of stars, especially in the belt of the Milky Way (a galaxy, or very large group of stars, of which Earth's solar system is a part). On March 12, 1610, all these sensational items were printed in Venice under the title Sidereus nuncius (The starry messenger), a booklet that took the world of science by storm. The view of the heavens drastically changed, and so did Galileo's life.

In 1610 Galileo accepted the position of mathematician in Florence, Italy, at the court of Duke Cosimo II de' Medici (1590–1621). In the beginning everything was pure bliss. He made a triumphal visit to Rome in 1611, and the next year his Discourse on Bodies in Water was published. In this work he disclosed his discovery of the phases of the planet Venus, which proved the truth of the Copernican theory that celestial bodies travel around the Sun.

Galileo's aim was to make a detailed description of the universe according to the theories of Copernicus and to develop a new form of physics. A major obstacle was the traditional belief, stated in the Bible, that Earth is the center of the universe. To deal with the difficulties raised by the Scripture, Galileo addressed theological issues. He was assisted by church leaders, such as Monsignor Piero Dini and Father Benedetto Castelli, who was his best scientific pupil. In letters to Dini and Castelli, Galileo produced essays that now rank among the best writings of biblical analysis of those times. His longest letter was addressed to Grand Duchess Christina of Tuscany. In all of the letters he discarded the idea of an Earth-centered universe in favor of the theory that Earth revolves around the Sun. As the letters circulated, a confrontation with church authorities became inevitable. In 1616 Cardinal Robert Bellarmine issued an order that forbade Galileo to continue teaching or writing about the Copernican doctrine of the motion of Earth.

Galileo agreed not to promote Copernicus's views, saying he wanted to serve the long-range interest of the church in the world of science. Nevertheless, he was determined to have the order overturned. The next year Galileo had six audiences (formal meetings) with Pope Urban VIII (1568–1644; reigned 1623–44). Urban promised a pension for Galileo's son, Vincenzio, but he did not grant Galileo permission to resume his work on a new description of the universe. Before departing for Florence, Galileo was informed that the pope had remarked that he did not believe the Roman Catholic Church would ever declare the Copernican theory to be heretical, but he was also certain the theory could never be proven. This news gave Galileo encouragement to go ahead with the great undertaking of his life, the Dialogue concerning the Two Chief World Systems.

Church officials were outraged by the Dialogue, which proved without doubt that Galileo supported Copernicus's ideas. Galileo was summoned to Rome to appear before the Inquisition, a church court set up to punish heretics (see "Popes implement Roman Inquisition" in Chapter 7). The proceedings dragged on from the fall of 1632 to the summer of 1633. During that time Galileo was allowed to stay at the home of the Florentine ambassador in Rome. He was never subjected to physical force, but he suffered the frustration and humiliation of having to publicly reject the doctrine that Earth moved around the Sun. On his way back to Florence, Galileo enjoyed the hospitality of the archbishop of Siena for nearly five months and then received permission in December to live in his own villa at Arcetri. He was not supposed to have any visitors, but this order was not obeyed. The church was also unable to prevent the printing of Galileo's works outside Italy. During the next five years translations of his writings were published in France and Holland. But the most important publishing event took place in 1638, when Galileo's Two New Sciences was printed in Leiden, Holland.

Remains a Christian

The Two New Sciences dated back to Galileo's days at Padua. Like the Dialogue, it is in dialogue form and the discussions are divided into four days. The first day focuses on the mechanical resistance of materials and includes speculations on the atomic composition of matter. There are also long discussions on the question of vacuum and on the vibrations of pendulums. During the second day these and other topics, such as the properties of levers, are discussed in a strictly mathematical manner. The third day's discussion is a mathematical analysis of uniform and accelerated motion. The topic of the fourth day is the projectile motion of a cannonball. There Galileo proved that the longest shot occurred when the cannon was set at an angle of 45 degrees.

Galileo's Dialogue

Galileo's Dialogue concerning the Two Chief World Systems was published in 1632. The book features four main topics discussed by three speakers in dialogue form on four consecutive days. The speakers are Simplicius, Salvati, and Sagredo. Simplicius represents Aristotle, Salviati is a spokesman for Galileo, and Sagredo plays the role of an arbiter (one who makes the final judgment on an issue) who leans heavily toward Galileo. The first day is devoted to the criticism of the alleged perfection of the universe, as claimed by Aristotle. Here Galileo made use of his discovery of the "imperfections" of the Moon, namely, its rugged surface as revealed by the telescope (Aristotle contended that the Moon's surface is perfectly smooth). The second day is a discussion of the rotation of Earth on its axis (an imaginary line extending through the center of Earth from north to south) as an explanation of various celestial phenomena.

During the third day the orbital motion of Earth around the Sun is debated. A main issue is the undisturbed nature of the surface of Earth in spite of its double motion—that is, its revolving on an axis while at the same time orbiting around the Sun. The discussion on the fourth day shows that the tides (the rhythmical rising and falling of oceans and other bodies of water) are proof of Earth's twofold motion. In this section Galileo seems to contradict the contention of the third day's discussion, that Earth's surface remains undisturbed by its double motion. The tides, which cause the regular movement of oceans, show that Earth's surface is in fact affected by the twofold motion.

Although Galileo proposed a radically new concept of the universe, he remained a Christian to the end of his life. He believed that the world was made by a rational creator (God) who gave order to everything according to weight, measure, and number. Galileo stated this faith in the closing pages of the first day of the Dialogue. He described the human mind as the most excellent product of the creator, because it could recognize mathematical truths. Galileo spent his last years partially blind, and he died in 1642. By the time of his death the Copernican doctrine of the universe was being accepted as scientific fact.


The flowering of mathematics in the Renaissance was stimulated by many social and economic changes of the time and by the recovery of Greek mathematical works. There were major breakthroughs in algebra, an abstract form of arithmetic in which letters, also called variables, represent numbers. The use of letters in algebra as known to us today is a Renaissance creation. Renaissance mathematicians adopted the Hindu-Arabic notation for base-10 arithmetic (the familiar numeral system in which all derived units are based on the number ten and the powers of ten). More important, they made advances in trigonometry (a branch of applied mathematics concerned with the relationship between angles and their sides and the calculations based on them) and used geometry (a branch of mathematics that deals with points, lines, angles, surfaces, and solids) to perfect perspective in painting. They also invented logarithms (or exponents; for example, in base-10 arithmetic, the logarithm of 100 is 2 because 10 to the second power is equal to 100).

Mathematicians were connected with humanists through networks of personal friendships and patronage (financial support given by wealthy people). Interest in the works of Plato helped encourage the view that mathematics was the key to understanding nature. Universities established professorships of mathematics, and new courses in mathematics and mathematical books were added for accountants, artisans, engineers, and navigators. This boom in mathematical awareness and sophistication set the stage for the scientific revolution of the sixteenth century.

The abacists and the rise of algebra

In the early fourteenth century a new class of professional mathematicians, called abacists, emerged in Italy and produced a set of practical mathematical texts. Abacists taught merchants how to use the Hindu-Arabic system of mathematics, introducing some abbreviations and symbols for operations. They also used algebra to solve problems arising from commerce, banking, and weights and measures. The abacists lectured in the languages people actually spoke and wrote understandable books that contained worked-out examples of problems with detailed instructions. The first printed Renaissance algebra book, Summa de arithmetica, geometrica, proportioni et proportionalita by Italian mathematician Luca Pacioli (1445–1514), was a summary of the work of abacists. It included not only arithmetic and the solving of equations but also elementary geometry and double-entry bookkeeping, which is a method of bookkeeping that keeps track of both expenses and income.

Interest in algebra soon spread to many other countries. Among the European mathematicians who made contributions to algebraic theory were Nicolas Chuquet (c. 1445–1500) in France, Pedro Nunes (1492–1577) in Portugal, and Cristoph Rudolff (c. 1500–c. 1545) and Michael Stifel (1487–1567) in Germany. In England, the royal physician Robert Recorde (1510–1558) published the first English-language algebra book, the Whetstone of Witte (1557), which introduced the equal sign (=).

"Cardano's Solution"

In the sixteenth century, Italian mathematicians often engaged in problem-solving competitions. Winners received university positions and monetary rewards. In the 1530s one such competition produced the solution of the general cubic equation. Special cases had been treated earlier, but two important cubics equations had not yet been solved. The solutions to the cubic of the first form seems to have been discovered by Scipione del Ferro (1465–1526), professor of mathematics at Bologna. He told his student, Antonio Maria Fior, how to solve the problem. The Italian mathematician Niccolò Tartaglia (c. 1499–1557) claimed he could solve cubics of the second form. In 1535 Fior challenged Tartaglia to a public mathematical contest. Tartaglia worked out the solution to cubics of the first type and won the competition.

News of Tartaglia's victory reached Girolamo Cardano (1501–1576), who was then lecturing on mathematics in Milan. He was known as an astrologer, a physician, and a gambler. Around 1526 he had written the first treatise on applying mathematics to games of chance, the Liber de ludo aleae (Book on games of chance). Cardano talked Tartaglia into revealing the method of solving the cubic and swore that he would keep the solution a secret. Nevertheless, in 1545 Cardano published it in his Ars magna (Great art), the most famous of Renaissance algebra books. Although Cardano named Tartaglia as one of the discoverers of the solution, Tartaglia was outraged. He retaliated by publishing the text of the oath that Cardano had violated, but today the method is still known as "Cardano's solution." Cardano's Ars magna marked the first significant advance in algebra outside of the Islamic world.

Advances in trigonometry

Significant advances in trigonometry also took place during the Renaissance. The German mathematician Johann Müller of Königsberg (1436–1476), better known as Regiomontanus (the Latin term for Königsberg), conceived a grand plan to translate and print Greek scientific work. Although he died before carrying out the project, he did complete a Latin version of Ptolemy's Almagest. In 1464 Regiomontanus also wrote De triangulis omnimodis (On triangles of all kinds), which drew on the work of Ptolemy and on Islamic plane and spherical trigonometry. (Plane geometry deals with straight lines and two-dimensional figures on flat surfaces. Spherical trigonometry, also called spherical geometry, deals with complex components of curves in multidimensional space.) De triangulis omnimodis was the first extensive European work on trigonometry. When the Polish astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus (see "Astronomy" section previously in this chapter) proposed the idea that Earth revolves around the Sun, he needed to use trigonometry to work out the details of his theory. Copernicus relied not only on the theories of Islamic mathematicians but also on Georg Joachim Rheticus, who was familiar with Regiomontanus's theories. Rheticus published an even more extensive treatise on trigonometry, which featured elaborate tables of all six trigonometric functions.

Meanwhile, the French mathematician François Viète (1540–1603) was drawing from his knowledge of Islamic and Greek mathematics to develop multi-angle formulas for trigonometry. He used them to solve algebraic equations. Viète's work helped broaden the scope of algebra and trigonometry, bringing together these two branches of mathematics, which had previously been separate.

Geometry and art

Many Renaissance artists used geometry to give the viewer the visual sense of three dimensions (a technique called perspective). Most notable were the Italian painter Piero della Francesca (c. 1412–1492) and the German painter Albrecht Dürer (1471–1528). Piero wrote De prospectiva pingendi (On perspective in painting), the first mathematical study on the use of perspective in painting. By constructing one point at a time, he showed how to depict objects in three dimensions on a flat surface. Even though De prospectiva pingendi was not printed, it influenced later theories on the geometry of perspective. In 1525 Dürer wrote Underwey-sung der Messung (Treatise on measurement), the first text on geometry written in German. Dürer is sometimes considered the inventor of descriptive geometry because he showed how to project three-dimensional curves onto two perpendicular planes. The methods of projection developed in the Renaissance helped direct attention to many of the key ideas of projective geometry, a subject initiated in the seventeenth century by the French mathematicians Gérard Desargues (1591–1661) and Blaise Pascal (1623–1662).

Rapid calculation

Trigonometric functions often needed to be multiplied or divided, but it is much harder to multiply or divide numbers that have many digits than it is to add or subtract them. The Scottish mathematician John Napier (1550–1617) resolved this problem by developing a system of numbers called "logarithms." Napier explained his system with points that move on two lines of numbers. One point moves according to arithmetic numbers of increasing value. The other moves according to decreasing geometric values. He used this idea to calculate a table of logarithms, which he published in Mirifici logarithmorum canonis descriptio (Description of the marvelous table of logarithms) in 1614. It was translated into English in 1616 by the British navigator Edward Wright (1558–1615). Logarithms soon became widely used, especially in the simplified base-10 arithmetic devised by Henry Briggs (1561–1639). Furthermore, the development of the slide rule—basically a kind of "computer" that multiplies numbers by adding their logarithms—put fast calculation within the reach of people who worked with large numbers every day (see "Scientific instruments" section later in this chapter).

Napier Develops Logarithms

In the sixteenth century the Scottish mathematician John Napier developed a method of simplifying the process of multiplication and division, using exponents of10. (Exponents are symbols written to the right of and above a mathematical expression to indicate the number by which it is to be multiplied by itself.) Napier called these exponents "logarithms," commonly abbreviated as "logs." Using this system, multiplication is reduced to addition and division is reduced to subtraction. For example, the log of 100 (102) is 2. The log of 1000 (103) is 3. The multiplication of 100 by 1000, or 100 x 1000 = 100,000, can be accomplished by adding their logs—in other words, log [(100)(1000)] = log (100) + log (1000) = 2 + 3 = 5 = log (100,000). Napier published his methodology in Description of the marvelous table of logarithms in 1614. In 1617 he published a method for using a device, made up of a series of rods in a frame that is marked with the digits 1 through 9, to multiply and divide using the principles of logarithms. This device was commonly called "Napier's bones" or "Napier's rods."

Another influential writer on calculation was Simon Stevin (1548–1620), an engineer, mathematician, and physicist from Bruges, Belgium. In 1585 Stevin wrote De thiende (The tenth) on decimal fractions. A decimal fraction is a fraction, or mixed number, in which the denominator (the part of the number below the line in a fraction) is a power of 10, indicated with a dot called a decimal point. Although decimal fractions had been developed earlier in the Islamic world, they were commonly used in Europe only after Stevin published his work. If one uses decimals, said Stevin, arithmetic can be performed with fractions just the way it is with whole numbers.


The love of all things Greek and Roman that characterized much Renaissance culture also profoundly affected medicine. By re-creating pure ancient medicine, scholars wanted to reform current knowledge and improve medical practice. Greek texts especially were seen as possessing the purest wisdom. At the beginning of the sixteenth century the translation and editing of classical texts was centered in Italy, then Paris led the way after the 1530s. Humanists focused on the two main sources of classical medical knowledge. The first was the Hippocratic works, which were composed by a variety of writers between 420 and 350 b.c. The second was the works of Galen, who created a comprehensive medical system that combined ancient medicine and philosophy with his own research. Between 1500 and 1600, around 590 separate editions of Galen texts were published. In 1525 the Aldine Press in Venice, Italy, published the complete works of Galen in Greek. The result of this activity was to clear up ambiguities in medical terminology and to substitute classical terms for Arabic words. Just as in religion, reform of medicine meant going back to the original Greek sources and discarding changes and additions that had been made during the Middle Ages.

The four humors

The Hippocratic treatises developed the humoral theory of health and illness, which was refined by Galen. Learned physicians of the Renaissance followed Galen's theory. According to Galen, the body is made up of four humors: blood, phlegm (mucus), yellow bile, and black bile. These humors reflected the four elements of the world—air, water, fire, and earth—that were identified by Aristotle. They were the product of hot, cold, dry, and wet, which Aristotle defined as the basic constituents of the world. The microcosm (little world) of the body was therefore linked to the macrocosm (world at large) and also to the seasons. Galen introduced the concept that each person has a temperament, or mix of humors, in which one humor is dominant. The dominant humor determined whether that person's physical and psychological nature would be sanguine (cheerful; relating to blood), phlegmatic (slow; relating to phlegm), melancholic (sad; relating to black bile), or choleric (angry; relating to yellow bile).

The temperament of the individual was supposed to be taken into account when devising rules for living healthily. Phlegmatic patients, for example, should avoid watery foods and eat dry and hot ingredients. Illnesses were also categorized in terms of humors. Medical treatment was based on the idea that opposites cure opposites, so that a cold illness was cured by a hot remedy. Until the early 1600s the determination of the degree of hot, cold, wet, and dry in a patient was usually based only on a physician's opinion. Then in 1612 Santorio Santorio (1561–1636), a professor of the theory of medicine at the University of Padua, invented a thermometer for measuring body temperature (see "Scientific instruments" section later in this chapter).

Anatomy of Melancholy

Renaissance physicians relied on Galen's concept that each person has a temperament, or mix of humors, in which one humor is dominant. The dominant humor determined whether that person's physical and psychological nature would be phlegmatic, melancholic, sanguine, or choleric. The melancholic humor, or melancholy, was of special interest at the time. The English scholar and writer Robert Burton (1577–1640) wrote an entire work, The Anatomy of Melancholy, on the subject.

First published in 1621, The Anatomy of Melancholy eventually went through five editions by 1651. While some Renaissance writers and artists exalted melancholy as the affliction of gifted people, Burton saw it as a debilitating condition to which everyone was vulnerable. The Anatomy of Melancholy is divided into three parts. The first examines the causes and symptoms of melancholy, the second describes possible cures, and the third analyzes the two important types—those associated with love and with religion. Famous sections of the work include the "Digression on the Misery of Scholars" and the "Digression of Air." In "Digression of Air" Burton takes an imaginary flight through the heavens and gives often contradictory explanations for events on Earth and in the cosmos.

Burton devoted his life to the study of melancholy. The inscription on his tomb at Christ Church College, where he pursued his lifelong study of melancholy, states that melancholy gave him both his life and his death. This has caused some scholars to wonder if he committed suicide, but there is no evidence to support the theory.

Humors determine treatments

The body was viewed as being interconnected by means of arteries, veins, and nerves. Humors could clog up these passages and cause disease. Putrefaction (rotting material) was an especially potent source of disease, whether located in the intestines, stomach, lungs, brain, or blood vessels. Highly communicable, or infectious, diseases like the plague and syphilis (a disease of the genital organs; see "Syphilis" section later in this chapter) were often seen as being caused by a contagious poison. Disease was thought to be able to travel from one part of the body to another. Headache, for instance, was sometimes viewed as resulting from smoky vapors (gases) that started in the stomach and traveled to the brain. Physicians used many methods to expel disease-producing humors from the body. Among them were bleeding, purging (evacuating the bowels), sweating, cupping (drawing blood to the surface of the body with a heated glass), vomiting, and blistering (placing extreme heat on the skin to create blisters, which were then drained). Physicians routinely used bleeding and purging to cure any illness.

This view of the body was also common among surgeons, who operated on broken limbs and treated wounds. In addition, they treated cancers and skin conditions, including syphilis. Like physicians, they saw the day-to-day progress of their patients in terms of the four humors and they used the same procedures. This technique was especially the case with surgeons who studied the medical and surgical texts of the Greeks, which were translated into the vernacular (language spoken in a particular region). In 1569 the French surgeon Jacques Daléchamps (1513–1588) brought together ancient learning in Chirurgie françoise (French surgery). Ambroise Paré (1510—1590), who wrote in French, was the most distinguished surgeon of the sixteenth century. He gained status through royal patronage and had immense knowledge of classical medicine. He made several innovations such as using salves (ointment) rather than boiling oil on gunshot wounds.

Trained physicians also gave advice on ways to prevent or treat illness in daily life. This advice was usually based on Galen's concept of "six nonnaturals": food and drink; air; sleep and waking; evacuation and repletion; motion and rest; and the passions of the soul or the emotions. A number of works on health were popular throughout the Renaissance. Among them were Regimen sanitatis Salernitanum (Guide to health) from the thirteenth century, Castel of Health (1536) by English scholar Thomas Elyot (c. 1490–1546), and Trattato de la vita sobria (Treatise on the temperament of life; 1558) by Italian nobleman Luigi Carnaro (1500–1558).

Herbal remedies developed

Since classical times, plants (their leaves, stalks, flowers, roots, and seeds), as well as animals and minerals, had been used to cure disease. Herbal (plant) remedies were of two types, simple and compound. Simples consisted of one ingredient, while compounds could involve a large number of ingredients. Advice on using herbal remedies could be found in classical texts such as the botanical works of Greek philosopher and naturalist Theophrastus (c. 372–288 b.c.) and On Materia Medica by the Greek physician Dioscorides (a.d. c. 40–c. 90). Galen's medical works also provided information on simples and compounds. Religious justification for herbal remedies was given by the often-quoted passage from Ecclesiastes (a book in the Old Testament of the Bible): "The Lord hath created medicines out of the earth."

During the Renaissance medical students were taught how to recognize plants that could be used as cures. Towns and universities built botanical gardens (gardens for the cultivation, study, and exhibition of special plants), and the holders of newly created chairs (top faculty positions) of medical botany took their students on field trips into the countryside to examine plants. Herbalists (plant specialists) produced large, realistically illustrated books that described northern European and western Mediterranean plants. There were also books on plants in the eastern Mediterranean and in Asia Minor, which had been described by classical writers. Herbalists also searched for the lost drugs of antiquity. Among these drugs was theriac (a treatment for poisons made from at least eighty-one ingredients). In the 1540s many of the drugs could not be found, but by the end of the sixteenth century physicians and pharmacists were confident that they had been recovered. The Italian herbalist Pier Andrea Mattioli (1500–1577) acted as a center for collection of information on the lost drugs. In several editions of Di pedacio Discoride (Commentaries of Dioscorides), he publicized the research of herbalists and travelers in Greece, the Mediterranean islands, and Asia Minor. They rediscovered balsam (an oily substance from many plants), myrrh (gum resin from a tree), petroselinum (a group of herbs including parsley), and other drugs known to the ancients.

Medicines brought from New World

The European view of the world greatly expanded during the Renaissance, looking not only backward to the classical era but also outward to new lands. The voyages of Portuguese explorers in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries brought Africa, India, the East Indies, and even Japan and China into direct contact with Europe. The legendary Spice Islands (the Moluccas) had been discovered in the Pacific in 1512 and 1513 by the Portuguese. The spices and remedies of the East flowed more freely into Europe, and new medicines also traveled west. In 1563 the Portuguese physician and trader Garcia de Orta (c. 1501–1568) publicized some of India's medicines in Coloquios dos simples, e drogas he cousas mediçinais da India (Dialogues about simples and drugs and medical matters from India).

The New World (the European term for North and South America) also provided new medicines, which the Spanish physician Nicolás Monardes popularized in Dos libros, El uno que trata de todas las cosas que traen de nuestras Indias Occidentales (Two books, one which deals with all things that are brought from our West Indies; 1565, 1571, and 1574). Tobacco (a leafy plant cultivated for smoking), sarsaparilla (greenbrier root used for flavoring), sassafras (dried root bark of a laurel tree), and especially guaiac (evergreen tree) wood were welcomed by European physicians and patients, who were always eager for exotic remedies from faraway countries. These new drugs were easily adapted to the humoral system of medicine.

Syphilis: a new European disease

In addition to sharing medicines, Europeans also exchanged diseases with people in the New World. Native Americans suffered the most because they had not previously been exposed to the mix of diseases brought by settlers from the Old World (Europe); consequently they had no immunity, or resistance, to them. In the century after Christopher Columbus landed in the New World in 1492 (see "The age of European exploration," in Chapter 3), epidemics, or widespread outbreaks, of tuberculosis (a disease of the lungs) and infectious diseases such as measles, mumps, influenza, and scarlet fever contributed to the devastation of Native American populations. The only disease Europe reportedly received from the Americas was syphilis, though this fact is still being disputed by historians. Syphilis is a disease of the genital organs that is spread mainly through sexual contact, though it can be transmitted from an infected mother to her fetus. The disease becomes increasingly more serious over three stages, ending with infections of the eyes, bones, liver, heart, and central nervous system. Syphilis was the subject of a poem by Girolamo Fracastro (c. 1478–1553), titled Syphilis sive morbus gallicus (Syphilis, or the French disease; 1530). In the poem Fracastro argued that syphilis and other diseases were spread by "seeds of disease," which produced putrefaction (rotting) in a receptive body.

Syphilis was initially treated with mercury—a silver-colored, poisonous metallic element—but the chemical had severe side effects, such as excessive sweating and saliva and the rotting of bones. These effects were described by Ulrich von Hutten (1488–1523) in De guaici medicina et morbo gallico (On the guaiac remedy and the French disease; 1519). Hutten recommended using resin from the guaiac, an evergreen tree, instead of mercury to treat syphilis. The Spanish had seen Native Americans using guaiac to treat syphilis or yaws, a similar disease, and they made huge profits from importing the wood into Europe. Guaiac proved to be ineffective, however, and mercury came back into use. Eventually the severe form of syphilis changed to a less deadly type, and by the end of the sixteenth century Europeans were asserting that the disease had burned itself out.

Paracelsus brings radical change

In the early sixteenth century, Galen's humoral system was challenged by Paracelsus (also known as Philippus Bombast von Hohenheim; 1493–1541), the German physician and alchemist. Paracelsus and his followers claimed that Earth and human beings were made up of three basic chemicals: salt, sulfur, and mercury. According to their theory, the processes of the body involved chemicals, not humors, so chemicals should be used to treat disease. Although Paracelsus's view was in some respects similar to modern medicine, it had some highly mystical elements. He believed that the microcosm (human body) and macrocosm (larger world) were interconnected, and that events in the heavens could send disease to people. Paracelsus also believed that certain plants were created to cure particular parts of the body. For instance, the walnut could be used to treat brain disorders because a walnut looks like the brain. Similarly, the root of an orchid could cure disorders of the testicles because the root looks like a testicle. For Paracelsus the physician's ability was God-given and could not be taught. He therefore advocated learning from nature and not from books.

Paracelsus's ideas slowly spread after his death, first to the courts of German princes and then to France. The major center in France was the royal court at Montpellier, which was dominated by physicians. In the courts Paracelsus's radical political views were toned down because he had supported German peasants in their rebellions against their rulers (see "Peasants' War" in Chapter 5). Instead, the mystical, chemical aspect of his work was emphasized. In England during the Civil War (a movement to overthrow the monarchy; 1642–1649), reformers hoped to create a new medicine based on Christian principles and Paracelsus's theories. Some writers, like the German physician Gunther von Andernach, however, claimed that theories of Paracelsus and Galen could be combined. By the 1660s, chemistry was increasingly accepted within natural philosophy and medicine. Galen's humoral system was on the decline, but it continued to be practiced into the eighteenth century.

Disease Is God's Punishment

Syphilis linked sexual intercourse, disease, and death together for the first time. Surgeons like William Clowes (1544–1604), the English writer on syphilis, were concerned about preventing the disease. They did not hesitate to condemn prostitutes (people who charge money for sexual intercourse), the poor, and the sexually promiscuous. They also pointed out that the well-to-do respectable classes could acquire it by sitting on contaminated toilets. New diseases like syphilis and the "English sweat" (perhaps influenza) were viewed as part of God's continuing punishment of humans for their sins.


Although numerous changes were taking place in the medical field, anatomy (study of the body) was the real success story of Renaissance medicine. In the Middle Ages anatomy was mainly taught to surgeons, and lecturers in anatomy held a low position. By the middle of the thirteenth century surgeons were conducting autopsies (dissection of a body to determine cause of death) in towns in France, Germany, and Italy. The first systematic human dissection for medical education was carried out in 1316 by Mondino dei Liuzzi in Bologna, Italy. In 1316 he published Anatomia, which helped gain respect for anatomy as a branch of medicine. In the sixteenth century the teaching of anatomy began to change into a more critical, research-oriented activity. Sixteenth-century anatomists also emphasized anatomy's theological and philosophical roles, contending that it demonstrated God's marvelous workmanship in creating the body. The impact of anatomy upon medicine was so great that by the end of the century students at Padua, the center for study of the field, were asserting that anatomy and not philosophy was the foundation of medicine.

Anatomists looked back to ancients such as Galen. He wrote On the Use of the Parts of the Body, among other works, which became widely available with the advent of printing (it was too long to be frequently copied by hand in the Middle Ages). Galen's On Anatomical Procedures was discovered and translated in 1531. These works provided a wealth of information about the functioning of the body and also exemplified Galen's view of anatomical research, which was based on autopsia, or seeing for oneself.

Vesalius revolutionizes anatomy

The most important contributions to the study of human anatomy were made by the Belgian scientist Andreas Vesalius (1514–1564). He was educated in France at Louvain and Paris, which were then the major centers for the study of Galen's theories of medicine. Vesalius gained a reputation as a medical scholar and in 1537 he was appointed a lecturer in anatomy and surgery at the University of Padua in Italy. The following year, after he published six anatomical charts designed for students, Vesalius became critical of Galen's anatomy. He realized that Galen had dissected animals, especially apes, rather than humans. Consequently, all of Galen's observations had to be compared to the actual human body.

Artists Study Anatomy

The emphasis on realism in Renaissance art helped to promote the study of anatomy. Scholars and sculptors urged artists to gain personal knowledge of the structure of the human body, rather than relying on past authorities. By the early sixteenth century the artists Raphael, Albrecht Dürer, and Michelangelo were integrating their knowledge of anatomy into their paintings. The painter Leonardo da Vinci even sought out cadavers (dead bodies used for study purposes) to dissect from the hospital of Santa Maria Nuova in Florence. With increasing naturalism and detail, he depicted parts of the body such as the hand, foot, shoulder, head, and internal organs. Leonardo wrote that pictures could say more than words, and he planned an anatomical atlas of the stages of man from fetus to death. Although he did not complete this work, his attitude was representative of both anatomists and artists: the body had to be drawn from nature, not from books.

In 1543 Vesalius published De humani corporis fabrics (On the structure of the human body). Vesalius contradicted Galen on a number of details. For instance, he established that the liver does not have five lobes as Galen contended, and he determined that the vena cava (large vein in which blood is returned to the right atrium of the heart) does not originate in the liver. Contrary to Galen's view, Vesalius also suggested that mental faculties are not located in particular parts of the ventricles of the brain. However, Vesalius was the first Renaissance anatomist to follow Galen's system of performing a dissection. That is, he began with the bones and proceeded to the muscles, vascular system, nervous system, abdominal organs, and organs of the thorax. He ended with the brain. Although Vesalius and the anatomists who followed him prided themselves on their observational accuracy, they did not challenge Galen's theories of how the body works. Some anatomists, like Gabriele Fallopio (1523–1562) and Caspar Bauhin (1560–1624), sought to surpass Vesalius in creating an even more precise anatomy of the body. Others produced detailed anatomical studies of particular parts of the body. Most significant was the move to studying many animals, including man, in order to create an overall picture of particular organs.

Harvey discovers circulatory system

The last great medical achievement of the period was the discovery of the systematic circulation of blood by the English anatomist William Harvey (1578–1657). He studied at the University of Padua, where he relied upon the past work of his colleagues. Among them was Matteo Realdo Colombo (c. 1516–1559), who used the bodies of dogs to show that blood travels through veins from the pulmonary artery to the lungs. In the lungs blood mixes with air to become arterial blood (blood that flows to the heart). It is then conveyed through the pulmonary vein to the heart. This description of the transit of blood through the lungs replaced Galen's theory that blood moves through invisible pores in the membrane of the heart. But Colombo held that the blood is replaced as it moves through the body, for he believed in Galen's theory about blood. According to Galen, blood—which he thought was made from chyle, a product of digested food, in the liver—is used up by the parts of the body as needed. Colombo also prepared the ground for Harvey by showing that the arteries fill with blood after the heart constricts, acting in systole (rhythmic contraction) and not in diastole (rhythmic expansion) as Galen had thought.

Harvey's notes for the anatomy lectures he gave to the College of Physicians in London, England, indicate that by 1616 he agreed with Colombo. In 1628 Harvey announced his discovery of the circulatory system in Exercitatio anatomica de motu cordis et sanguinis in animalibus (An anatomical exercise concerning the movement of the heart and blood in animals). In this work he established that the heart acts like a muscle when it contracts. He also pointed out flaws in Galen's description of the cardiovascular (heart and veins) system. For instance, Galen incorrectly believed that air and sooty vapors flowed two ways in the pulmonary vein. According to Galen, sooty vapors were the by-product of blood in the left ventricle (chamber) of the heart. Harvey went on to state that blood is not continually produced and used up by the body. Instead, the same blood constantly circulates throughout the body. He calculated the amount of blood that is ejected from the heart in a given time and concluded that the quantity is so great that it has to move in a circle; otherwise, the body would burst.

For this theory Harvey relied on the work of the Italian surgeon Girolamo Fabrici (1537–1619), who discovered the valves of the veins. Fabrici thought the valves were designed to keep the extremities of the body from being flooded with blood. Harvey showed that the valves in the veins actually lead the blood back from the body's extremities to the heart. Although he could not show how the arteries are joined to the veins, Harvey was able to conclude that there is a connection by loosening and tightening a light ligature (string or cord) and observing the flow of blood with a simple magnifying glass. When the ligature was tight the blood was prevented from going down through the artery. When it was moderately tight it allowed blood to travel down the artery and then up along the vein until it was stopped below the ligature. In 1661 the Italian anatomist Marcello Malpighi (1628–1694) used a microscope to discover that arteries are joined to veins by small blood vessels called capillaries.

Geography and cartography

During the Renaissance, Europeans became increasingly interested in understanding their world. Both geography (the study of the features of Earth) and cartography (the study of maps and mapmaking) became more popular and more important in trade, politics, and exploration.


During the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries geography was developing into a field separate from the older study of cosmography. The subject of cosmography was the globe and its relationship with the heavens as a whole. Cosmographers pictured Earth as an inseparable part of the universe, while geography concentrated primarily on Earth itself. Geography developed into three related branches: mathematical, descriptive, and chorographical geography.

Religion Influences Science

Michael Servetus (1511–1553), the Spanish physician and theologian, was among the scientists in the sixteenth century who proposed that blood flows through the pulmonary artery. In his Christianismi restititutio (The restitution of Christianity;1553) he argued that God breathed the divine spirit or soul into the blood. The best place for this to happen is in the lungs, as its area is larger than the left ventricle of the heart. Servetus used his anatomical experience to develop this argument.

In 1553 Servetus was burned as a heretic in Geneva, Switzerland, on orders of the Protestant reformer John Calvin. Most of the copies of Christianismi restititutio were also burned. Servetus's work had no influence upon William Harvey. Nevertheless, it illustrates that anatomists were accepting the pulmonary theory, as well as showing how religion could influence medicine.

Mathematical geography

Mathematical geography had its roots in Geographia, a text written by the Egyptian scientist Ptolemy. Translated into Latin in 1410, Geographia provided many types of information to Renaissance thinkers. It contained mathematical formulas, called projections, that could be used to determine the exact positions of points on Earth. It also gave the size of large portions of Earth's surface, the shape and size of the planet itself, and the variations in Earth's magnetism (electrical force). Renaissance scholars who contributed to this branch of geography included two of the most popular authors of the early sixteenth century, the German geographers Peter Bennewitz (also known as Petrus Apianus; 1495–1552) and Sebastian Münster (1489–1552). Bennewitz's Cosmographia, first published in 1529, contained Ptolemy's method and theory of map projection. It also provided observation charts of longitude (imaginary lines passing through the center of Earth from the North Pole to the South Pole) and latitude (imaginary lines that are parallel to Earth's equator), as well as maps of the world inspired by Ptolemy's work. Münster's popular work, also titled Cosmographia, was published in 1544. It began with Ptolemy's maps of the Old World, and continued with more recent maps of the New World, based on Ptolemy's techniques. In fact, by the mid-sixteenth century, all major geographical treatises began with information from Ptolemy (also see "Cartography" section later in this chapter).

Descriptive geography

Descriptive geography developed separately from mathematical geography. Based on the work of the ancient geographer Strabo of Amaseia (c. 63 b.c. –c. a.d. 20), descriptive geography portrayed the physical and political structures of other lands. It encompassed everything from descriptions of European road conditions to outlandish stories about exotic places. This form of geography helped people establish their own national and local identities apart from those of other European and non-European nations. Descriptive geographers included Giovanni Battista Ramusio (1485–1557) in Italy, José de Acosta (c. 1539–1598) in Spain, Jan Huygen van Linschoten (1563–1611) in the Netherlands, Theodore de Bry (1528–1598) and Johann T. de Bry (1561–c. 1623), and Richard Hakluyt (c. 1552–1616) in England.

Chorographical geography

The final type of geography, chorography, was a combination of the medieval chronicle (account of events in chronological order) and the Italian Renaissance study of descriptions of local places. Chorography was the most wide-ranging branch of geography. It included an interest in genealogy (study of family lines), chronology, and antiquities, as well as local history and topography (study of natural and man-made features of a place). Two famous Renaissance chorographers were Joseph Justus Scaliger (1540–1609) in Italy and William Camden (1551–1623) in England.


Beginning in the fifteenth century cartography underwent a revolutionary transformation as new types of maps were developed through the use of geometry. During the Middle Ages, pictorial representations of Earth were called mappae mundi (maps of the world). They were of various types, but more than half were known as the "T-O" map, which was in the shape of a wheel. On the "T-O" map the Don River, the Nile River, and the Mediterranean Sea formed a "T," which divided the world into three continents. Jerusalem, a city in Israel that is considered holy by many religions, was often featured in the center. At the top, which was considered the east, was pictured an earthly paradise. The "T-O" map was not intended to depict the world as it actually appeared. Instead, it represented God's orderly plan, as well as the relationship between the microcosm of Earth and the macrocosm of the universe.

Geometry applied to maps

The translation of Ptolemy's Geographia began to change the concept of mapping. In this work Ptolemy constructed a geometric grid of longitude and latitude, then established methods for determining the exact location of geographical points on that grid. Renaissance interest in the geometrical representation of the world was the result of a new emphasis on geometry (see "Geometry" section previously in this chapter). In the drive to create a measurable world, the Geographia was extremely important. The book rapidly became popular and was published in Latin six times between 1462 and 1490. The French cartographer Pierre d'Ailly (1350–1420) incorporated Ptolemy's methods and maps into his Comendium Cosmographiae in 1413. The Nürnberg Chronicles, first published in 1493, contained a Ptolemaic map. By the sixteenth century, all cartographers were using Ptolemy's methods.

As maps based on Ptolemy's geometrical grid became increasingly popular with the general public, a separate development was occurring in more practical maps. Sea charts, and especially the portolan maps of Iberian navigators, had long been constructed according to observation of the sea, wind directions, and simple astronomical sightings. These maps were used first to sail on the Mediterranean and later to venture farther around Africa and to the New World. The charts were never published, and they were jealously guarded and shared by navigators. The firsthand knowledge represented in these charts did not find its way onto published maps and globes until the sixteenth century.

Maps popular during Renaissance

Part of the revolution in cartography was the explosion of interest in purchasing maps and globes that occurred during the Renaissance. One of the earliest globes was made by the cartographer Martin Behaim (c. 1459–1506) in Nuremberg, Germany, in 1493. By the mid-1500s many prosperous merchants and noblemen could purchase globes, which were signs of a sophisticated knowledge of the world. Likewise, the atlas—a collection of maps in book form—developed as a completely new form of map ownership and one that achieved huge popularity in the sixteenth century. The geographers who took greatest advantage of this trend were the Flemish cartographers Gerard Mercator (also known as Gerhard Kremer; 1512–1594) and Ortelius (also known as Abraham Oertel; 1527–1598). In 1541 Mercator produced a globe that he claimed was based on objectivity, classical methods, and modern accuracy. In 1569 he developed a new world map with a projection that widened the latitudes of the north and created a sense that the world was dominated by northern Europe and the New World. The first true atlas, Theatrum orbis terrarum (Theater of the world), was published by Ortelius in 1570. It served as a model for all future atlases.

The exploration of the world had a strong influence on the growing interest in geography and cartography. By the end of the seventeenth century, Europeans appreciated the social value of maps and understood the importance of geometry and objectivity. Yet maps also served to increase Europeans' sense of superiority (see "The idea of Europe" in Chapter 1). As they set out to conquer new territories, they usually dismissed maps of other cultures as being "non-objective" and therefore inferior or insignificant. Geography and cartography soon became tools for building future empires.

Scientific instruments

Scientific instruments, or devices used for the study of nature, were perfected throughout the Middle Ages. Renaissance scientists further improved these devices and invented instruments that facilitated new methods of observation and experimentation. Scientific instruments were used for observing, measuring, drawing, calculating, and teaching in various fields of study. The most active fields were astronomy, navigation, land surveying, physics, and medicine.

Astronomy instruments

Basic instruments for astronomy in the early Renaissance were the astrolabe, the quadrant, and the armillary sphere. Scientists later added the astronomical ring, the torquetum, and the equatorium. The astrolabe, a device used to sight the altitude, or distance from the ground, of a heavenly object, was very common and of various types. It was usually made in the form of a small brass disk that could be held in a vertical position on the thumb with a ring. It was known as a planespheric astrolabe because the markings on the disk showed various projections of a planet or star on a plane. Calibrated scales on the instrument then enabled an astronomer to read off the hour or the date in order to make accurate observations. Much rarer was the spherical astrolabe, which used the heavenly body itself as a measuring instrument. Quadrants were basically devices in the shape of a quarter circle that measured angles up to 90 degrees and likewise were used for determining altitudes. As with astrolabes, there were various types of quadrants.

The armillary sphere was a ball-shaped object made of rings. Scientists added various concentric and movable rings to show the supposed orbits of heavenly bodies. A similar but simpler device was the astronomical ring, which consisted of two circles, one representing the equator and the other representing the meridian (a longitudinal line running through the North and South Poles). A third ring, which pivoted on the imaginary Earth's axis, could be used to sight a star and find the angle between the star and the meridian. More complex was the torquetum, or "Turkish instrument." This three-dimensional teaching device could be used to demonstrate angles in different systems of celestial coordinates. The equatorium was a planar, or flat, instrument inscribed with various circles that could be used to find the positions of planets without having to make calculations.

Telescope is greatest advance

An early instrument maker was Jean Fusorius (c. 1355–1436), a canon in Paris, who produced astrolabes, quadrants, "solid" spheres, and an equatorium. Early fifteenth-century craftsmen at Oxford and Cambridge universities in England also made instruments of these types. In Vienna, Austria, the Catholic priest Hans Dorn (c. 1430–1509) was particularly productive and innovative as an instrument maker. In the early sixteenth century Gemma Frisius (1508–1555) and Gerard Mercator had workshops in the Low Countries from which these instruments flowed constantly. At Nuremberg, Germany, Georg Hartmann (1489–1564) produced numerous astrolabes and other devices, in some cases making them in batches from identical molds. In London, English astronomers were similarly supplied by instrument makers Humphrey Cole (c. 1520–1591) and Elias Allen (after 1602–1653).

In the later Renaissance the most important observational astronomers were Bernard Walther (1430–1504) and Tycho Brahe (see "Astronomy" section previously in this chapter). Walther made precise measurements for thirty years. He used a cross staff, an instrument used to measure the altitude of stars, that was nine feet long and graduated in thirteen hundred equal divisions, as well as an armillary sphere three feet in diameter and graduated (marked to indicate intervals) to five minutes of arc (distance a celestial body travels in five minutes). While working at Wittenberg, Germany, in 1589, Brahe constructed a wooden quadrant with a nineteen-foot radius. It had a brass scale graduated to one minute of arc. Later he built an eight-foot equinoctial armillary sphere that read to fifteen seconds of arc (distance a celestial body travels in fifteen seconds), and a mural quadrant that read to ten seconds of arc. In his observatory at Uraniborg, Brahe consistently made angular measurements with an accuracy within one minute of arc. With the data supplied by Brahe's instruments, by 1609 Johannes Kepler (see "Astronomy" section previously in this chapter) was able to detect that the orbit of Mars is elliptical, not circular, as had previously been believed.

The greatest advance, however, came at the end of the Renaissance with the invention of the telescope. This device was first made sometime during 1608 by Zacharias Jansen (1580–c. 1638), an eyeglass maker in the Netherlands. During 1609 the news spread to Thomas Harriot (c. 1560–1621) in England and Galileo in Italy (see "Astronomy" section previously in this chapter). Harriot made the first recorded use of the telescope in July 1609, followed by Galileo later that year. Galileo revolutionized astronomy in 1610 with the publication of the Sidereus nuncius. In this work he gave an account of mountains on the Moon, the moons of Jupiter, and the many stars making up the Milky Way. Galileo's telescope had a small concave (hollowed inward) lens at the end and a single convex (curved outward) lens for its eyepiece. By 1611 Kepler had worked out the optics of the telescope, which were unknown to Galileo, and proposed a superior astronomical instrument that employed concave lenses at both ends.


Astronomical instruments were readily applied in navigation. The cross staff was equipped with sighting vanes (devices showing the direction of the wind) and gave direct readings in degrees. Usually made of wood and about three feet long, the cross staff was used to measure the Sun's midday altitude or the altitude of a star above the horizon. Later models had more than one crosspiece to increase the accuracy of the measurement. When the astrolabe was adapted for use on ships, its center portion was cut away to make it easier to hold in the wind. The mariner's astrolabe was made of metal so it would be more durable. It was usually equipped with an alidade, a device with vanes set close together to facilitate reading under conditions at sea.

The magnetic compass was readily adapted for nautical use. It is an instrument used to determine direction by utilizing the magnetic dipoles, or the attracting force between the two poles—north and south—at the extreme opposite ends of Earth's sphere. The device consists of a magnetic needle mounted on a compass card. The needle turns freely on a pivot and points to the magnetic north. During the Renaissance instrument makers developed a compass in which the compass card itself was pivoted and highly ornamented. The course of the ship was then indicated by the card's position relative to the ship's axis, or center. Speed was measured by a device called a log. It was a weighted rectangular plate attached to a long cord that, when thrown overboard, set itself crosswise and remained that way while the cord unwound. By the end of the sixteenth century, log cords were knotted at regular intervals so that the number of "knots" could be counted. Time was measured at half-minute intervals by a sandglass or log glass. The distance a ship traveled and its position could then be indicated on a peg compass, or "traverse board." The traverse board consisted of a board pierced with holes in which pegs could be inserted every half hour, thus providing a record of the ship's course.

Land surveying

Land surveying (measuring angles and lines on land with the use of geometry and trigonometry) was stimulated by the demand for new charts and maps, by military needs, and by changes in land ownership. Since both surveying and navigation involved the measurement of heights, bearings (position of one point in relation to another point), and distances, there was some similarity of methods. Surveyors and navigators also used some of the same instruments, such as the cross staff. The tendency, however, was toward developing specific instruments for specific purposes. Measuring rods and chains were inherited from the Middle Ages. During the Renaissance, triangulation (the process of finding a point in relation to two other points) became more common and led to the development of new instruments. The Dutch instrument maker Gemma Frisius invented one of the first devices for measuring horizontal angles. This tool was a horizontal circular disk divided into four equal parts, called quadrants, of 90 degrees. At the center was an alidade that pivoted. A small compass was later added.

A further development was the geometrical square, a square-shaped board of wood or metal with a graduated scale running along the two sides opposite the corner where the alidade was located. It was used to measure right angles. A related instrument was the plane table, which was first described in the sixteenth century and quickly came into common use among surveyors. A plane table is an instrument consisting of a drawing board on a tripod (three-legged stand) with a ruler pointed to the object being observed. It was used to plot and measure lines. Surveyors also used hodometers and pedometers (instruments in the form of a watch that record the distance a person travels on foot), also known as way wisers, to provide quick estimates of distances.


Drawing instruments were also improved during the Renaissance. Among them was the camera obscura, a dark chamber with a lens or pinhole through which an image is projected onto an opposite wall. The camera obscura has a long history, but from the fifteenth century onward it was used as an aid by artists. As knowledge of optics increased, the pinhole was replaced by a lens to concentrate the image the camera produced. Dividers and compasses of various types were also produced, including the reduction compass and the proportional compass. The reduction compass was invented around 1554 and consisted of two legs attached at one end by a pivot and fitted with both fixed and adjustable points. It was used to divide straight lines or circles into integral parts and to find the proportions of unequal lines. The proportional compass was a further development proposed in 1568 by the Italian mathematician Federico Commandino (1509–1575). It consisted of two slotted arms with points at each end, held together by a cursor (a movable item used to mark a position) that acted as a pivot. A further improvement was the geometrical and military compass, which Galileo developed between 1595 and 1599. It may be described as the first mechanical mathematical calculator for general use—one that was not restricted to specific tasks. A similar device was invented around the same time by the English mathematician Thomas Hood (after 1582–1598), who called it a sector and described it in a work published in 1598.


Although mathematicians and merchants did most of their mathematical calculations on paper with the aid of handbooks of mathematical problems, the frame counter or abacus also continued to be used. In 1617 John Napier, the discoverer of logarithms (see "Mathematical" section previously in this chapter), invented a calculating aid known as Napier's rods or Napier's bones. This device conveniently arranged the multiplication table to shorten the time of ordinary calculations. It consisted of a series of rods in a frame, marked with the digits 1 through 9, to multiply and divide using the principles of logarithms.


Although Renaissance mathematicians and merchants did most of their mathematical calculations on paper, using handbooks of mathematical problems, the abacus also continued to be used. The abacus grew out of early counting boards, which were boards with hollows holding pebbles or beads used to calculate. It has been dated to around 3500 b.c. in Mesopotamia. The abacus used in the Renaissance consisted of beads that slide on rods; it was developed in China in the fifteenth century. Before the use of decimal numbers, which allowed paper-and-pencil methods of calculation, the abacus was essential for almost all multiplication and division. The abacus is still used in many countries where modern calculators are not available. It also is still used in countries, such as Japan and China, with a long tradition of relying on this instrument.

The next step was the slide rule, a device consisting of a ruler and a movable middle piece, which are marked with graduated logarithm scales. The concept of the slide rule was proposed in 1620 by English mathematician Edmund Gunter (1581–1626), who called it the "logarithmic line of numbers." The first slide rule was made by English mathematician William Oughtred (1575–1660) in 1621. Oughtred did not publish a description of his invention until 1632. In 1630 Richard Delamain (after 1610–1645), Oughtred's former pupil, published a description of a circular slide rule. Oughtred accused Delamain of stealing his idea, but evidence indicates that the two men worked on their inventions independently. Edmund Wingate (1596–1677) was credited with developing the modern straight slide rule, an instrument with a slider that moves on a fixed piece. A variety of specialized slide rules were developed by the end of the seventeenth century for trades such as masonry (brick and stone laying), carpentry, and tax collecting. While the slide rule was popular as a calculating tool for several centuries, it has largely been replaced by the electronic computer.

Precision in reading instruments was greatly improved by the invention of two devices, the nonius and the vernier. Each consists of a short graduated scale that slides along a longer graduated scale and enables one to make fractional divisions in units indicated on the longer scale. The nonius, which had more than thirty subdivisions, was the work of the Portuguese mathematician Pedro Nunes. It was improved by the Bavarian astronomer Christoph Clavius (1537–1612) and became the basis of the vernier, a simpler device that usually had only ten subdivisions to take into account. The vernier was perfected by French mathematician Pierre Vernier (1584–1638) and is still used in the present day.

Physics and medicine

Other instruments of the Renaissance pertained mainly to the physical or natural sciences and to medicine. The microscope was less popular than the telescope, but medical scholars began to use the microscope and to make new discoveries in the middle of the seventeenth century. Historical records indicate that, prior to 1624, Galileo had adapted the telescope to make a compound microscope that would make a fly appear as large as a hen. Galileo also invented or experimented with other instruments, including the pusilogium (a pendulum type of pulse watch), the bilancetta (a small balance used to study fluids), the thermoscopium (in effect a thermometer without a scale), the giovilabio (a paper instrument that could be used to determine the positions of Jupiter's satellites), and an escapement (a device that controls wheelwork) for the pendulum clock.

In the field of magnetism, the English physician William Gilbert (1544–1603) was the major pioneer. Among the instruments with which he experimented was the terrera, or "earthkin," a small spherical magnet that simulated Earth. He also worked with the dipmeter, which measured magnetic dip and which he incorrectly thought could be used to determine latitude. In addition Gilbert developed the versorium, a pivoted needle that could be used for identifying "electrics."

In medicine the foremost instrument maker was the Venetian physician Santorio Santorio. Santorio perfected two devices that had already been anticipated by Galileo. The first was the thermometer, which Santorio equipped with a scale whose extreme points were determined by the temperatures of snow and a candle flame. The second was the pulsimeter, which measured blood pulse (the regular pulses caused by the beating of the heart) by the length of a pendulum whose swing matched the pulse's beat. He also invented a hygrometer for measuring humidity; the trocar, a special syringe for extracting bladder stones; and a bathing bed. Another significant invention was the weighing chair, which enabled Santorio to investigate variations in weight experienced by the human body as a result of ingestion (taking in food and liquids) and excretion (eliminating waste).


Alchemy was an ancient science that focused on changing base metals, such as lead, into silver and gold. Some scholars suggest that it was first practiced in early Egypt, while others believe it originated in the fifth or third century b.c. in China and moved westward. Alchemy often lapsed into mysticism and is no longer considered a science. Nevertheless, it was based on solid chemical knowledge and provided the foundation for the development of modern chemistry.

The alchemy of the Renaissance was based on ancient ideas, which passed from antiquity into the hands of Arab philosophers and scholars such as Geber (also known as Jābir ibn Hayyān; c. 721–c. 851). They drew together various ideas about the interaction of the two qualities of matter—the sulfuric (inflammable) quality and the mercurial (volatile) quality—with the four elements of matter: air, earth, fire, and water. As these ideas entered Christian Europe in the thirteenth century, they were again transformed by the translation of Arabic texts into Latin. Added to these texts were Christian concepts such as transubstantiation, or the belief that bread and wine actually turn into the body and blood of Jesus Christ during communion (a religious rite that commemorates the final meal, or Last Supper, that Christ had with his disciples). In the Middle Ages scholars also developed a complex system to explain alchemy. By the time of the Renaissance, alchemy was a practice that involved both the "life of the mind," associated with education and learning, and the "life of the hands," enjoyed by craftsmen and other members of the lower social classes.

Alchemists help metals "grow"

Renaissance alchemy was based on the idea that metals "grew" in the "womb of the earth." A metal underwent an organic process that was likened to the growth of any other living substance such as a plant or an animal. Metals where thus drawn into the "great chain of being" in which every aspect of the divinely created world was joined to everything else according to God's perfectly ordered scheme. The great chain of being was not only ordered, but it was also hierarchical (arranged according to levels of importance). The kingdom of metals was organized into a sequence that led from the crudest and most immature metals (lead, tin, iron, and copper) to the higher, more nearly perfect metals (mercury, silver, and gold). Through natural life-giving processes, all metals were literally growing and changing in the earth. They reached their peak in the most pure and perfect gold, which did not tarnish, corrode, or otherwise decay.

The art and practice of alchemy was supposed to hasten this natural, organic process. Alchemists argued that if the womb of Earth could serve as a vessel for the transformation of lead into gold, then a glass vessel containing lead could be subjected to heat and then led through the same growth process. Other metals and chemicals were added to speed the process further and facilitate a successful outcome. Alchemists worked over hot charcoal fires for weeks (and often years) as they attempted to nurture the metals into higher and higher levels of perfection. When substances were added to the glass vessels the process was often described as "feeding." The substances in the vessels were then reduced through distillation (evaporation and condensation) and fed once more. This process often caused spectacular changes in the color of the substances. Alchemists believed that the changes in color reflected important transformations in the metals, so they carefully noted these changes.

The work of alchemy was risky, however. All too often the charcoal fires would burn too hot and the glass vessels would explode, spilling the contents onto the fire and releasing poisonous fumes. Alchemists who spent weeks tending the fires would often have singed eyebrows and eyelashes. Because there were no tests to determine the purity of metals, alchemists often unwittingly put toxic substances into their vessels. The free use of sulfur and mercury also endangered the health of the alchemists, who absorbed these substances through the skin. They sometimes even ate or drank the results of their experiments to determine what metals were present.

Quest for philosopher's stone

For many alchemists the goal of this painstaking and dangerous work was gold and the lure of an unlimited supply of riches. For others, however, the goal was not gold but an elusive substance called the philosopher's stone. The philosopher's stone could supposedly be produced by subjecting alchemically purified metals to more refined processes. The stone would be an all-purpose medicine capable of both "healing" sick or imperfect metals and curing sick and imperfect human bodies. Some alchemists believed that the stone could make human beings immortal (live forever), redeeming their earthly bodies and transforming them into a spiritual and divine body. During the Renaissance alchemists interested in pursuing this more philosophical and metaphysical branch of alchemy kept their ideas and techniques as secret as possible. Although alchemists shared their texts on the philosopher's stone, they kept the contents cloaked in obscure symbolism. This technique was a way to contain full knowledge of the art within a tight-knit circle of al-chemists and their apprentices (those who learn a craft from a master).

In the sixteenth century, many social changes began to threaten these well-guarded secrets. For instance, higher levels of literacy (the ability to read and write), along with a dramatic rise in the publication of books, made knowledge more available to the general public. As increasing numbers of popular alchemists went to fairs and markets, charlatans (those who engage in fraud) were investigated and imprisoned by state and local officials. In addition, the German alchemist and natural philosopher Paracelsus (see "Medicine" section previously in this chapter) introduced a new principle (salt, or the fixed principle) into alchemy for the first time in centuries. He challenged the ancient sulfur-mercury theory of metallic generation and transformation. Paracelsus's work was enormously influential in the sixteenth century. Alchemists, physicians, and apothecaries (pharmacists) began to experiment with his theories and with a considerable body of chemical medicines attributed to him.

Monarchs hire alchemists

Despite the increase in the number of charlatans, alchemy retained its connections to royalty during the Renaissance. Many members of the nobility throughout Europe maintained alchemical laboratories and hired their own alchemists. The Medici family of Florence was interested in alchemy, as were Queen Elizabeth I of England (1533–1603; ruled 1558–1603) and King James I of England (1566–1625; ruled 1603–25). The leader most associated with alchemy, however, was Holy Roman Emperor Rudolf II (1552–1612; ruled 1576–1612). His court at Prague, Bohemia (now the Czech Republic), served as an intellectual center for many European alchemists in the sixteenth century. In addition to Paracelsus, many al-chemists made significant contributions to understanding the structure of matter. Basil Valentine (born 1394) was a medieval author whose works were recovered and published during the Renaissance. Also important were Leonhard Thrumeysser (1531–1596), Andreas Libavius (c. 1560–1616), and Michael Sedzimir (also known as Sendigovius; 1566–1636). Robert Fludd (1574–1637) kept alchemical ideas alive in England well into the seventeenth century.


Astrology is another field that was considered a science during the early Renaissance period but has since been widely discredited. Closely related to astronomy, astrology is the study of how events on Earth are influenced by the positions and movements of the Sun, Moon, planets, and stars. Astrologers believe that the position of heavenly bodies at the exact moment of a person's birth reflect his or her character. Later movements of heavenly bodies determine that person's destiny.


Astrology enjoyed considerable popularity during the Renaissance. Monarchs and noblemen had astrologers create charts called horoscopes, which mapped the position of astronomical bodies at certain times and were used to predict future events. Although astrology eventually fell out of favor because of new theories of the universe, it remains popular even today. Most newspapers and magazines feature horoscope sections that are avidly consulted by readers.

A horoscope is a diagram in the shape of a circle, called the ecliptic, which represents Earth's orbit in its annual rotation around the Sun. The ecliptic is divided into twelve sections known as the signs of the Zodiac, and each sign is associated with a set of human characteristics. The twelve signs are Aries, Taurus, Gemini, Cancer, Leo, Virgo, Libra, Scorpio, Sagittarius, Capricorn, Aquarius, and Pisces. Each planet, including the Sun and the Moon, is associated with basic human drives. The ecliptic is also divided into twelve houses corresponding to the twenty-four-hour period during which Earth rotates once on its axis. Each house is related to certain aspects of a person's life.

In casting a horoscope, an astrologer chooses a date in the future and then assigns each planet a particular sign according to where the planet appears on the ecliptic for that time. The astrologer then makes a prediction about events that will take place by interpreting the position of the planets within the signs and the houses. Astrologers also give a person a certain sign, such as an Aquarius or a Taurus, according to the sign occupied by the Sun at the time of the person's birth. It is called the person's Sun sign.

Historians estimate that the earliest known form of astrology was practiced by the Chaldeans, who lived in Babylonia (now Iraq), in 3000 b.c. Astrology was also part of ancient cultures in China and India, and evidence of astrological practices has been found in Maya ruins in Central America. Astrology reached Greece by the fifth century b.c., and philosophers such as Pythagoras and Plato incorporated it into their study of religion and astronomy. Astrology was popular in Europe throughout the Middle Ages, though it had been condemned by church leaders since the early days of Christianity. The reason for the church's dislike was because astrologers relied on readings of the positions of planets and stars, rather than on the Bible, to interpret and predict human events. Astrology also originated in the East, which was considered a heathen culture. Like alchemy, astrology eventually fell out of favor when Copernicus, Kepler, Galileo, and other scientists discovered new facts about Earth and the universe. Nevertheless, astrology enjoyed considerable popularity during the Renaissance. Monarchs and noblemen had astrologers create charts called horoscopes, which mapped the position of astronomical bodies at certain times and were used to predict future events. One of the most famous astrologers was Nostradamus (also known as Michel de Notredame; 1503–1566), whose prophesies attracted the attention of the French king Henry II (1519–1559; ruled 1547–59) and his wife, Catherine de Médicis (1519–1589).

Nostradamus is famous doctor

Nostradamus was born in Provence, a region in southern France. His family was of Jewish heritage but they had converted to Catholicism during a period of religious intolerance. Jews were always outsiders in western Europe, and over the centuries many were forced to convert to Catholicism. Both of Nostradamus's grandfathers were esteemed scholars. One was a physician, and Nostradamus studied classical languages with the other. At the age of fourteen Nostradamus left home to study in Avignon, the ecclesiastical (Roman Catholic Church) and academic center of Provence. In class, he sometimes voiced opposition to the teachings of the Catholic priests, who dismissed the study of astrology and the theories of the astronomer Nicolas Copernicus. Copernicus had recently gained fame with his theory that Earth and other planets revolved around the Sun—contrary to the Christian beliefs about the heavens (see "Astronomy" section previously in this chapter). Nostradamus's family warned him to hold his tongue, since he could be easily singled out for persecution because of his Jewish background in the anti-Jewish society of France. Earlier, from his grandfathers he had secretly become acquainted with some mystical areas of Jewish wisdom, including the Kabbalah (a Jewish body of knowledge studying divinity, creation, and many other subjects) and alchemy (see "Alchemy" section previously in this chapter).

In 1525 Nostradamus graduated from the University of Montpellier, where he had studied both medicine and astrology. During the first several years of his career as a doctor he traveled to towns and villages where people were dying of the bubonic plague (see "Black Death" in Chapter 1). Called "Le Charbon" (charcoal) because of the festering black sores it left on victims' bodies, the deadly epidemic had no cure. Doctors commonly "bled" their patients, and knew nothing of how to prevent further infection. They did not realize that unsanitary conditions contributed to the spread of the disease. Nostradamus would prescribe fresh air and water, a low-fat diet, and new bedding for the afflicted. He often administered an herbal remedy made from rosehips, later discovered to be rich in vitamin C. Entire towns recovered with these herbal remedies, which were common at the time, but Nostradamus's beliefs about infection control could have resulted in charges of heresy (violation of the laws of God and the Catholic Church) and death.

Begins foretelling future

Word of Nostradamus's healing powers made him a celebrated figure in Provence. He wrote a book listing the doctors and pharmacists he had met in southern Europe, translated anatomical texts, developed recipes for gourmet foods, and received his doctorate from Montpellier in 1529. He also taught at the university for three years, but he left when his radical ideas about disease were censured. He chose a wife from among the many offered to him by wealthy and connected families and settled in the town of Agen. Then the plague killed his wife and two young children. Because the famed physician could not save his own family, citizens suddenly looked upon him with scorn. His in-laws sued for the return of the dowry given to him. His patron, a scholar and philosopher named Julius Caesar Scaliger (1484–1558), also broke ties with him. A chance remark Nostradamus had once made about a statue of the Virgin Mary (mother of Jesus Christ) landed him in court defending himself against charges of heresy. He fled the area when told he was to appear before the feared Inquisition, a church court set up to search out and punish heretics (see "Popes implement Roman Inquisition" in Chapter 7).

For the next several years Nostradamus traveled through southern Europe. Some modern scholars have suggested that this difficult period probably awakened his powers of clairvoyance (ability to predict the future). By 1544 torrential rains were bringing more disaster to southern France, which had already been devastated by the plague. Nostradamus appeared in Marseilles and then in Aix, where he managed to halt the spread of disease and was again celebrated for his skills. Moving to the town of Salon, he set up a medical practice, remarried, and began a new family. Although he was outwardly a practicing Catholic, he secretly spent the night hours in his study meditating over a brass bowl filled with water, a practice that would have caused suspicion among guardians of the Catholic faith. The meditation would put him into a trance. Scholars theorize that he may have used herbs to achieve such a state. In these trances Nostradamus would, according to his writings, have visions about events that were to happen during the coming year.

Predicts king's death

Nostradamus wrote down his visions, and in 1550 he began publishing them in almanacs, which appeared annually for the next fifteen years. In the almanacs Nostradamus described astrological phases for the next year and he offered hints of upcoming events in rhymed four-line verses called quatrains. The almanacs became immensely popular, and soon Nostradamus was even more famous in France. By now his visions were such an integral part of his scholarship that he decided to compile them into one massive book for posterity. He would call this book Centuries. Each of the ten planned volumes would contain one hundred predictions in quatrain form, and the next two thousand years of humanity would be forecasted.

Nostradamus began working on Centuries in 1554. The first seven volumes were published in Lyon the following year. Although he completed volumes eight through ten by 1558, he would not allow them to be published until after his death. Yet the reception of the initial works made Nostradamus a celebrated figure. His writings attracted the interest of France's royal family. In 1556 he was invited to the Paris court of King Henry II and Queen Catherine de Médicis. Catherine belonged to the powerful Médici family of Florence, Italy, who were known for their political ambitions. The queen hoped that Nostradamus could give her guidance regarding the futures of her seven children. Nostradamus had also been summoned to explain Quatrain Thirty-Five of the first volume of Centuries, which apparently referred to Henry. It read: "The young lion will overcome the older one / On the field of combat in single battle / He will pierce his eyes through a golden cage / Two wounds made one, then he dies a cruel death."

Nostradamus told the king to avoid any ceremonial jousting during his forty-first year (1559), a warning that had also been given by Henry's own astrologer. Nostradamus spent the next three years sheltered in the luxury of the royal court. He drew up astrology charts for four of the royal couple's sons and predicted that they would all become kings. Then Nostradamus received word that Catholic authorities were again becoming suspicious of his foretelling and were about to investigate him. He returned to his wife and children in Salon. Finishing volumes eight through ten of Centuries, he began work on two additional volumes. On June 28, 1559—in his forty-first year—King Henry was injured in a jousting tournament celebrating two marriages in his family. With thousands watching, his opponent's lance penetrated the visor of his helmet and lodged in his brain. The blinded king died ten days later.

Remains popular today

Already a celebrity in France, Nostradamus became a figure inspiring both awe and fright among the populace. His other prophecies regarding France's royal line were consulted, and most seemed to predict only death and tragedy. Catherine de Médicis visited Nostradamus in Salon during her royal tour of 1564, and he again told her that all four of her sons would become kings. Yet the children came to equally dismal ends: one son became king of Poland, but was murdered by a priest; another died before carrying out a plot to kill another brother; two others died young as well; the three daughters also met tragic fates. The family's House of Valois came to an end with the death of one of the daughters, Queen Margaret (1553–1615), wife of King Henry IV (Henry of Navarre; 1553–1610; ruled 1572–89).

Nostradamus himself died in 1566, after many years of suffering from gout, a disease characterized by painful swelling of the joints. Naturally, he predicted his own end, though records show that he was off by a year. Many translations of his Centuries and treatises on their significance appeared in the generations following his death. For two centuries the Vatican (office of the pope) issued the Index of Prohibited Books, a list of forbidden publications (see "Popes implement Roman Inquisition" in Chapter 7). Centuries was always on the list. Centuries remains popular to the present day, and interpreters claim Nostradamus predicted many important twentieth-century events. For instance, he reportedly warned that the German Nazi leader Adolf Hitler (1889–1945) would rise to power in the 1930s. Another of Nostradamus's supposed predictions was the explosion of the U.S. space shuttle Challenger in 1986.


views updated May 21 2018


The nineteenth century was the great age of science: within just two generations, science was consolidated as a profession, having anchored itself in the industrializing urban centers of Europe and America and spread to connect the globe's farthest reaches into a single unified structure of knowledge. Paradoxically, however, the more nineteenth-century science aspired to unity, the more it proliferated in specialties, as the reach of global exploration and laboratory experimentation opened new questions and whole new fields of inquiry. The newly emerging knowledge changed the very character of the universe: intellectuals active in mid-century had been born in a closed and balanced universe governed by Newtonian mechanical principles. The self-evident design of nature had pointed directly to nature's designer, God, and the study of nature was warranted as a path to understand humankind's place in a universe where natural and moral truth had the same divine source. In the span of a single lifetime, this harmonious picture was strained by astronomy's discovery of deep space and by geology's growing insight into deep time, both difficult to reconcile with Genesis. Once the implications of Charles Darwin's (1809–1882) theory of evolution had been widely absorbed, the sciences that a generation before had helped to explicate religion were instead superseding it, and their once cozy relationship had fallen apart. At the same time, the comfortable assumption that science formed part of a single, coherent intellectual culture was also coming apart. Early in the century, science seemed accessible to all. Public figures such as Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson had moved easily across the boundaries dividing science from general literate culture, and education in basic science was deemed essential to a democratic citizenry. By 1870 science had become fully professionalized. Its practitioners needed special training, and its institutions denied access to nonspecialists, leading to tension over the role such an elite enterprise should play in a democratic society.


The great unifying force in nineteenth-century American science was geography, the exploration of new landscapes that in turn opened new worlds of knowledge, from the Lewis and Clark expedition of 1803–1806 to the mid-century's exploring expeditions to the Far West and beyond. "Geography" then had not yet acquired the far more limited meaning of the early twenty-first century: as seen in Cosmos, Alexander von Humboldt's (1769–1859) popular work in physical geography (published in English in 1850), it encompassed astronomy, geology, natural history, geophysics, meteorology, and anthropology in a grand synthesis that sought a total physical description of the earth as a planetary body. American science in this period is often accused of being practical or even utilitarian, excluding pure research, and of being strictly empirical or Baconian, compelled to gather ever more facts and to refuse hypotheses in a naive belief that the facts alone would add up to truth. Such terms only make sense if projected back from the twentieth century, when science was dominated by theoretical research in chemistry and physics. These fields were nascent in the nineteenth-century United States, but the high cost of equipment and limited access to the necessary training meant that the leading work in such fields was still performed in Europe. By contrast, the leading edge of American science was spatial and temporal, as an avalanche of new data forced a broad-based restructuring of knowledge, from a static, balanced, and closed Newtonian universe to a universe that was dynamic, developmental, and organic. In short, science—particularly American science—was not opposed to but was part of the global movement called Romanticism.

In the early 1800s, Americans could claim only a handful of men—perhaps twenty in all—who made their living in science. The only way to make science pay was to teach it, and the only full-time science positions were in medical colleges. Hence medicine was the only realistic career path for a young man interested in science. By 1870 the institutional structures of science had taken shape, and science was a paying profession open to middle-class men (and a few women). Even the very word "scientist," coined in 1833 by William Whewell, had come into common usage with the emergence of a distinct class of scientific workers all taking part in a collective, organized enterprise.


A number of institutions had to take shape if a community of scientists was to be created and supported. First, they needed to be able to find each other. There were scientists in frontier towns and far-flung territories, but until transportation and communication networks improved, their lives were lonely and their interests hard to sustain. By contrast, scientists in urban centers were able to found small scientific societies. In villages these might be little more than local gatherings of a handful of amateur enthusiasts, but cities could multiply the points of contact to create an information center: arranging meetings; housing books, scientific apparatus, and natural history collections; sponsoring lectures and publications; raising money from civic-minded citizens for more ambitious projects. Such groups were open to—even dependent on—amateurs, hence they tended to be egalitarian and democratic, in contrast to exclusive organizations such as Philadelphia's American Philosophical Society. For example, Henry David Thoreau's (1817–1862) interest in natural history led him to join one such group founded in 1830, the Boston Society of Natural History; Thoreau traveled often to the society's rooms to borrow books and chat with fellow members.

Whereas Thoreau's Concord was an easy train ride from Boston, scientists without such easy access to cities had to create their own societies. In 1840 several geologists from rural areas across the Northeast and Midwest met in Philadelphia to form the Association of American Geologists, with annual meetings that floated from city to city; soon they expanded their membership base to include natural historians, and in 1848 they flung the doors open to become a national science society, the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS, modeled on the British equivalent, the BAAS). An early membership drive tried to net Thoreau, who declined their offer on the basis that he could not attend their meetings (while fulminating in his journal that they would not understand the kind of science he was interested in pursuing), thus turning down the opportunity to participate in a new phenomenon, the nationalization of American science.

A handful of scientific societies attempted to publish transactions of their meetings, an expensive process that met with limited success. What was needed was a truly national journal that could connect all American scientists with each other and communicate American science to the rest of the world. This was the achievement of Benjamin Silliman (1779–1864), who in 1818 founded the American Journal of Science and Arts. "Silliman's Journal," as it was called, probably did more than any other single factor to found and sustain a national community of American scientists and bring American science to the attention of Europe, pointing to the essential role of writing in creating and communicating what would come to be accepted as scientific knowledge.

If science were to grow as an information system, it had to find a place in American colleges. The standard curriculum already included a certain amount of science: natural philosophy or physics, astronomy, often some natural history, all within the overarching rubric of natural theology, the study of the grand design of nature insofar as it proved the existence and attributes of God. Separate schools of science began to emerge at mid-century: in 1847 a grant by the cotton manufacturer Abbott Lawrence funded the formation of Harvard's Lawrence Scientific School, which scored a tremendous coup by hiring Louis Agassiz (1807–1873), the Swiss zoologist who came to give a few lectures and stayed to reshape American science into a profession on the European model. Other science schools followed (New York's Cooper Union in 1858, the Sheffield Scientific School at Yale in 1861), and science increasingly found its way into the general university curriculum, opening new teaching jobs for young scientists. Once they attained a firm institutional base, professors of science could establish massive research collections, such as the herbarium established by the botanist Asa Gray (1810–1888) at Harvard or Louis Agassiz's Museum of Comparative Zoology. Nor were museums restricted to higher education: the lack of a national repository for natural history specimens was addressed in 1858, when the new Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., accepted the collections gathered by the federally funded Wilkes expedition of 1838–1842. Another kind of opportunity arose in 1864 with the burning of New York's natural history collection (which had included the ornithologist and artist John James Audubon's birds). This national tragedy led to a fund-raising campaign and the founding of the new public American Museum of Natural History—housed in a fireproof building. Astronomical observations also needed to be made, collected, and housed: in 1836 Williams College established America's first observatory, and by 1860 America could claim eight first-class observatories and at least twenty more with good-quality instruments.

This tremendous growth in science was funded in part by higher education, as professors built academic bases for science. Government support played a huge role at both state and federal levels: starting in the 1830s, numerous states conducted surveys of geological and other natural resources, employing a whole cadre of young scientists; by 1860 twenty-nine of the thirty-three states had sponsored surveys. Starting with Meriwether Lewis (1774–1809) and William Clark (1770–1838), the federal government poured its resources into exploring expeditions, such as the force sent out in 1838 under the command of Charles Wilkes (1798–1877) to survey the Pacific Ocean and its coasts and investigate geology, natural history, and anthropology; and the expeditions led by Charles Frémont and William H. Emory in the 1840s to map and survey the unknown territories west of the Mississippi. One historian estimates that a third of antebellum American scientists were on the government payroll and another that up to one-third of the American government's total income was invested in funding explorations. Finally, private industry employed a growing number of scientists to turn knowledge into practical products, and private philanthropy turned American businessmen like Abbot Lawrence and wealthy Englishmen like James Smithson into patrons of American science.

Such growth, however funded, would still have been impossible without a parallel growth in networks of transportation and communication. While visiting the United States in 1841, the British geologist Charles Lyell (1797–1875) and his wife Mary had to endure crowded, dirty, and bumpy carriages, long waits for erratic steamboats, even long rides in borrowed canoes. By their return trip in 1852 the Lyells marveled at the speed and ease with which the new railroads whisked them across the same country. Mass distribution of journals and books was impractical until printing costs dropped, and mailing them was ruinously expensive until postal rates dropped too: only when specimens, data, publications, and the scientists themselves could travel easily would science grow exponentially, built as it is on the exchange of ideas and the collection of texts and objects. Nor could science flourish in a democracy without public interest and support. By mid-century popular science books were easily available for sale even in midwestern villages such as Milwaukee, and periodicals and newspapers regularly fed the public appetite for science with popular articles and reports on the latest wonders. Public lectures were the main channels for disseminating information about science: starting in the 1830s, the lyceum movement—in which both Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803–1882) and Thoreau were active—spread rapidly across the United States (in 1839 Horace Mann counted 137 in Massachusetts alone). One historian estimates that about one-fifth of lyceum platform time was given over to scientific subjects. Lecture series could also reach huge numbers of people. Lyell and Agassiz were both induced to come to the United States by the large fees offered by the Lowell Institute lectures, funded in 1837 by a bequest from the industrialist John Lowell. Benjamin Silliman inaugurated the institute in 1839 with a lecture series on geology, and a second on chemistry was so popular the crowds overflowed into the streets. Demand for Agassiz's lecture course was so great that it had to be offered twice, to an estimated audience of five thousand.


The Reverend William Ellery Channing observed in 1841 that science had left its retreats to begin the work of instructing the race: "Through the press, discoveries and theories, once the monopoly of philosophers, have become the property of the multitudes. . . . Science, once the greatest of distinctions, is becoming popular" (quoted in Zochert, p. 448). Yet the very popularity of science pointed to a source of tension: lectures and popular articles could give the public only the most superficial of overviews, and often audiences were entertained more with wonders and marvels than with deeper scientific reasoning. In August 1851 Thoreau grumbled in his journal about a visit to a menagerie at which not a cage was labeled, and instead of some descendent of Baron Georges Cuvier there to lecture on natural history, a ring was formed for "Master Jack & the poney" (Journal 3:351).

Optimistically speaking, perhaps acquaintance with wonders would awaken interest and lead to deeper theoretical understandings, but even then the theoretical frameworks developed by scientists were moving ever farther from widespread public comprehension. For example, the major reform in botanical and zoological classification was the "natural" system, which examined a number of overall relations that could be judged only by someone with specialized training. By contrast, the older Linnaean system had relied on obvious characteristics that could be easily grasped, such as the number of stamens in a flower. Whereas the old system had made botany readily available to a family on an educational outing, the new system turned botany into a specialty suitable only for trained scientists.

Into the breach flowed popularizing texts, such as the botany textbooks by Asa Gray and Almira Phelps, which sought to keep the gap from widening. At mid-century, such texts were often written by the scientists themselves in an effort to enhance public understanding of and support for their work: Alexander von Humboldt, John Herschel, Mary Somerville, Asa Gray, Louis Agassiz, Charles Darwin, and Thomas Henry Huxley, for instance, all wrote books aimed at a wide audience. However, starting in the 1840s popularizers of science moved into the marketplace, offering secondary accounts rather than original science. That such writers could have a powerful impact is suggested by the career of Edward Livingston Youmans (1821–1887), the popular science writer who roomed with Walt Whitman (1819–1892) in the 1840s and to whom Whitman owed much of his understanding of science, particularly electricity and evolution. Thus Youmans's vision of science lives on in Whitman's poetry, long after readers have forgotten its original sources in scientists like Humboldt, Hermann Ludwig Ferdinand von Helmholtz, and Darwin. Popular science writing also opened a career in science to women, who were otherwise excluded: although unable to produce science, women such as Almira Phelps, Sarah Hale (editor of Godey's Lady's Book), Susan Fenimore Cooper, and Elizabeth Cary Agassiz affiliated themselves with science by disseminating it to a wider public, helping science to acquire and maintain its position in the competitive marketplace of democratic America.


The foundational notion that the universe was harmoniously ordered by a designing deity was most obvious if one looked to the heavens. As one popular astronomy text proclaimed, "An undevout astronomer is mad" (Ferguson 1:1–2). American schoolchildren were taught astronomy as part of natural philosophy, making astronomical facts a part of basic education. The craft of practical astronomy was essential to navigation and to explorers of both land and sea, who used celestial observations to plot coordinates and draw accurate maps. Periodically public interest in astronomy was excited by marvels such as comets: the Great Comet of 1843, which confirmed to the millenarian William Miller and his followers that the end of the world was at hand, generated a fad that lasted for the duration of its passage. More sustained interest was generated by John Herschel's (1792–1871) bestselling Treatise on Astronomy (1833), which introduced modern astronomy to America and was responsible for a meteoric rise in its popularity. Herschel's readers were shocked to learn that America had not a single fixed observatory, and in the next three decades Americans built nearly thirty observatories, several of them first-class.

The astronomy boom was encouraged by improved telescope technology and the increasing availability of good instruments. Maria Mitchell became the only woman to achieve recognition in science in this period for her discovery of a comet in 1847 as part of Alexander Ballas Bache's far-flung U.S. Coast Survey. At the other extreme, Thoreau noted with pride in his journal his 1854 purchase of a telescope for eight dollars. When turned to the heavens, the telescopes revealed exciting new insights into the physical structure of the universe: the immensity of deep space, as measured by the newly calculated speed of light; the astonishing variety of celestial objects; a new perspective on earth as itself a planetary body; the intriguing thought that intelligent life might be found on other worlds. Perhaps most exciting of all was the visual evidence for Pierre Laplace's (1749–1827) nebular hypothesis, proposed in 1796 but not popularly known until the 1840. According to Laplace, the earth and other planets had coalesced out of clouds of matter surrounding the sun in a process that for many was the first hint of evolutionary science.


All of these discoveries widened God's universe infinitely, yet none was seen as a threat to religion—even the nebular hypothesis could be embraced as a model for God's primal creation. The same could also be said for geology, which seemed at first to fit comfortably with theology. American geologists were making great advances on European theories of stratigraphy by successfully working out long sequences of geological succession. Yet the discontinuities between formations seemed to point to periods of disruption, even to periodic catastrophes when all life had been wiped out to start anew. The Massachusetts geologist Edward Hitchcock (1793–1864) used such evidence to defend against the view of a mechanistic universe operating by eternal law rather than by God's providence. According to Hitchcock, the geologic record showed that God had repeatedly erased the earth of its creatures and populated it with new life; the biblical account of creation in Genesis recorded only the most recent erasure. By contrast, Benjamin Silliman claimed that Genesis portrayed the whole of creation, for the "days" were really long ages, corresponding to the vast periods of time evident in geological history. The evidence of the rocks clearly showed that creation had occurred not in six days but over untold millennia, and although no geologist questioned this evidence, such differences of opinion pointed to unresolved problems over how to reconcile geology and Genesis. For, as James Hutton had said in the eighteenth century, geology showed "no vestige of a beginning,—no prospect of an end" (Hutton, p. 304). By the 1830s Charles Lyell had updated this view by emphasizing that natural laws operating in the present could explain all the phenomena of the past. Americans geologizing in the West who observed the power of erosion used Lyellian thinking to speculate that it was this force of nature, rather than a destructive God, that caused the breaks in the geological record.


Emerson began reading Lyell in 1826 and immediately saw the evolutionary implications of a universe unfolding according to law across deep time. Thoreau used Lyell to assert that careful observation of the present was the key to understanding the past, an insight he used to deduce the history of the Massachusetts forest and to assert in Walden (1854) that creation had not happened once for all time but was continuous, that humans live in "not a fossil earth, but a living earth" (p. 309). American earth proved indeed to be rich in fossils, such as the enormous mammoth bones unearthed in New York. These deepened the puzzle even more: Thomas Jefferson had believed that Lewis and Clark would surely find mammoths grazing in the West, for the notion that a whole species might go extinct seemed a clear violation of the balance of nature. Meanwhile, German scientists were just beginning to theorize that certain forms of life had become extinct in the past, an idea taken up by Georges Cuvier (1769–1832), who used fossils to characterize entire geological periods. As evidence mounted that life forms were not static but had an immensely long history of development, the problem of how to account for species change became ever more pressing.


Whitman's poem "When I Heard the Learn'd Astronomer" seems to follow the stereotype of the romantic rejection of science, but attendance at the astronomy lecture put Whitman in the large audience for popular science, which included lyceum speakers and lecture series by prominent scientists.

When I hard the learn'd astronomer,
When the proofs, the figures, were ranged in columns before me,
When I was shown the charts and diagrams, to add, divide, and measure them,
When I sitting heard the astronomer where he lectured with much applause in the lecture-room,
How soon unaccountable I became tired and sick,
Till rising and gliding out I wander'd off by myself,
In the mystical moist night-air, and from time to time,
Look'd up in perfect silence at the stars.

Whitman, "When I Heard the Learn'd Astronomer," in Kaplan, ed., Complete Poetry and Collected Prose, pp. 409–410.

The French naturalist Jean-Baptiste Lamarck (1744–1829) offered one theory: individual organisms could create new capabilities, which would then be inherited by their descendants. Lamarck was roundly rejected by British scientists, and Lyell offered a contrasting view of life forms cycling eternally in and out of existence in response to changing climates. The first popular theory of evolution was offered by Robert Chambers (1802–1871) in his best-selling Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation, published anonymously in 1844. According to Vestiges, evolution occurred when a developing embryo developed just a bit more than the usual, so that succeeding generations rose incrementally through the ranks of ever higher and more complex life forms, replaced at the bottom by the spontaneous generation of new life. Scientists attacked Vestiges as both unscientific and ungodly with such ferocity that Darwin shelved his own theory and lived in terror that his colleagues would learn of his own, equally scandalous ideas. Yet the scorn heaped on Vestiges by the scientific community only encouraged popular fascination with evolution, including such enthusiasts as Emerson, who drew on Vestiges to refine his own evolutionary theory of "arrested and progressive development" ( Journals 11:158), and Walt Whitman, whose "Song of Myself" gave to Chambers's abstract evolutionary process poetic expression.

In the years of public controversy over Vestiges, support for evolution was coming from all directions, particularly from American scientists. Comparative morphologists from Cuvier on drew attention to the way both animal and plant forms seemed to converge on certain fundamental patterns or plans. This insight had major implications for classification, as taxono-mists strove to create a "natural" system that would group species by resemblance and structure rather than a few arbitrarily chosen characteristics. Such natural groupings would soon provide Darwin with some of his most compelling evidence. American scientists such as John Torrey and Asa Gray were instrumental in gaining acceptance for the natural system, even as scientific explorers compounded the problem by flooding taxonomists with new species. As the number of new species rose, the very definition of a species came into question, and variations collected from different geographical locations made the once clear boundaries between species increasingly difficult to define. Darwin would use such evidence from American scientists to break down the species concept altogether, suggesting instead that species intergraded continuously and variations were new species just coming into being.

In addition, the geographical scope from which scientific specimens were being collected raised some puzzling problems of distribution. On the one hand, why were certain species suited to, say, a dry climate not found wherever the climate was dry? Instead, regions with similar climates were populated, oddly enough, with different species. On the other hand, why were similar or even the same species found in widely separated locations? In the 1850s, Asa Gray and Louis Agassiz entered into a heated debate over this issue. Agassiz declared that all species had been separately created by God in their present numbers and location, whereas Gray dismissed such a view as unscientific and offered the alternative theory that species had migrated, spreading from one location to others. Thoreau, who knew Agassiz personally and owned Gray's works, followed the debate closely. In June 1858, when he encountered frogs on the "bare rocky top" of Mount Monadnock, he wondered how they had got there: Could they possibly have hopped up, as Gray might suggest? Or had they been created on the spot, as Agassiz would have insisted? (Journal 10:467–468).

Darwin would provide the breakthrough theory that resolved these puzzles—one reason his theory of evolution was accepted so swiftly by American scientists. Only Agassiz held out, and in a few years even his own son Alexander Agassiz had gone over to Darwin's side. Darwin argued that because more individuals were born than could possibly survive to adulthood, nature must select only a few for survival. Because every individual shows chance variations—in size or color, for example—some individuals would by accident of birth have some slight advantage that made their survival more likely, and survivors would pass those advantages on to their offspring. Over the course of many generations, a new variety would form that could, over still more generations, become distinct enough to make a new species. Darwin had hesitated to publish his ideas, but as the Vestiges controversy subsided, he began to air his thoughts to selected friends. Asa Gray's articles in "Silliman's Journal" caught Darwin's eye, and in 1857 he wrote to tell Gray of his radical new theory while swearing him to secrecy. Thus when On the Origin of Species was published in 1859, Gray had already helped lay the groundwork, and in a series of essays he took on the task of presenting Darwin's ideas to the American public. Agassiz, furious, leapt to the opposition, and the ensuing controversy acquainted Americans with advanced scientific theories that might otherwise have slept on in the technical journals. Another of Darwin's earliest converts was Thoreau, who read Origin early in 1860 and immediately began incorporating its insights into his own theories of plant distribution and forest succession, on which he was working at the time he contracted the illness that led to his death in 1862. As he wrote in his journal in 1860, "The development theory implies a greater vital force in nature, because it is more flexible and accommodating, and equivalent to a sort of constant new creation" (Journal 14:147).

Thoreau had no objections to Darwin on religious grounds, having long since abandoned conventional Christianity. But for those who held to a conventional Christianity, Darwin seemed to rupture forever the long friendship between religion and science. Individual scientists did find ways to reconcile the two. Gray, for instance, accepted Darwin's theories as an explanation of how God's power was manifested in nature. Yet the consensus of science no longer relied on theological reasoning, and young clergymen increasingly ignored or rejected science, which only a generation earlier had been cast as religion's most powerful ally. Science and religion had been definitively separated.


In the United States the evolutionary debates were at their height during the years leading up to the Civil War, and one of the most vexed questions of the time was what the new theories meant for humanity. Some scientists de-emphasized race as a meaningful category: the English ethnologist James Cowles Prichard argued that there were so many dozens of races that the real emphasis should be on the unity of humankind, and the scientist Charles Pickering returned home from the Wilkes expedition with a complex picture of human diversity, migration, and cross-cultural exchange. Yet for others, the powerful progressive narrative of evolution, with Caucasian people so evidently at the summit, suggested irresistibly that the various races were either evolutionary stages in humanity's upward progression or else degenerations from an earlier state of perfection. Louis Agassiz used his prominent position to argue for "polygenesis": in his view the races of humans were so different as to be the result of multiple separate creations, hence different species. The hard truth was that science proved Genesis wrong. With the support of Samuel George Morton's cranial studies, which had shown the brains of nonwhite races to be distinctly smaller, and the racist theories of Josiah Nott and George Gliddon, Agassiz wrote that science proved the black race to have advanced mentally little beyond the chimpanzee and gorilla.

Polygenesis made little popular headway in the slave-owning South, for it too openly defied the Genesis account of human descent from one couple, Adam and Eve. However, the scientific response to polygenesis was remarkably weak—only South Carolina's John Bachman, a zoologist who had worked with Audubon, publicly argued against it—and it left a legacy of racial stereotypes that lasted through the twentieth century. When Emerson became a prominent speaker for abolitionism, he set about examining the full range of scientific theories for support. Even though the weight of science seemed to be against him, ultimately he repudiated all theories of racial inferiority to insist that evolution showed all races had the capacity to advance equally; hence science, when truly understood in the full context of modern geology and physical geography, lent its support to the abolition of slavery and the political equality of all the races.


The intense interest in science shown by such American literary figures as William Cullen Bryant, Emerson, Thoreau, Whitman, Emily Dickinson, and Edgar Allan Poe belies the once common myth that Romantic writers rejected science in the name of poetry and emotion. Their oft-quoted expressions of dismay at science turn out to be, on closer examination, either admonishments to scientists for having forgotten their true path or expressions of disgust at the mechanistic materialism of eighteenth-century science, associated with the cold rationalism of deism and the violence of the French Revolution. By contrast, the new science of the nineteenth century was fundamental to Romanticism, for it opened an exciting vision of nature as dynamic process and organic interconnectedness. Poe (1809–1849) brought his wide reading in astronomy, physics, mathematics, psychology, and medicine to bear in his fictions, and he dedicated his book Eureka (1848) to the German scientist Alexander von Humboldt. As Poe's very name suggests, however, there were darker visions of the new science as well. Its imaginative and explanatory power could tempt the unwary explorer into satanic defiance, like Herman Melville's Ahab, using compass, quadrant, and charts to hunt the oceans for the White Whale; or Mary Shelley's Dr. Frankenstein, creating the monster that threatens all of humanity. Shelley's Faustian Frankenstein (1818) became the dominant literary story of science, one that Nathaniel Hawthorne explored repeatedly in such narratives as "The Birth-mark," "Rappacini's Daughter," and The Scarlet Letter (1850). A young Henry Adams speculated ominously in a letter of 1863, "Some day science may have the existence of mankind in its power, and the human race commit suicide by blowing up the world" (Adams 1:135).

Even the writers who most celebrated science expressed ambivalence at its possible misuse. Emerson warned constantly that science should be, as he put it in an 1836 lecture, "humanly studied," and should the scientist become the "slave of nature," science would become "unhallowed, and baneful" (Early Lectures 2:36, 37); in the same year he warned, in Nature (1836), of the dangers of "this half-sight of science" (Collected Works 1:41). Thoreau worried about the "inhumanity of science" (Journal 8:162) that demanded he kill a snake to learn its species, and when he had to kill a box turtle for Agassiz's collection, he berated himself as a murderer. Whitman was capable of walking out in disgust from the lecture of the "learn'd astronomer" to look up "in perfect silence at the stars" (p. 409–410), but the more remarkable fact may be that he attended the lecture at all. For Whitman, science was the "fatherstuff" that begot "the sinewy races of bards" (p. 15); the poet who seeks to reconnect fact with spirit can recover the original power of poetry only by starting with science.


As Adams's eerily prescient speculation suggests, there were good reasons for ambivalence. That humans could alter the face of nature—could tinker with, even destroy, the balance of nature—was an idea just dawning in these years. In 1811 Humboldt had pointed to the role deforestation played in shrinking Mexico's great Lake Texcoco and changing the climate of its high interior plateau to hotter and drier. Following up on Humboldt's insight, the American George Perkins Marsh showed, in Earth and Man (1864), that deforestation had destroyed the soils of Greece and Italy, rendering them permanently arid and barren. As the United States too leveled its forests, would not the same thing happen there? Thoreau's detailed studies of forests, plant distribution, and hydrology led him to become a pioneer of ecology a full generation before that science came into existence. His calls for the preservation of wild nature, together with his and his friend Emerson's demonstrations of nature's redemptive power, gave rise to a new environmental awareness and the new tradition of American nature writing, developed by their followers John Muir and John Burroughs. As ecology dwindled toward century's end from a central integrative concept uniting humanity and nature to yet another scientific specialty beyond the reach of most Americans, it fell to the nature writers of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries to sustain the rich poetry of the material and factual world of nature.


By the nineteenth century's end, scientists had disciplined themselves into the rigors of scientific method, erecting ideological demands that the character of scientific knowledge must be objective, uninfected by the needs and desires of the self. Meanwhile literature too had begun to seek authority by erecting the same structures of professionalization and institutionalization that had proved so effective in science: academic training, learned journals, professional societies, academic centers in colleges and universities. Matthew Arnold, the Victorian architect of the new profession of literature, told an American audience in 1883 not that poet and scientist should each seek in the other's work their best complement and corrective, as Emerson had insisted, but rather that humane letters would do for humanity precisely what science could not: relate knowledge to human concerns, "to the sense in us for conduct, and to the sense in us for beauty" (p. 391). Hence the proper focus for education should be not the sciences, as the new scientific professionals such as Huxley were claiming, but the humanities. In effect, literature secured its own status as a discipline by separating itself from science, concealing from view much of what makes nineteenth-century American writers distinctive: their fascination with science's reconstruction of their physical and conceptual world and their energy in seeking to participate in that process, to make its power their own.

See alsoColleges; Ethnology; Exploration and Discovery; Lyceums; Nature; Popular Science; Religion; Romanticism; Technology


Primary Works

Adams, Henry. A Cycle of Adams Letters, 1861–1865. 2 vols. Edited by Worthington C. Ford. Boston, 1920.

Arnold, Matthew. "Literature and Science." In Poetry andCriticism of Matthew Arnold, edited by Dwight Culler, pp. 381–396. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1961.

Emerson, Ralph Waldo. The Collected Works of Ralph WaldoEmerson. 6 vols. Edited by Alfred R. Ferguson. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1971–.

Emerson, Ralph Waldo. The Early Lectures of Ralph Waldo Emerson, 1833–1842. 3 vols. Edited by Stephen E. Whicher, Robert E. Spiller, and Wallace E. Williams. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1959–1972.

Emerson, Ralph Waldo. The Journals and MiscellaneousNotebooks of Ralph Waldo Emerson. 16 vols. Edited by William Gilman et al. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1960–1982.

Emerson, Ralph Waldo. Nature. Boston: J. Munroe, 1836.

Ferguson, James. Ferguson's Astronomy Explained uponSir Isaac Newton's Principles. 2 vols. Edited by David Brewster. Philadelphia, 1917.

Hutton, James. "Theory of the Earth." Transactions of the Royal Society of Edinburgh 1 (1785): 209–305.

Thoreau, Henry David. Journal, vol. 3, 1848–1851. Edited by Robert Sattelmeyer, Mark R. Patterson, and William Rossi. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1990.

Thoreau, Henry David. Journal, vol. 8, 1854. Edited by Sandra Harbert Petrulionis. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2002.

Thoreau, Henry David. The Journal of Henry David Thoreau. 1906. 14 vols. Edited by Bradford Torrey and Francis Allen. New York: Dover, 1962.

Thoreau, Henry David. Walden. 1854. Edited by J. Lyndon Shanley. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1973.

Whitman, Walt. Complete Poetry and Collected Prose. Edited by Justin Kaplan. New York: Library of America, 1982.

Secondary Works

Baym, Nina. American Women of Letters and the Nineteenth-Century Sciences: Styles of Affiliation. New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 2002.

Bozeman, Theodore Dwight. Protestants in an Age ofScience: The Baconian Ideal and Ante-Bellum American Religious Thought. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1977.

Bruce, Robert V. The Launching of Modern AmericanScience, 1846–1876. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1988.

Crawford, T. Hugh. "Networking the (Non)Human: Moby-Dick, Matthew Fontaine Maury, and Bruno Latour." Configurations 5, no. 1 (1997): 1–21.

Daniels, George H. Science in American Society: A Social History. New York, N.Y.: Knopf, 1971.

Daniels, George H., ed. Nineteenth-Century AmericanScience: A Reappraisal. Evanston, Ill.: Northwestern University Press, 1972.

Goetzmann, William H. New Lands, New Men: America and the Second Great Age of Discovery. New York: Viking, 1986.

Goetzmann, William H. "Paradigm Lost." In The Sciences in the American Context: New Perspectives, edited by Nathan Reingold, pp. 21–34. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1979.

Gossin, Pamela, ed. Encyclopedia of Literature and Science. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 2002.

Greene, John C. American Science in the Age of Jefferson. Ames: Iowa State University Press, 1984.

Hovenkamp, Herbert. Science and Religion in America,1800–1860. Philadephia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1978.

Reingold, Nathan. Science in America since 1820. New York: Science History Publications, 1976.

Reingold, Nathan, ed. Science, American Style. New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 1991.

Reingold, Nathan, ed. The Sciences in the American Context:New Perspectives. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1979.

Scholnick, Robert J. "'The Password Primeval': Whitman's Use of Science in 'Song of Myself.'" In Studies in the American Renaissance, edited by Joel Myerson, pp. 385–425. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1986.

Scholnick, Robert J., ed. American Literature and Science. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1992.

Walls, Laura Dassow. Emerson's Life in Science: The Culture of Truth. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 2003.

Walls, Laura Dassow. Seeing New Worlds: Henry DavidThoreau and Nineteenth-Century Natural Science. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1995.

Zochert, Donald. "Science and the Common Man in Ante-Bellum America." Isis 65 (1974): 448–473.

Laura Dassow Walls


views updated May 23 2018



In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries Europe was the birthplace of the scientific revolution, and in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries many of the greatest discoveries had been made by European scientists. In the twentieth century this situation changed, and while European scientists continued to dominate most fields of science in the decades before World War II, the United States became, in the second half of the century, the world's paramount scientific power. During the first half of the twentieth century many American physicists and chemists felt their educations were incomplete without doctoral and postdoctoral studies at European universities, but after World War II young European scientists flocked to American universities and industries. This "brain drain" from European countries was in part due to the sumptuous financial support they received for their research. Other evidence for this change in the geographical focus of scientific achievement is in the Nobel Prizes. Europeans won a preponderance of the Nobel Prizes in science during the first half-century of the awards, but in the next fifty years American scientists surpassed their European colleagues. For example, between 1980 and 2003 the United States had 154 science laureates compared to Europe's 68.

Europe has been and continues to be an important part of Western science, and in the period from World War I to the early years of the twenty-first century European science experienced changes that were characteristic of Western science. For example, scholars have studied the accelerative changes of Western science, and some have concluded that the exponential growth of scientific knowledge in Western countries during the twentieth century far surpassed, both quantitatively and qualitatively, all scientific developments in previous centuries. Derek J. de Solla Price, the father of scientometry, has taken a nuanced approach in his studies on the growth of numbers of scientists, their specialized fields, their journals and articles, and so on. For example, in his study of the output of scientific papers before, during, and after the upheavals of the twentieth century, he found that, while Great Britain's output remained substantially stable, such countries as France and Germany experienced decreases, whereas other European countries, which had previously been minor scientific contributors, experienced exceptional growth. The Soviet Union in particular, even though isolated by Cold War politics, multiplied its production of scientific papers in spectacular fashion due to the ability of members of the Soviet Academy of Sciences to take advantage of insecurities among political leaders and obtain immense financial support for scientific research.

Many Soviet scientists and those scientists in other European countries who worked for industries emphasized the applications of discoveries for practical purposes. Science for the sake of science, or pure science, flourished in Germany before and after the Nazi period. When Paul Forman, John Heilbron, and Spencer Weart did a study of physics at various academic institutions, they found that such European countries as Britain and Germany retained their prominence in pure science throughout the early decades of the twentieth century, but the United States, beginning in the 1930s, showed signs of achieving the world leadership that American physicists would consolidate in the second half of the twentieth century.

In both Europe and the United States, twentieth-century scientific changes were increasingly sophisticated and complex, with the multiplication of many disciplines and subdisciplines. Through his researches Derek J. de Solla Price has documented the growth of what he called "big science." The American Manhattan Project to build the atomic bomb, which profited from the help of many émigré European scientists, is a classic example of big science, but such international endeavors as CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research, which required thirty million dollars to construct and further millions in annual operating costs, illustrate that, though science on this scale was no longer financially feasible for individual European countries, collaboration could bring such results as basic discoveries in high-energy physics, even though these had little or no practical benefits. Besides expensive facilities, big science required large numbers of scientists and technicians. The need for ever larger research teams meant ever greater government support, and this had both good and bad consequences. These massive endeavors produced valuable discoveries that would not have been possible in the modest laboratories characteristic of "little science," but scientists often found that government money came with restrictions on their curiosity and creativity. For example, they experienced pressure to choose research projects with a greater likelihood for practical applications. The public also became concerned about the exorbitant price of making what some saw as esoteric and irrelevant discoveries, whereas other European citizens expressed alarm about certain discoveries in physics and biology that posed potential dangers to human life and the environment. Indeed, some scientists founded organizations to alert the public of these dangers and to campaign for their control or elimination.


Twentieth-century European achievements in the traditional and new sciences are too extensive to analyze in detail, but common themes and illustrative examples can provide a sense of the significant changes that occurred in European science during a tumultuous time. Such achievements as general relativity and quantum mechanics revolutionized the earlier accomplishments of Isaac Newton's gravitational theory and John Dalton's atomic theory. Other European discoveries were made in such new hybrid fields as biochemistry, geophysics, and molecular biology. Two world wars and the Cold War hindered Europeans in many areas of pure and applied science, particularly when compared to the United States, but despite these difficulties the range and depth of European contributions are impressive.

In physics the two most important modern theoretical discoveries were made by Europeans. During World War I, while working at the University of Berlin, Albert Einstein published his general theory of relativity, which interpreted gravitation as due to the curvature of space-time. In the 1920s the French physicist Louis de Broglie developed a wave theory of such subatomic particles as the electron, and this later helped the Austrian physicist Erwin Schrödinger formulate his wave mechanical model of the atom, which was shown to be equivalent to an earlier formulation of quantum mechanics that its German discoverer, Werner Heisenberg, called matrix mechanics. European physicists were also at the forefront in using X rays to determine the structures of many important crystals. The most fundamental discoveries in atomic and nuclear physics were also the work of Europeans. For example, in 1932 the English physicist James Chadwick discovered the neutron, a particle that played an important role in the 1938 discovery of nuclear fission by Otto Hahn and Fritz Strassmann (correctly interpreted by Otto Frisch and Lise Meitner as the splitting of the atomic nucleus). Leo Szilard, a Hungarian Jewish physicist who fled to the United States, realized that the fission of the uranium nucleus might produce a chain reaction, an idea that was the basis of both the nuclear reactor and the atomic bomb.

In the life sciences Europeans participated in momentous discoveries both before and after World War II. For example, the Scottish bacteriologist Alexander Fleming discovered the antibiotic penicillin in 1928, and the German biochemist Gerhard Domagk, while working for IG Farben, discovered the first of the antibacterial sulfa drugs. These and other drugs saved many lives both during and after World War II. However, according to many scholars, the most important discovery in the life sciences was the double helical structure of deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) in 1953 by an American, James Watson, and an Englishman, Francis Crick, while working at the Cavendish Laboratory of Cambridge University. This discovery proved to have far-reaching consequences not only for biology but also for medicine and many other fields, including criminology.


Twentieth-century European governments influenced both the progress and retrogression of science in the decades from World War I to the start of the twenty-first century. Particularly in peacetime, several European governments provided financial support for scientific research through such institutions as the British Department of Scientific and Industrial Research (founded in 1916), the Consiglio Nazionale delle Ricerche in Italy (founded in 1923), and the Caisse Nationale des Sciences in France (founded in 1930). In Germany, the Kaiser Wilhelm Society (Kaiser Wilhelm Gesellschaft) founded many research institutes. When Einstein moved to Berlin from Switzerland he became the director of the Kaiser Wilhelm physics institute. Because of his enormous prestige, Einstein was able to keep his position even though he ardently opposed World War I. Max Planck, Einstein's friend and fellow physicist, initially signed the Manifesto of the Ninety-Three Intellectuals, written in support of the German invasion of Belgium, but he became the only signer to recant publicly. After the war Planck became president of the Kaiser Wilhelm Society and worked with the Weimar government to rebuild German science.

A much studied case of the influence of politics on science occurred in the Soviet Union during the 1930s and succeeding decades. Trofim Denisovich Lysenko, a Ukrainian biologist interested in genetics, came to believe that he could improve wheat strains by manipulating the environment. Lysenko was conducting his research during the massive forced collectivization of Soviet agriculture, which caused the starvation of millions of peasant farmers. Lysenko, whose views on the inheritance of environmentally acquired characteristics were repudiated by most biologists, provided Soviet politicians, especially Joseph Stalin, with a seemingly easy way out of the crisis and one that meshed with communist economic and philosophic theories. Lysenkoism, as Lysenko's pseudo-scientific theory came to be called, turned out to have a devastating effect on Soviet agriculture and biology.

World War II strengthened government control of science in many European countries, especially Germany and the Soviet Union. Some scholars have called Nazism the first systematic antiscience movement that had sufficient political power to translate its ideology into what proved to be horrendous social policies. Adolf Hitler's ideologues developed an "Aryan science," one of whose policies was the destruction of the "Jewish physics" of Einstein. These policies forced not only Einstein but many other talented Jewish scientists to leave Germany for Britain and the United States. The racist ideology of Aryan science resulted in the deaths of millions of Jews, Gypsies, Poles, and others deemed to be subhuman. It also led to the horrific medical experiments by Josef Mengele in one of the Auschwitz concentration camps. In another sphere, Hitler shunted funds from an incipient atomic bomb project, headed by Werner Heisenberg, to the V-2 rocket project, headed by Wernher von Braun.

After World War II the British helped revivify German science by setting up the Max Planck Society (Max Planck Gesellschaft), which sought to maintain and expand the successes of the Kaiser Wilhelm Society by ridding it of the corruptions caused by previous Nazi control. By the end of the Nazi period the number of Kaiser Wilhelm institutes had declined to thirteen, but by 1990 the number of Max Planck institutes had grown to seventy-seven. The West German government also fostered close cooperation between these institutes and the educational system. Funding for scientific research increased not only in Germany but also in other European countries after the war. This funding helped slow the "brain drain" of European scientists to the United States.

Increased government involvement led to European developments in nuclear reactors and nuclear bombs. In contrast to the American emphasis on water-cooled reactors, Britain and France chose to develop gas-cooled systems. France, in particular, became more heavily reliant on nuclear power for its energy than any other European country. Politics played a primary role in the Soviet Union's development of the atomic bomb (first tested in 1949), as it did for the British and French atomic bombs. Because of lavish government support, the Soviet Union had, by the early 1980s, the world's largest community of scientists. Many of these scientists participated in such big-science projects as artificial satellites. The Soviet Union surprised the world by orbiting Sputnik in 1957, and this was followed by the first dog in space, the first man in space, and the first images of the previously unseen side of the moon.

The scientific and technological successes of Nazi Germany and the Communist Soviet Union served to counter those scholars who claimed that only politically democratic societies could foster such achievements. The collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 revealed how complex the interaction between politics and science can be. Although Russian scientists in the 1990s now had freedom, their productivity declined precipitously, mainly due to a financial crisis that caused research budgets to be drastically cut. Russian biologists were ideologically free to accept Mendelian genetics, but they lacked the funds to do significant DNA research.

The collapse of the Soviet Union and the federalization of the European Union helped to change the nature of European science. Scientists from Eastern and Western Europe were now free to move to whatever country offered them the best opportunity to pursue their research. After "brain drains" from Western Europe to the United States and from Eastern to Western Europe, several governments came to the realization that policies that encouraged private, industrial, and government support for research would help to stabilize what had been a debilitating loss of scientific talent.


During the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, discoveries in various European countries had a significant influence on technology. The primary example, of course, is the industrial revolution, which occurred first in England in the eighteenth century and then spread to France and other countries. Many scientific discoveries in the twentieth century also led to new industries. For example, the detailed understanding of chemical structure developed by European chemists contributed to such successes as the German dye and drug industries. Some of Europe's largest dye companies diversified into pharmaceuticals, pesticides, and plastics. These companies also played a formative role in the development of industrial research laboratories, where chemists continued to invent new materials, some of which led to the formation of other industries.

Scientists in various European countries contributed to the creation and development of new technologies in both world wars. For example, the German-Jewish chemist Fritz Haber was the moving force behind the development and use of poison gases in World War I, which initiated modern chemical warfare. Ernest Rutherford, the British discoverer of the atomic nucleus, helped to develop scientific techniques for discovering and destroying German U-boats. During the late 1930s and throughout World War II, scientists in Britain, Germany, and the United States invented increasingly sophisticated radar systems. The network of radar installations lining the British coast helped the English win the Battle of Britain. Also helpful in the British war effort were such code breakers as Alan Turing, a computer pioneer who used electronic machines to decode letter sequences produced by the German Enigma coding device. This important work provided the foundation for later information-based industries.

After the war, the United States, whose science-based industries escaped the conflicts unscathed, was able to out-compete European companies until the 1960s, when revived industries such as the German chemical and automobile makers were able to acquire significant global market shares. In the 1970s European countries began to coordinate their research and development. For example, the European Science and Technical Research Committee (CREST), with representatives from many countries, began in 1974 to examine various projects, with a particular emphasis on energy. Committee members had the power to commit their governments to such research projects as the Joint European Torus (JET), with the goal of producing a commercial thermonuclear device for generating vast amounts of energy.


The connections among science, technology, and economic growth are complex. With two world wars, the Great Depression, and several economic recessions and recoveries, the economic picture of twentieth-century Europe was also complex. Nevertheless, economists have noticed a rough correlation between a country's expenditures on research and development (compared to the gross national product) and its per capita income. Rich countries were able to spend a greater proportion of their national wealth on research and development than poor countries, and some evidence indicates that this investment contributed to the rich countries getting richer. However, the relationship between science and the economy is more cryptic than these generalizations indicate. For example, money poured into pure scientific projects often have no (and sometimes even a deleterious) effect on the economy. Furthermore, when scientific discoveries do have the potential to be developed into technologies that might have a beneficial impact, government or company officials have to decide which discoveries to choose.

Although economics is often described as a social science, it has not developed laws as predictive as the sciences of astronomy, physics, and chemistry. Moreover, the goals of scientists often differ from those of economists and politicians. After the devastation of World War II, many scientists, politicians, and economists recognized that science and technology would play a formative role in economic recovery, but it would be a slow process since new infrastructures would have to be built and new scientists and technicians educated. Eventually several European countries recovered their economic health. They then realized that a new era of global competition necessitated some type of collective management of science, technology, and industrialization. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development was founded to deal with these issues. Similarly, the European Research Council, with the power to act independently of its member nations, had the goal of fostering scientific research that would make Europe more competitive than its global rivals. However, some scientists have been critical of these organizations, pointing out that the research institutes that have been most successful were those run by scientists, not by bureaucrats or technocrats.

Throughout the history of twentieth-century Europe, it has been difficult to understand how to measure the costs and benefits of scientific research. Budgets and benefits differ between big and little science, academic and industrial research, and between various scientific disciplines and sub-disciplines. In certain European countries some government-sponsored research has been criticized because of the unjustified dominance of prestigious professors at large universities (to the detriment of gifted scientists working at small universities). Other critics pointed to certain sciences that received the lion's share of government grants. For example, during the 1960s in Great Britain, half of the Science Research Council's budget went to nuclear physics and a quarter to space research, with only 25 percent for all other sciences.

Similar disparities occurred in the distribution of research and development funding to corporations. For example, aerospace industries received over a hundred times as much as railroad companies. Furthermore, as modern sciences and technologies have developed, the costs for equipment and personnel have also increased. Consequently, expenditures for science increased multiplicatively in the period after World War II in such countries as Great Britain, Germany, and the Soviet Union. Some scholars believe that this exponential growth of money for science cannot continue, and a saturation point will eventually be reached. However, others, basing their predictions on the law of accelerating growth exemplified in the computer industry (where computers have become exponentially more powerful and less expensive), believe that science is indeed an endless frontier where new discoveries will create powerful technologies that will fuel greater economic growth.


Several scholars have divided their analysis of the influence of science on twentieth-century European society into the pre–and post–World War II periods. In the nineteenth century and the pre–World War I period science, according to these scholars, had only a modest influence on the lives of most people, even in such highly scientific countries as Germany and England. The most important impact of science on ordinary people was through such technologies as the electric light, telephone, and automobile.

In the interwar period European countries experienced a revulsion against the poison gases that had caused over a million casualties in World War I, including 91,000 deaths, and this led, in 1925, to the Geneva Protocol outlawing all use of chemical and biological weapons, which was ratified within a few years by France, Italy, Germany, and Britain (but not by the United States until 1975). An even stronger revulsion against nuclear weapons followed World War II, leading to the founding of various organizations whose goal was the elimination of nuclear weapons from Europe and the world. Other groups blamed scientists for inventing pesticides such as DDT, whose rediscovery by a Swiss chemist, Paul Müller, in 1939 led to its massive use during and after World War II. Public concern over the negative effects of this chemical on birds and humans led to its being banned in America and various European countries in the late 1960s and early 1970s. When the worst nuclear power plant accident in history happened at Chernobyl in Ukraine in 1986, a radioactive cloud spread westward across Europe, contaminating countries as far from the Soviet Union as Great Britain. This accident made several European countries, but not France, more hesitant to rely on nuclear power for their increasing energy needs.

Although these examples of the negative social consequences of science and technology could be multiplied, so, too, could the positive social consequences. For example, improved understanding of such infectious diseases as smallpox led to its eradication from Europe (and, by 1980, from the rest of the world). Improved diets, drugs, and medical procedures led to the lengthening of healthy lifespans in most European countries. Despite these examples, some scholars point out that it is actually difficult to analyze the influence of science on European societies, since this influence differed from country to country, from upper to lower economic classes within countries, and from government to military to industrial to academic and other institutions.

Some scientists, concerned about the negative social consequences of certain scientific discoveries, formed organizations such as the British Society for Social Responsibility in Science. Members of this organization hoped to heighten scientists' awareness of the social impact of their work and to make politicians and citizens cognizant of how decisions about scientific and technological research and development can have a good or bad effect on society. These organizations soon discovered that they were but one of many pressure groups seeking to influence government policies related to science and technology. For example, Eastern European countries have been plagued by severe pollution problems, but politicians have been reluctant to develop stringent regulations about pollutants because of their high costs in a weak economy.

Some sociologists of science have studied the factors that tended to inhibit the development of scientific research in various European countries after World War I. For example, Joseph Ben-David discovered that countries having universities with scientific institutes dominated by distinguished professors tended to be slow to introduce new disciplines or to effectively exploit new scientific discoveries. In another study, which compared academic and industrial research laboratories, scholars found that laboratories whose research teams and leaders took risks comparable with their human and technical resources tended to be more successful than laboratories whose leaders and researchers showed excessive deference to the officials who controlled their funding.

Besides influencing society through academia, industry, and government, scientists also influence society through the diffusion of scientific knowledge. As such issues as global warming, genetically modified food, nuclear wastes, and ozone-layer depletion illustrate, it is necessary for the public to be scientifically well informed in order that enlightened science policies be put into action. Surveys of the public in various European countries on this topic have generated some surprising results. For example, in Germany social scientists discovered that the degree of citizen interest in science-policy issues depended on how involved they were in general political issues. These studies also revealed a discrepancy between government and citizen priorities about which scientific issues were most important. Since most citizens learn about science from newspapers, magazines, and television rather than from scientific journals, scientists have attempted to bridge the gap between experts and laypeople by educating journalists through such organizations as the European Initiative for Communicators of Science. With the increasing complexity of scientific theories, popularization of modern science has not been easy, and one study found that the gulf between scientists and the European public actually widened during the second half of the twentieth century.


Because culture involves the totality of socially transmitted arts, beliefs, institutions, and many other products of human ingenuity, analyzing the impact of science on the cultures of a variety of European countries is a daunting task. Nevertheless, by isolating certain branches of culture, such as religion, philosophy, art, music, and literature, and certain countries, such as England and Germany, some sense of the breadth and depth of the interaction between science and culture can be achieved. In 1959 C. P. Snow, an English scientist and novelist, proposed in The Two Cultures and the Scientific Revolution that modern culture was becoming increasingly split between traditional humanistic culture and modern scientific and technological culture. Humanistic critics responded that only one culture existed, theirs, and later scholars argued that Snow had oversimplified complex cultures and subcultures with his polarization.

Although religious influence on various European countries lessened during the twentieth century, the interactions between science and religion have continued to interest scholars. Because there are so many different religions and fields of science, potential interactions among these in various countries can become mind-bogglingly complex. Nevertheless, some conclusions can be drawn. European scientists tend to be more atheistic or agnostic than the general public, and religious scientists, be they Christian, Muslim, or Jew, experience little problem in accepting scientific theories and the facts that they try to explain. In 1925 the British philosopher Alfred North Whitehead argued in Science and the Modern World that European religious developments in previous centuries actually prepared the way for twentieth-century science. Even traditional European conflicts between science and religion, as exhibited by the opposition between creationism and evolutionism, were mitigated in twentieth-century Europe, and Pope John Paul II expressed his (and his church's) acceptance of evolutionary theory, which he felt was compatible with a Christian teleological understanding of the world. Albert Einstein stated in 1940 that "science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind."

Important European scientific discoveries during the period from 1914 to 2004 also influenced philosophy. For example, Einstein's special theory of relativity forced philosophers to deepen their analyses of time, simultaneity, the spatial dimensions, matter, and energy. His general theory of relativityforced philosophers to rethink their views on the interactions between space and matter. Werner Heisenberg's uncertainty principle called classical determinism into question. Neo-Darwinism, a twentieth-century blending of Darwinian natural selection and Mendelian genetics, influenced both left-wing and right-wing philosophers. Social Darwinists of the Left emphasized cooperation in nature to bolster their socialistic political philosophies, whereas social Darwinists of the Right emphasized competition in nature to bolster political philosophies ranging from laissez-faire capitalism to Nazism. According to some scholars, science and philosophy after World War II became deeply divided, with most scientists believing that philosophy was totally irrelevant to what they were doing. Nevertheless, philosophers of science continued to analyze the conceptual basis of modern scientific theories.

Some humanists have questioned whether modern science has had a beneficial or deleterious effect on artistic creativity in twentieth-century Europe. Opinions vary about modern art, but agreement exists about the influence of science on particular artistic movements. For example, in Einstein, Picasso: Space, Time, and the Beauty that Causes Havoc (2001), Arthur I. Miller analyzed parallelisms between Einstein's relativity theory and Picasso's cubism, especially in their creation of new ideas of space and time. The scientific analysis of the persistence of vision influenced such artistic representations of motion as Marcel Duchamp's Nude Descending a Staircase (1912).

Science influenced twentieth-century European music by means of new instruments, methods, and compositions. With the improved scientific understanding of acoustics, electricity, and materials, inventors were able to create such new instruments as the theramin, synthesizers, and the electric guitar. Paul Hindemith's opera Die Harmonie der Welt (1957; The harmony of the world) was based on the life of the astronomer Johannes Kepler, who, like Hindemith, was trying to discover the secrets of the universe. Composers such as Iannis Xenakis and Edgar Varèse deliberately modeled their creative techniques on mathematics and the new physics. Xenakis used the Maxwell-Boltzmann law in composing Pithoprakta (1955–1956), game theory in composing Duel (1958), and group theory in composing Nomos alpha (1966). For Varèse, the scientist represented a creative individual with access to the mysteries of nature, a theme he developed in his unfinished L'astronome (1928–1929). Varèse combined electronic and traditional instruments in creating compositions that were inspired by such scientific ideas as ionization, random Brownian motion, and quantum theory.

Scientists were the subjects of several important literary works in twentieth-century Europe, and science influenced the creation of new literary genres. In the three versions of Bertolt Brecht's Leben des Galilei (1943, 1947, and 1955; The life of Galileo), Brecht changed his interpretation of the scientist from the duplicitous hero of free inquiry to the social criminal who pursues scientific knowledge to the neglect of the well-being of humanity (the atomic bomb was the chief reason for Brecht's revisions). In the hands of such talented writers as Aldous Huxley and Stanislaw Lem, European science fiction became much more than an escapist genre. In Brave New World (1932) Huxley revealed the dangers that a scientifically planned totalitarian society posed for human freedom. Lem, who has been called the only science fiction writer worthy of a Nobel Prize, probed the effects of radically different alien intelligences on human psychology in such novels as Solaris (1961). Other European writers, such as the Italian Umberto Eco, have used modern scientific ideas in such novels as Il pendolo di Foucault (1988; Foucault's pendulum).


Futurology—the forecasting of the future development of science, technology, and society by extrapolations from contemporary trends—is a problematic discipline, but this has not prevented some analysts from attempting to envision what European science will be like in succeeding centuries. John Horgan, a science journalist, has expressed his pessimism about science's future in The End of Science: Facing the Limits of Knowledge in the Twilight of the Scientific Age (1996). After interviewing many scientists in Europe and America, he concluded that most of the fundamental theories concerning matter, life, and human beings have been made, and new theories will be so esoteric that they will be unable to be verified or falsified. By contrast, John Maddox, who edited Nature magazine for many years, is optimistic about science's future. In What Remains to BeDiscovered: Mapping the Secrets of the Universe, the Origins of Life, and the Future of the Human Race (1998) he argues that the best science is yet to come, when a "theory of everything" will be formulated and the problem of human consciousness will be solved.

Modern European science has helped solve many problems but created a plethora of others—moral, social, political, and environmental—and how successfully these problems are solved will determine the future of European civilization. Some scientific optimists believe that superintelligent computers will facilitate the solution of these problems, but others feel that the solutions will require more than science and technology—they will require enlightened, sensitive, and loving human beings.

See alsoAcademies of Science; Atomic Bomb; Atomic Energy; Curie, Marie; Einstein, Albert; Eugenics; Lysenko Affair; Penicillin; Quantum Mechanics; Sputnik.


Ben-David, Joseph. The Scientist's Role in Society: A Comparative Study. Englewood Cliffs, N.J., 1971. By comparing the development of institutional science in Germany, Britain, and America, Ben-David explores how social and political support were used to validate scientific programs.

Beyerchen, Alan D. Scientists under Hitler: Politics and the Physics Community in the Third Reich. New Haven, Conn., 1977. Analyzes how physicists were pressured to conform to Nazi ideology rather than to traditional scientific norms.

Haas, Ernst B., Mary Pat Williams, and Don Babai. Scientists and World Order: The Uses of Technical Knowledge in International Organizations. Berkeley, Calif., 1977. Studies the impact of science and scientists on international organizations, including those of twentieth-century Europe.

Graham, Loren R. What Have We Learned about Science and Technology from the Russian Experiment? Stanford, Calif., 1998. Argues that the interactions between science and politics in the Soviet Union reveal the strengths and weaknesses of social constructivism.

Heilbron, J. L., ed. The Oxford Companion to the History of Modern Science. New York, 2003.

Hermann, Armin, et al. History of CERN. 3 vols. Amsterdam, 1987–1996. The standard account of the origin, evolution, and accomplishments of the European Organization for Nuclear Research.

Krige, John, and Dominique Pestre, eds. Science in the Twentieth Century. London, 1997. Covers such topics as how politics has shaped the way science is practiced and how culture influences scientific modes of thought—in short, how science is subject to the dynamics of society.

Price, Derek J. de Solla. Little Science, Big Science—and Beyond. New York, 1986. A revised edition of the classic work on the exponential growth of modern science.

Taton, René. Science in the Twentieth Century. Translated by A. J. Pomerans. London, 1966. Analyzes the century's scientific achievements by disciplines.

Zimon, John. The Force of Knowledge: The Scientific Dimension of Society. Cambridge, U.K., 1976. This thematic analysis of the history of modern science emphasizes the social and institutional context of important discoveries and theories.

Robert J. Paradowski


views updated May 17 2018


The European encounter with the New World begun in 1492 stimulated a rush of new information about the natural environment without parallel in human history, kindling the fire of scientific empiricism in Europe. The Spanish Empire thus became a source of scientific information diffused through the new print technology and evaluated by Europeans in the context of the received view of the natural world, highly colored by the works of classical antiquity. Thus Columbus's discovery stimulated the comparative study of Old World and New World nature. Works such as Gonzalo Fernández de Oviedo y Valdés's Historia general de las Indias (1535), itself conceptually dependent on ancient authors such as Pliny, made available data that eventually led to the overthrow of classical authority. The reflection of exploration in cartography, for example, had by the end of the sixteenth century destroyed the standard geometrized Ptolemaic view of the Earth's surface.


The Spanish crown, eager to learn of economically useful minerals and plants, dispatched an expedition led by Francisco Hernández in 1570–1577, mainly to investigate the flora of New Spain. Hernández was a typical Renaissance figure both steeped in ancient science and endowed with an empirical cast of mind. He sought both to describe and codify Aztec materia medica and also to test their properties in colonial hospitals. The avalanche of new medicinal and other species from the Americas overwhelmed the cramped little garden of classical natural history, ultimately creating a demand for a viable system of classification.

The scientific revolution of the seventeenth century was observed, if not accepted, in the Spanish Empire. Galileo's astronomical writings were read and appreciated by Diego Rodríguez and Carlos Sigüenza y Góngora in New Spain, although the two failed to push Galileo's critique of classical cosmology to its ultimate limits. New World naturalists of Galileo's generation and later shared Europe's passion for observing comets; indeed, the Spanish crown stimulated such research by collecting observational data from various sites in its empire.

The eighteenth century saw a fully developed colonial science system characterized by militarization and centralization. Like their French cousins, the Spanish Bourbons believed that investment in science was both a way of associating the crown with a prestigious activity and a utilitarian pursuit that promised economic benefits to the entire empire. As early as the 1750s, the crown was devoting around 0.5 percent of its annual budget to scientific activities, a very large investment in science among European nations of the day. The real science budget was even larger because numerous scientific activities were hidden in the military budget. The Spanish navy accommodated officers attracted to the new Newtonian science and gave them commissions that exploited their interest in cosmology while carrying out strategically important "hydrographical" activities, such as the mapping of the coastlines of Latin America and service on numerous boundary commissions. The navy procured the best scientific instruments produced in London and Paris and made them available to colonial men of science, in contrast to the restrictive practices of the British in their American colonies. The problem with the militarization of science was that its net effect was to delay the emergence of science as a profession and to discourage the open discussion or publication of scientific results, which were frequently viewed as state secrets. Thus a concomitant of militarization was a scientific system that was highly centralized. All results were communicated to the relevant officials in Madrid rather than published directly by the scientist. This meant that the independent-minded botanist José Celestino Mutis (1732–1808), for example, incurred the wrath of his superiors in Madrid when he corresponded directly with Carl Linnaeus.

The two areas that most attracted those who wished to associate themselves with modern science were Newtonian physics and Linnaean taxonomy. In an intellectual world that had officially rejected the views of Copernicus, heliocentrism was diffused and accepted through the circulation of books popularizing Newtonian physics. In Lima, Cosme Bueno disseminated Newtonian ideas from his chair of Galenic medicine (which he used as a platform to attack outmoded medical concepts), and theses on Newtonian subjects were produced at the University of San Marcos. In Bogotá, Mutis lectured on Newton at the Colegio Mayor de Nuestra Señora del Rosario and prepared a partial translation of the Principia, the first in Spanish. In these capitals and in Mexico City roughly the same proportion of Newtonian works circulated in relation to population as in any European center. The notion of the empire as a scientific backwater must be rejected, or at least carefully qualified.

The broad acceptance of Linnaean taxonomy permitted the numerous botanists working in colonial Latin America to participate in a vast international network of botanical information gathered by disciples dispatched to various parts of the world by Linnaeus himself or by institutions that adopted his system. Linnaeus's man in South America was to have been Pehr Loefling, whom he sent in 1751 to Madrid and in 1754 to New Granada, where he died. Mutis, who began to correspond with Linnaeus in 1764, believed he had inherited Loefling's mantle. All botanists who were subjects of the crown worked as dependents of the Madrid Botanical Garden, which had become a Linnaean stronghold in the 1770s. Because of this tight centralization, budding nationalists in New Spain, led by José Antonio de Alzate y Ramírez, rejected the Linnaean system while attempting to revive Aztec taxonomy, mainly for nationalistic reasons. When the Linnaeans of the Malaspina expedition arrived in New Spain in 1791, they became embroiled in a dispute over taxonomy with botanists influenced by Alzate. At this time there were so many naturalists working in New Spain in official capacities that one of them complained to the crown that botanists were tripping over each other in the jungle.

The two most characteristic forms of centralized scientific institutions in the eighteenth century were botanical expeditions and boundary commissions. The first important expedition of the century, the La Condamine expedition (1735–1745), was a geophysical enterprise, although botanists were included. Although the expedition was French-led, two Spanish military officers, Jorge Juan y Santacilia and Antonio de Ulloa, were attached to it. The purposes of the expedition were to establish a value for an arc of the meridian in equatorial South America and to corroborate Newton's prediction regarding the flattening of the Earth's poles and consequent shortening of the degree of longitude near the equator. Thus Spain entered Enlightenment science in Newtonian guise. For their efforts, Ulloa was elected a fellow of the Royal Society and Juan a member of the French Academy of Sciences, whereas in Spain their careers were wholly military.

Botany, focused on the search for economically useful plants, was something like a national craze. The crown both dispatched expeditions and undertook to gather information indirectly by surveys directed through the colonial bureaucracy. The three great botanical expeditions (among nearly forty) were to New Granada, Peru, and New Spain. Only the first, conducted in 1782–1810, was established in the colonies rather than by Madrid directly; it also became, under Mutis's direction, a full-fledged scientific institution, establishing an astronomical observatory (1803) and conducting research in zoology and mineralogy as well as botany. The Peruvian expedition (1777–1788), led by Hipólito Ruiz and José Antonio Pavón, was more narrowly botanical, its major focus being the species of quinine-producing cinchona. The expedition to New Spain (1787–1804), led by the Spaniard Martín de Sessé and the Creole José Mociño, made a systematic study of Mexican flora and established a botanical garden in Mexico City. The greatest and most productive expedition of the period was that led by the Italian Alejandro Malaspina (1789–1794). The Malaspina expedition, inspired by Captain James Cook's second voyage, collected data and natural history specimens from Uruguay up the Pacific coast of South and North America as far as Alaska, as well as from the Philippines, New Zealand, and Australia. The last great expedition of the colonial period, the royal vaccination expedition (1803–1806), led by Francisco Balmis, was a public health venture designed to inoculate as many subjects of the empire as possible with the Jenner smallpox vaccine.

Europeans such as the French naturalist Georges Buffon held that the environment and biota of the New World were degenerate and inferior with respect to their European counterparts, and Enlightenment naturalists in the Americas rigorously countered such claims. In this "dispute of the New World," José Hipólito Unanue in Peru and Alzate in Mexico (and Thomas Jefferson in the United States) presented data to demonstrate the falsity of the original proposition. This polemic provided scientific input to a Creole ideology already building justifications for independence. In Bogotá, Francisco José de Caldas, in whose work resentment of Creole dependence on European science was a constant theme, asserted that America was not in need of any second discovery by foreign expeditions.

In the area of technology and technical education, two first-class institutions emerged in eighteenth-century Mexico City. One was the Colegio de Minería, where mining engineers were trained by a gifted staff using the advanced European science and technology. The mineralogy professor, Andrés del Río, who had studied with Antoine Lavoisier in Paris, discovered vanadium, while the chemist and botanist Vicente Cervantes produced the first translation of Lavoisier's Elements of Chemistry in the New World. The other institution was the mint (Casa de Moneda), which became an important center for technological, particularly mechanical, innovation. Thus, by the end of the colonial period a foundation had been laid for scientific as well as political independence, a promise that the dislocation of the wars of independence completely frustrated.

The fate of science in colonial Brazil was largely determined by the absence of universities there. There were a few individual naturalists of high quality, such as the botanist José Mariano de Conceição Vellozo, a Linnaean whose Florae fluminensis, a description of the flora of Rio de Janeiro province completed in 1790 (published in 1825), is considered the best representative of Enlightenment science in Brazil. An attempt to found a Brazilian university is associated with José Bonifácio Andrada e Silva, a native of Santos who studied chemistry and mineralogy in Paris and Freiburg in the 1790s. His conception of science was highly utilitarian, for its core was the study of the mineral wealth of the vast nation.


In the former countries of the Spanish Empire, science had been integrated into a tightly centralized institutional and economic system in which scientific communication within the empire was not encouraged and all information flowed to and from Madrid. This meant that when Madrid's patronage and tutelage were removed, the infrastructure that had supported scientific achievement in Mexico, Colombia, and Peru disappeared. So did many of the practitioners of Enlightenment science—either killed in the revolutionary upheaval (as in Colombia) or co-opted by the new state bureaucracies (as in Peru). Brazilian science was spared such an upheaval but had started from a lower level. Then too, Creole elites, which before independence had seen science as a symbol of intellectual and political freedom, set their sights on the more pressing problem of maintaining and consolidating power in the new nations. If the military was the surest road to success, then parents would not encourage their children to take up scholarly careers. Medicine, military engineering, surveying, and a few other fields for which there was constant demand constituted exceptions. Science, therefore, may be pictured as having taken refuge in the most proximate fields available in these years of severe deinstitutionalization: During the first half of the nineteenth century, biology was cultivated by medical doctors; mathematics and physics by military engineers.

The fate of colonial scientific institutions is exemplified by the Royal College of Mining in Mexico City and the Astronomical Observatory of Bogotá: Both lingered on in impoverished conditions after independence. The former was officially abolished in 1833 and reorganized as a general science faculty; the latter suffered long periods of inactivity, notably between 1851 and 1858, after the death of the director, F. J. Matiz, the last survivor of Mutis's expedition. Brazil fared better than the Spanish viceroyalties during the first half of the nineteenth century owing to the foundation in 1810 of a central technical institution, the Royal Military Academy, which had a rigorous four-year course of mathematics that preceded military training.


The second half of the century was marked by the introduction of positivist philosophy and a general movement of institutionalization, particularly of applied sciences. Positivism describes the followers of Auguste Comte and Herbert Spencer, who developed philosophies of "positive" (that is, objective) knowledge, which was supposed to replace outmoded forms of human thought, notably religion. In Europe, positivism was developed as a kind of philosophical synthesis of scientific method, based on secure knowledge and appreciation of the success of the scientific revolution. Inasmuch as Latin American science was stagnant, positivism there tended to be programmatic. Positivists founded almost all the important scientific institutions of the second half of the century: In Brazil the Polytechnic School was founded in 1874 in open imitation of the French engineering school of the same name; the following year the Mining School of Ouro Preto was established to train technicians to develop the country's ample mineral resources. Toward the end of the century the Brazilian Ministry of Agriculture became a center of practical positivist programs in technology and applied sciences, including the Geological and Mineralogical Service; it even ran the old Imperial Observatory (created in 1827, active from 1845), which had an important meteorological section.

In Mexico a number of important institutions were organized under the banner of positivism, including the National Preparatory School (1868), the Mexican Society of Natural History (1868), the Geographical and Exploration Commission (established in 1877 by the Darwinian industry minister, Vicente Riva Palacio), the Geological Commission, and the National Medical Institute (both in 1888). In Uruguay, under the regime of the positivist Lorenzo Latorre, the entire educational system was controlled by positivists who overhauled the educational establishment from the primary grades through university, promoting positivist norms of science education.

Latin American science was noted for highly visible participation of foreigners, particularly Americans, in scientific enterprises, especially in geology. Thus in Brazil, the Imperial Geological Commission (1875–1877) was headed by Charles F. Hartt. His disciple Orville A. Derby was director of the Geographical and Geological Commission of the state of São Paulo from 1886 to 1906, when he resigned to head the making of the geological map of the state of Bahia. Derby was head of the Brazilian Geological and Mineralogical Service in from 1907 to 1915, and trained a generation of Brazilian geologists. In Brazil, Peru, Chile, and elsewhere, the U.S. Geological Service provided a model for professional geology from the late nineteenth century well into the twentieth, particularly in the design and execution of geological maps and surveys of mineral resources.

As the practice of science revived, Latin Americans sought training abroad, with different disciplinary groups showing partiality for distinctive European traditions. Thus, Brazilian engineers preferred to study in Belgium, Mexican chemists in Germany, Argentine mathematicians in Italy, and Mexicans in the United States.

Besides positivism, a number of important European scientific ideas had powerful repercussions in Latin America. Darwinism was widely debated in all Latin American countries except for Paraguay. In general, Comtean positivists opposed Darwinism, occasionally forming tenuous alliances with Catholics to defeat evolutionary ideas, whereas Spencerians supported it. However, in those countries where Comteans were strong (Brazil, Mexico, Venezuela), later generations of Spencerians introduced Darwin's ideas once the Comteans had left the educational stage. Thus in Brazil, the Polytechnic School, which had been a Comtean stronghold, became a focus of Darwinian debate in the 1880s. In Mexico, Gabino Barreda, the Comtean founder of the Preparatory School, was anti-Darwinian, whereas the next generation of positivists, led by Porfirio Parra, was evolutionist.

In some countries Darwinism became elevated to the rank of national ideology. In Brazil, a Darwinian stronghold, Republican medical doctors elaborated a Darwinian worldview mixed with polygenism, the notion that humankind emerged from several ancestral racial lines, a doctrine designed to support racial stratification. Brazil's Museo Nacional, under the directorship of Ladislao Neto, became a node of Darwinian research. Neto employed the German evolutionary zoologist Fritz Müller as a roving naturalist. In Uruguay, even cattlemen discussed Darwinism in the 1870s and 1880s. They divided into two factions that debated whether and how to improve the herds of creole cattle (the descendants of cattle brought by the Spanish in the sixteenth century). One group, comprising the wealthier cattlemen, wanted to cross creole cows with expensive Durham bulls imported from England. The other group, citing Darwin, claimed that natural selection had already acted on the creole herd, adapting it admirably to the local pastures. Argentine governments, for nationalist reasons, supported the paleontologist Florentino Ameghino's claim that Homo sapiens had emerged in Argentina, making it the cradle of the human race.

Another European scientific idea with tremendous transcendence in late-nineteenth-century Latin America was the germ theory of Louis Pasteur. In Paris, Pasteur had founded an institute where he imparted his views of epidemiology as well as the techniques according to which preventive serum could be produced. Numerous Latin Americans studied there, including the Brazilian Oswaldo Cruz, who later founded a Pasteur-type institute at Manguinhos, near Rio de Janeiro, that developed into the premier biomedical research institute in Latin America during the first half of the twentieth century (Oswaldo Cruz Institute). There Carlos Chagas solved the riddle of American sleeping sickness (trypanosomiasis), now called Chagas disease, and made it one of the most studied pathologies in the history of medicine. Other Pasteur-style institutes were founded in São Paulo, Caracas, Maracaibo, and Asunción, all before 1900.


Around 1900, yellow fever was the most urgent medical problem. As early as 1881 a Cuban, Carlos Finlay, had identified the vector of disease, the mosquito Aedes aegypti, but his hypothesis was not confirmed until after the Spanish-American War of 1898, when the U.S. Public Health Service effectively wiped out the disease both in Cuba and in Panama. When the Rockefeller Foundation (RF) was established in 1913, it made the eradication of yellow fever a high priority, going so far as to have the Peruvian government name an RF doctor as director of public health in 1919–1922.

Almost from its inception, the RF assumed an active role in the promotion of science in Latin America. It was opposed to what it called "didactic science"—that is, university science instruction that was limited to classroom lectures and textbooks and lacked a laboratory component. The RF also favored full-time teaching or research positions rather than the part-time positions standard in all Latin American universities, which had the effect of forcing scientists to support themselves with multiple jobs. Finally, the RF, seeking to "make the peaks higher," tried to identify the best scientific minds in the region and to support those individuals. With these objectives in mind, the RF surveyed medical education in virtually all Latin American countries between 1916 and the late 1920s. Out of these reports emerged a roster of biomedical scientists that the RF supported over the next several decades, including the Argentine physiologist Bernardo Houssay, who won the Nobel Prize in 1947 for research on the role of the pituitary gland in the metabolism of carbohydrates. Latin America's second Nobel Prize was won in 1970 by a disciple of Houssay, Luis Leloir, for work on the biochemistry of carbohydrates. Thus the region's first two Nobel Prizes were in part the result of the RF's support for research. In Peru, another group of physiologists, led by Carlos Monge, built a successful research program that concentrated on problems related to the high altitudes of the Andean region.

Classical genetics had an early start in Argentina, where the rediscovery of Mendel's theories was recognized as early as 1908 by the biologist Angel Gallardo. At the University of La Plata, German-trained Miguel Hernández began teaching Mendelian genetics in 1915. Hernández trained Salomón Horovitz and Francisco Alberto Sáez, whose research centered on plant genetics and cytogenetics, respectively. Sáez was coauthor of a general cytology textbook that was widely adopted in the English-speaking world. Population genetics was introduced in Brazil by Theodosius Dobzhansky, a Russian-born biologist trained in the United States by Thomas Hunt Morgan. Dobzhansky had studied wild populations of the fruit fly Drosophila in temperate climates and came to Brazil to study a tropical population. In the fifteen years that Dobzhansky pursued Brazilian research (intermittently from 1943 to 1958), he trained a generation of geneticists in seminars held at the University of São Paulo (USP). This research was not only backed in large part by the RF; USP had been founded in part to meet RF specifications regarding full-time research and teaching appointments. Dobzhansky's group discovered that tropical populations of Drosophila display considerably more variation and genetic plasticity than their temperate cousins do, in response to the greater variety of ecological niches available in the tropics. The second generation of Dobzhansky's Brazilian students founded a strong group in human genetics that worked mainly with models derived from population genetics.

The third major scientific discipline in Latin America was physics. In the nineteenth century Latin America was as much as a century behind Europe in mathematics and physics. In order to raise the level of discipline quickly, the Argentine government contracted with a number of German professors to found a modern Institute of Physics at the University of La Plata in 1909. The institute's longtime director, Richard Gans, trained the first generations of Argentine physicists, including a group of relativists who welcomed Albert Einstein during his Latin American visit in 1925. In Latin America, Einstein was viewed as a symbol of modernization, or rather the will to modernize, because—it was said—a country could not hope to modernize if its mathematicians and physicists could not master the theory of relativity. Inasmuch as Maxwellian physics had been scantily diffused in Argentina (and the other countries of the region), there was no entrenched scientific resistance to Einstein anywhere, except for a small group of Comtean mathematicians in Brazil. In the three countries he visited (Argentina, Uruguay, and Brazil), Einstein's trip stimulated an outpouring of books on relativity and a general public debate on the role of science in modern society. In Argentina two physicists trained at La Plata, Ramón Enrique Gaviola and Enrique Loedel, published papers on relativity in the 1920s. In Brazil Einstein's visit caused a debate in the Brazilian Academy of Sciences. A younger generation led by the mathematician Manoel Amoroso Costa and the engineer Roberto Marinho, with relativity as their battle cry, won control of the Academy, ousting the positivists led by the Comtean mathematician Vicente Licínio Cardoso.

Brazil became a leader in experimental physics after the arrival, in the 1930s, of the German Jewish refugee Bernard Gross and the Italo-Russian Gleb Wataghin. Gross's group, in Rio de Janeiro, and Wataghin's, in São Paulo, performed research on cosmic rays. Gross measured the intensity of cosmic rays in an ionization chamber, and his student Joaquim Costa Ribeiro discovered the thermodielectric effect in 1944. Wataghin's group studied cosmic ray showers, and two of his disciples, Marcello Damy de Souza and Paulus Aulus Pompéia, discovered the penetrating or "hard" component of cosmic radiation. A third disciple, Mário Shenberg, collaborated with George Gamow on the neutrino theory of stellar collapse, and a fourth, Cesar Lattes was part of an international team that discovered the pi-meson (pion) at the Bolivian astrophysical laboratory at Chacaltaya in 1947.

Nuclear physics was introduced after World War II. In Brazil the American Richard Feynman collaborated with José Leite Lopes on weak particle interactions, and the São Paulo group under Damy de Souza acquired a particle accelerator and worked on elementary particles. Argentine physics had a parallel history: first came cosmic radiation studies and then atomic physics. In 1949 Juan Perón hired a German physical chemist named Ronald Richter to perform experiments on nuclear fusion. Richter proved to be a charlatan who was able to fool Perón's generals by exploding hydrogen in a voltaic arc, but even though he was exposed, his laboratory at Bariloche became the center of advanced nuclear physics research, and cyclotrons purchased to support his group were used to train a new generation of physicists.

In Mexico, MIT-trained Manuel Sandoval Vallarta (one of Feynman's professors, incidentally) introduced cosmic radiation studies, especially the effect of the Earth's magnetic field on the rays. Sandoval and some of his students also did research in theoretical physics and were especially interested in George Birkhoff's notion of gravitation in flat space-time, a relativistic model that avoided certain difficulties related to the curvilinear nature of Einstein's general theory.

By the 1940s there was sufficient scientific activity in Argentina, Brazil, Venezuela, Mexico, Uruguay, and a few other nations to stimulate scientists to organize themselves into self-consciously national scientific communities. Thus in 1948 the Brazilian Association for the Progress of Science was organized, in 1950 a similar association in Venezuela, and so forth. These societies viewed their roles as both professional and political. They wanted to stimulate a positive climate of public and governmental interest in science and pressed for the formation of national research councils, which were established in most Latin American countries between 1958 and 1979. These institutions all had similar objectives and helped channel government money into scientific projects. In spite of these efforts the scientifically advanced countries experienced severe "brain drains" from the 1950s through the 1970s. The 1966 coup led by Juan Carlos Onganía in Argentina decimated the Faculty of Exact Sciences at the University of Buenos Aires, which lost 215 members. Entire research groups emigrated at the same time, mainly to Chile, Venezuela, and the United States. Mexico was one of the few Latin American countries that did not lose scientists in the 1960s because of the capacity of the National Autonomous University (UNAM) to absorb them.

The period between the late 1960s and mid-1980s witnessed a general debate over the role of science in Latin American society. Of particular concern has been the issue of whether a developing country can afford to invest money in "pure" (that is, basic) science when it is desperately in need of utilitarian, practical projects that will aid in the country's modernization and improve its standard of living. According to dependency theory, national science communities should concentrate on the specific social and economic needs of their country. Applied scientists soon discovered, however, that they were unable to pursue complex projects without the aid of basic science.

Since the time of Perón, science and scientists have repeatedly fallen victim to the whims of authoritarian repressive regimens. In Brazil, soon after the military regime came to power in 1964, threats were directed at the Oswaldo Cruz Institute. Finally, in 1970, ten researchers were fired by the government and the Institute's research program was severely compromised. In Argentina in 1978, a provincial governor attempted to outlaw the "new math," finding set theory to be subversive of Western values, at the same time that the generals in Buenos Aires were denouncing Freud and Einstein, along with Marx.

Toward the end of the century, the pace of integration of Latin American science into the international science system accelerated, with increased investment in research and development and a growing pool of national scientists. The number of articles on science and engineering published by Latin American authors rose by nearly 200 percent between 1988 and 2001. The increase was concentrated in four countries: Argentina, Brazil, Chile and Mexico, where the output quadrupled. These countries, together with three in the next tier (Costa Rica, Colombia, and Venezuela) accounted for 95 percent of the region's scientific articles in 2001. Growth was most marked in biomedicine and physics. In the same period, the number of citations to Latin American science literature tripled.

See alsoAlzate y Ramírez, José Antonio de; Ameghino, Florentino; Astronomy; Barreda, Gabino; Cruz, Oswaldo Gonçalves; Diseases; Hernández (Fernández) de Córdoba, Francisco; Malaspina, Alejandro; Mutis, José Celestino; Positivism; Sigüenza y Góngora, Carlos de; Technology.


Colonial Science

Amaya, José Antonio. Mutis, apóstol de Linneo, 2 vols. Bogotá: ICAHN, 2005.

Barrera-Osorio, Antonio. Experiencing Nature: The Spanish American Empire and the Early Scientific Revolution. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2006.

Cañizares-Esguerra, Jorge. "Iberian Colonial Science." Isis 96 (2005): 64-70.

Engstrand, Iris H. W. Spanish Scientists in the New World: The Eighteenth-Century Expeditions. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1981.

Gerbi, Antonello. Nature in the New World from Christopher Columbus to Gonzalo Fernández de Oviedo. Pittsburgh, PA: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1985.

González Claverán, Virginia. La expedición científica de Malaspina en Nueva España, 1789–1794. Mexico City: Colegio de México, 1988.

Nieto Olarte, Mauricio. Remedios para el Imperio: La apropiación del Nuevo Mundo. Bogotá: Instituto Colom-biano de Antropología e Historia, 2000.

Sellés, Manuel, José Luis Peset, and Antonio Lafuente, eds. Carlos III y la ciencia de la ilustración. Madrid: Alianza, 1988.

Steele, Arthur R. Flowers for the King: The Expedition of Ruiz and Pavón and the Flora of Peru. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1964.

Varey, Simon, Rafael Chabrán, and Dora B. Wiener, eds. Searching for the Secrets of Nature: The Life and Works of Dr. Francisco Hernández. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2000.

Wilton Appel, John. Francisco José de Caldas: A Scientist at Work in Nueva Granada. Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society, 1994.

Nineteenth Century

Glick, Thomas F., Miguel Angel Puig-Samper, and Rosaura Ruiz, eds. The Reception of Darwinism in the Iberian World. Dordrecht and Boston: Kluwer, 2001.

Lopes, Maria Margaret. O Brasil descobre a pesquisa científica: Os museus e as ciências naturais no sécolo XIX. São Paulo: Hucitec, 1997.

Twentieth Century

Glick, Thomas F. "Science and Society in Twentieth-Century Latin America." In The Cambridge History of Latin America, vol. 6, pt. 1, 463-535. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1993.

Hill, Derek L. "Latin America Shows Rapid Rise in S&E Articles." National Science Foundation InfoBrief 04-336. Washington, DC, August 2004.

Mariscotti, Mario. El secreto atómico de Huemul, 3rd edition. Buenos Aires: Estudio Sigma, 1996.

Montserrat, Marcelo, ed. La ciencia en la Argentina entre siglos. Buenos Aires: Manantial, 2000.

Quevedo, Emilio, ed. Historia social de la ciencia en Colombia, 10 vols. Bogotá: Colciencias, 1993–1996.

Ribeiro de Andrade, Ana Maria. Físicos, mesons e política. São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro: Hucitec, 1998.

Schwartzman, Simon. A Space for Science: The Development of the Scientific Community in Brazil. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1991.

Vessuri, Hebe M. C., ed. La ciencia académica en la Venezuela moderna. Caracas: Acta Científica Venzolana, 1984.

                                         Thomas F. Glick


views updated Jun 27 2018


Sociologists of science study the social organization of science, the relationships between science and other social institutions, social influences on the content of scientific knowledge, and public policy regarding science. The definition of the term "science" is problematic. Science can refer to a changing body of shared knowledge about nature or to the methods used to obtain that knowledge; in that form, science has existed for millennia. Research on "indigenous scientific knowledge" is reviewed in Watson-Verran and Turnbull (1995). Sociologists of science are more likely to define science in institutional terms, and most research in that area studies those who work in differentiated social institutions. The "demarcation" problem of distinguishing between science and nonscience persists. Gieryn (1995, 1998) argues that scientists and their advocates continually engage in contested "boundary work" to demarcate science. He discusses the rhetorical and organizational devices used in those contests; thus, scientists are likely to emphasize the disinterested search for knowledge in their attempts to distinguish science from technology and stress the utility of scientific knowledge in their attempts to distinguish it from religion. Gieryn argues against the notion that there are "essential" features of science that determine the outcome of those contests; these "essential features" are instead "provisional and contextual results of successful boundary-work" (1995, p. 406).

Unless the production of knowledge about the empirical world is delegated to relatively autonomous specialists, knowledge accumulates at a slow pace. When beliefs about nature are closely linked to major social institutions, institutional rigidity tends to produce cognitive rigidity (Znaniecki 1940; Parsons 1951, pp. 326–348). There were communities of relatively autonomous specialists in several great civilizations in the past, but most failed to produce stable institutions. Modern science dates from seventeenth-century Europe. Europeans at that time believed in a deity that gave laws to nature as well as to people and expected to discover those laws. Seventeenth-century Europeans could build on the basis of a science produced by the medieval schoolmen. With the rise of capitalism, intellectual elites developed a strong interest in using new knowledge to improve material conditions and enrich themselves. Merton, the leading founder of the sociology of science, argued in 1938 (1970) that in addition to these conditions, Puritanism contributed to the scientific ethos through its emphasis on work in the everyday world, rationalism and empiricism, openness to free inquiry, and desire to glorify God by describing His creation. (This still-controversial thesis is reviewed in a symposium in Isis 1988. For a general review of theories about the scientific revolution, see Cohen 1994.)

A distinctive normative ethos was institutionalized in modern science. Merton (1973, chap. 13) identified four salient norms: (1) "Universalism" requires that scientific contributions be evaluated according to general impersonal criteria without regard to "irrelevant" characteristics of the contributors such as their race, religion, and nationality. It also requires that scientists be rewarded according to their scientific contributions without regard for those irrelevant criteria. (2) "Communism" requires that knowledge be shared, not kept secret. Thus, the only way a scientist can claim a discovery as "his" or "hers" is to make it known to others. In this regard, modern scientists differ from Renaissance mathematicians and magicians, who were often quite secretive. (3) "Disinterestedness" refers to the injunction that the procedures and products of science not be appropriated for private gain. This need not imply altruism, although scientists often are driven to discover as an end in itself, but in addition, situations usually are structured so that it is in a scientist's career interest to act in a disinterested manner. (4) "Organized skepticism" permits and encourages challenges to knowledge claims. Science tends to be unlike many other areas of social life, in which conformity in matters of belief is demanded as a sign of loyalty.

Merton's essay on the normative ethos of science, first published in 1942, has drawn fruitful criticism. While Merton argued that the scientific ethos was functional for the advancement of knowledge, Mitroff (1974) argued that scientists could invoke "counter-norms," for example, could fail to be skeptical about their own theories, and this could be equally functional in some situations. Mulkay (1980) invoked ethnomethodological ideas to make an argument of general significance: "We should not assume that any norm can have a single literal meaning independent of the contexts in which it is applied. . . . Scientists must engage in inferential and interpretive work on norms. They are likely to do this after their actions, in order to construct acceptable accounts of their behavior. The norms don't determine behavior."

Ambiguity involving the norm of universalism was present at the birth of modern science: Which characteristics of those who advance knowledge claims are relevant or irrelevant? Shapin (1994) argues that in England only the testimony of "gentlemen" was accepted as valid, and not all gentlemen; those who rejected the empiricism of men such as Francis Bacon and Robert Boyle and accepted the arguments from first principles of men such as Thomas Hobbes were excluded from the scientific community (Shapin and Shaffer 1985).

Scientists in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries were usually amateurs, such as Robert Boyle and Benjamin Franklin, or the intellectual servants of amateurs. In the later eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, science was professionalized. Scientists received formal education in universities; found full-time employment, often in the universities; formed self-governing associations; and developed the modern scientific journal and other means of communication. A case study of the process for the newly emerging discipline of geology in the 1830s is presented in Rudwick (1985), where it is linked with the conduct of intense disputes about geological history; the "professionals" in those disputes got no special respect. The more general process of professionalization is described by Ben-David (1984, 1991), who notes the importance of national differences in the organization of science. Ben-David shows that there was more competition among universities in Germany and the United States in the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries than there was in those in Britain and France and claims that this partly accounted for the greater productivity of science in the first two countries. Other organizational characteristics of American science also help account for its superior productivity in the past half century: Science is not highly centralized, the competitive units are large enough and heterogeneous enough to provide a critical mass of closely interacting scientists, and senior scientists tend to have less authority over younger scientists than they have elsewhere. (For statistics on national science productivity, see U.S. National Science Board 1996.)


Competition remains intense among organizations that engage in basic research in the United States, particularly universities. Organizational prestige is central; as is usually true when it is difficult to measure organizational outputs directly, social comparisons become more important. Periodic surveys of faculty members have been used to rate the prestige of research departments. While outputs are difficult to measure, departments with high prestige are more successful in obtaining research resources and have higher rates of research productivity.

Competition is also intense among individual scientists, who compete for recognition from their peers for being the first to make valued discoveries (Merton 1973, chaps. 14 and 15; Hagstrom 1965, 1974). Competition may lead to secretive behavior and premature publication; it also may encourage scientists to move into new areas where there is less competition. A common consequence of competition is simultaneous or multiply independent discovery (see Zuckerman 1988 and the references cited there). The frequency of such events shows the extent to which science is a social product. When apparently simultaneous discoveries occur, those involved often engage in priority disputes; they are often ambivalent in those disputes, torn between a desire for the recognition due to originality and the demand for humility, the recognition of their dependence on the work of others.

There is a great degree of inequality in the research productivity of scientists. The chances that a scientist will publish as many as n papers is 1/n2; in other words, about 6 percent of all scientists produce 50 percent of all published papers (Price 1986). This inequality is even greater if one looks at the distribution of citations of the work of scientists. With some reservations, the number of citations can be taken as a measure of the quality of scientific work; frequently cited papers are usually those which other scientists have found useful in their own research. If c is the number of citations, the chances that the work of a scientist will have c citations is proportional to 1/c3; that is, about 3 percent of all scientists receive 50 percent of all the citations of scientific papers.

Most of the variation in scientific productivity can be explained in terms of individual characteristics of scientists, such as years required to earn a doctorate, and characteristics of their employers, especially departmental prestige. While men have been more productive than women (the difference has been declining), that difference is almost entirely the result of differences in background and employer characteristics (Xie and Shauman 1998). In the United States (more than in most countries), there is considerable mobility of scientists among organizations. High research productivity predicts mobility to institutions of higher prestige and to a higher rank, but employment in a high-prestige organization in turn causes higher productivity (Allison and Long 1990). In general, American universities tend to conform to universalistic norms in making appointments and promotions (Cole and Cole 1973). There is an apparent exception to this in the early phases of careers, when productivity is difficult to assess; the prestige of a scientist's doctoral department is strongly correlated with the prestige of the initial employer.

Inequality of productivity increases over the careers of scientists (Allison et al. 1982) as a manifestation of Merton's (1973) "Matthew effect": "For unto every one that hath shall be given, and he shall have abundance: but from him that hath not shall be taken away even that which he hath." Initially productive scientists obtain more and better resources for research, their work is more visible to others, and they are more likely to interact with other highly productive scientists.


Scientific research is a nonroutine activity; outcomes and problems cannot be predicted, and it is difficult to plan research. As organization theories lead one to expect in such situations, scientific work tends to be done in small groups with few hierarchical levels and a small degree of control by supervisors (Hagstrom 1976). Most basic research in universities is done by groups of four to nine graduate students and technicians led by one to a few professors. Over the course of time, faculty members have found it increasingly desirable to collaborate with their peers, and most publications are multiply authored. Some aspects of research can be routinized, and the extent to which this can be done varies among disciplines; for example, work is more readily routinized in chemistry than it is in mathematics (Hargens 1975). Thus, work groups are smaller in mathematics than in chemistry. Chemists can delegate tasks to assistants, whereas mathematicians cannot; while the number of assistants does not explain much of the variation in the productivity of mathematicians, it does so in regard to the productivity of chemists. In other areas of science, major changes in research methods have led to what is called big science, which is epitomized by high-energy physics. Despite the use of labor-saving devices, the work groups at high-energy particle laboratories can be very large, with well over 150 scientists. Such groups have a greater division of labor, a broader span of supervisory control, and greater centralization of decision making.

These work groups ordinarily are embedded in larger organizations such as universities and governmental or industrial establishments. They also are likely to be linked informally with other groups working on the same or related research problems in other establishments. These loosely linked and loosely bounded sets of work groups can be called "specialties" or, more evocatively, "invisible colleges" (Price 1986). Groups in a specialty simultaneously compete with one another and make contributions to one another's research. The number of groups in a specialty worldwide (there is a great deal of international collaboration) is ordinarily small, perhaps 50 on the average and seldom over 100, although specialties with over 500 groups exist. Scientists spend much of their time communicating with one another: writing papers, reviewing papers by others, attending meetings of scientific societies, and informally (Nelson and Pollock 1970).

The public nature of science tends to inhibit deviant behavior, but some deviance is to be expected. The extent of research fraud, such as forging and trimming data, is difficult to ascertain, as is the case in white-collar crime generally. Evidence and theories about such deviance are summarized in Zuckerman (1988). Fraud is most likely to occur when researchers are under pressure to get results (such as postdoctoral fellows and nontenured faculty members) and when it is less likely to be detected (as in collaborative research with workers from different disciplines, where one is unable to evaluate the work of another); both conditions are especially likely to exist in experimental research in the biomedical sciences. Of courses, scientists with a high reputation also have engaged in research fraud; the case of the psychologist Cyril Burt is discussed in Gieryn (1998).

Scientific specialties usually exist within disciplines represented by their own university departments and scientific societies, but interdisciplinary research is common. The growth of an interdisciplinary area can lead to the differentiation of disciplines, and so the number of scientific disciplines has grown (Hagstrom 1965). The different scientific disciplines differ greatly in the degree of consensus about theories and methods; one indicator of this is variation in the rejection rates of manuscripts submitted to scientific journals, which is high in fields such as sociology and low in fields such as physics (Hargens 1975, 1988). Variations in consensus can affect the careers of scientists by affecting judgments of the merits of the work of individuals; it is easier to achieve early success in disciplines with a high degree of consensus. Disciplines also vary in the degree to which the work of scientists depends on and contributes to the work of others in their disciplines. This interdependence is related to Durkheim's concept of "organic solidarity." It is lower in mathematics than it is in the empirical sciences, as is indicated by fewer references in and citations of papers written by mathematicians, and it can be experienced as a problem by mathematicians (Hagstrom 1965).


The Structure of Scientific Revolutions by the historian Kuhn (1970), first published in 1962, strongly influenced the sociology of science. Kuhn made a distinction between normal and revolutionary science. Normal science is a puzzle-solving activity governed by paradigms. A paradigm consists of shared commitments by a group of scientists to a set of values, presuppositions about nature, methods of research, symbolic generalizations such as Newton's laws, and exemplars such as particular experiments. In normal science, researchers force nature into agreement with the paradigm; apparently disconfirming evidence does not weaken commitment to the paradigm. Normally scientists are successful in explaining away apparently disconfirming evidence, but persistent critical anomalies can trigger a scientific revolution. In a successful revolution, one paradigm is succeeded by another paradigm with quite different presuppositions and exemplars. Kuhn (1970) argued that the contending paradigms in revolutionary situations are "incommensurable"; the choice between them is not and cannot be determined by evidence and formal decision rules alone. Kuhn illustrated his argument with evidence from major revolutions ranging from the Copernican Revolution of the sixteenth century to the revolutions that overthrew Newtonian physics in the twentieth century as well as smaller revolutions that affected the work of smaller sets of scientists.

The sociologists who developed the sociology of scientific knowledge, initially largely British, advanced radical arguments far beyond those of Kuhn. Not only are paradigms, or theories, "underdetermined" by data, theories are largely or entirely socially constructed. In Harry Collins's words, "the natural world has a small or nonexistent role in the construction of scientific knowledge. . . . [N]othing outside the courses of linguistics, conceptual and social behaviour can affect the outcome of these arguments" (quoted in Gieryn 1982). The constructivists have done a number of detailed case studies of changes in the content of science to support their claims. Their early work is summarized in Collins (1983), who shows how "data" were insufficient for resolving conflicts about an allegedly new type of laser. Others have studied cases such as disputes about gravity waves, the construction of quarks, and the history of statistics and genetics in the early twentieth century. In an ethnographic study of a laboratory that investigated neurohormones, Latour and Woolgar (1979) describe how facts were socially constructed. For example, initial claims constitute conjectures, and lower-order factual statements are qualified by the names of those making the claims. However, when they are successfully constructed, these qualifications are dropped and the facts are taken for granted, perhaps embedded in laboratory equipment or algorithms. Related work by other sociologists has involved detailed analyses of scientific discourse. Gilbert and Mulkay (1984) studied biochemists who did research on the process of oxidative phosphorylation. Those authors showed that the sober proseof the scientific papers, where evidence and argument lead to conclusions, was contradicted by the informal discourse of the same scientists, who were partly aware that evidence and argument would be insufficient to persuade their opponents.

The constructivist position naturally leads to a relativistic position: If theories are social constructs, they could equally well be different. From his detailed study of the ways in which physicists constructed quarks in the period 1964–1974, Andrew Pickering (1984) concluded that "there is no obligation upon anyone framing a view of the world to take account of what twentieth century physics has to say. The particle physicists of the late nineteen-seventies were themselves quite happy to abandon most of the phenomenal world and much of the explanatory framework which they had constructed in the previous decade. There is no reason for outsiders to show the present HEP world-view any more respect." This relativism leads constructivists to challenge the conventional demarcation between science and nonscience or pseudoscience. Thus, an article reporting a study of parapsychologists was titled "The Construction of the Paranormal: Nothing Unscientific Is Happening."

These extreme claims have elicited much controversy. Representative criticisms by sociologists can be found in Gieryn (1982) and Amsterdamska (1990). Some natural scientists have argued that constructivism, along with several other "postmodern" schools of thought in the social sciences and humanities, represents a dangerous form of antiscientism; see Gieryn (1998) for a discussion of these "science wars." Nevertheless, persuasive evidence has been produced about the importance of social factors in changing scientific knowledge. Stewart (1990) studied the recent revolution most widely known to the general public: plate tectonics in the 1950s and 1960s. He found strong resistance to the revolution. Earth scientists who had invested heavily in earlier perspectives were most likely to resist plate tectonics. Usually conversion to the new paradigm was gradual, sealed when scientists saw the relevance of the paradigm for their own research, but Stewart found some whose acceptance of plate tectonics came as the kind of "gestalt switch" described by Kuhn (1970). In the conflicts accompanying the revolution, scientists on both sides deviated from conventional norms and used coercive methods to advance their positions and resist their opponents. Such intense conflict does not always accompany revolutions; in the one in physics that produced quarks, there was little acrimony or duress (Pickering 1984). In the earth sciences and physics, interests internal to the scientific disciplines affected the reception of theories. External interests also can have significant effects. Desmond (1989) shows how the interests of social classes interacted with religion in affecting the reception of Lamarckian ideas about evolution in England in the 1840s; the participants in the disputes were aware of the ideological implications of biological theories. Feminist sociologists of science have shown how gender interests have influenced perceptions of nature and the formulation of biological theories. See Keller (1995) for a review of some examples.


The preceding discussion has concerned mostly basic research oriented primarily toward the advancement of knowledge. However, most research is done to advance other goals: corporate profits, weaponry, health, and human welfare. Of the 2 to 4 percent of their gross national products that advanced industrial countries devote to research and development (R&D), less than 10 percent is devoted to basic research (U.S. National Science Board 1996). Of the remainder, much is devoted to defense, particularly in the United States, where a substantial majority of federal R&D expenditures are devoted to that use.

Independent inventors are still an important source of innovations, but most applied scientists and engineers are salaried employees of corporations and mission-oriented government agencies. Such employees lack most of the autonomy of basic scientists. University-trained scientists are likely to chafe under this loss of autonomy, but successful applied research organizations have developed procedures for harmonizing their scientists' desires for autonomy with an organization's desire for useful knowledge (Kornhauser 1962). Engineers are important in translating knowledge into products and processes. Engineers are more pragmatic than scientists and are committed less to paradigms and more to physical objects (when a scientist moves, he or she is likely to pack his or her journals first; when an engineer moves, she or he packs her or his catalogues). While scientists tend to seek autonomy in organizations, engineers tend to seek power; it is usually necessary to control organizational resources to do successful engineering work.

One of the conflicts that can occur between scientists and their industrial employers concerns communications. Scientists want to communicate their discoveries to their colleagues to gain recognition; their employers want to profit from the discoveries, and that may require keeping them secret. The patent system can provide an accommodative mechanism: Discoveries are made public, but those who wish to use the discoveries for practical purposes must pay royalties to the patent holder. The patent system represents one aspect of the commodification of knowledge. Marxist theories imply that in capitalist social formations, goods and services are produced for sale as commodities, not for use, and this is increasingly the case for scientific knowledge. Kloppenburg (1988) has applied Marxist thought effectively in his history of plant breeding. There were and are inherent problems in making seeds into a commodity, since seeds tend to reproduce themselves; they can be both objects of consumption and part of the means of production. Until recently, seeds seldom were produced as commodities; new varieties were exchanged among farmers or distributed to them by government agencies at little cost, and the farmers would then grow their own seeds. This changed first with the development of hybrid corn, where farmers could not use the corn they produced as seed and instead bought new seed from the seed companies each season. This process has since been extended to other crops. In addition, consistent with Marxist thought, the seed industry has become increasingly centralized and concentrated, with fewer and larger firms dominating it. Those firms also expand into world markets, acquiring germ plasm in third world countries and selling seeds as commodities in those countries. The development of biotechnology has increasingly taken this form. Rapid developments in this area blur the distinction between basic and applied research. The emerging pattern seems to be one in which research that cannot be used to generate a profit is done in universities and governmental agencies, usually at public expense, while research that can be used for profit is done in corporations.

Modern science has led to massive changes in the lives of people in all countries, and it has the potential for further changes. For example, it has made major contributions to economic growth (Mansfield 1991). However, not all these changes have been beneficial, and not all beneficial changes are allocated equitably. While polls show high support for science in general, there are intense public controversies in many areas, from the use of animals in biomedical research, to global warming, to military technologies (Nelkin 1995). Sometimes research and development efforts can achieve considerable autonomy. MacKenzie (1993) shows how those who developed the inertial navigation system for submarine-launched missiles successfully "black-boxed" their efforts so that political officials would not interfere. The navigation technology could have had seriously destabilizing effects in the cold war, without any deliberation by elected officials. The autonomy of engineers sometimes achieve does not imply autonomy for scientists. Thus, while oceanographers have made major discoveries in the past forty years, their expensive research has been driven largely by the interests of the U.S. Navy and their autonomy has been constrained by its interests (Mukerji 1990). Attempts have been made to develop more democratic means for developing science policy. Collingridge (1980) argues for an approach of "disjointed incrementalism": Since problems are rarely foreseen, policy making should be fragmented rather than centralized and will often be remedial; since it is not feasible to investigate all solutions, analysis and evaluation should be serial and incremental. Democratic governments have developed organizations to mediate between science and governmental institutions. These organizations can be nongovernmental, such as the National Academy of Sciences–National Research Council; part of the legislative branch, such as the Office of Technology Assessment of the U.S. Congress; or part of the executive branch, such as the Environmental Protection Agency. (For a description of these efforts in the United States and the difficulties they face, see Bimber and Guston 1995; Cozzens and Woodhouse 1995.) The growth and rapid change of science-based technologies present difficult problems in regard to support and control. Knowledge about the organization of science and its relationships with other institutions can help in dealing with those problems.


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Warren Hagstrom


views updated May 21 2018


Renaissance scientists made major discoveries in a variety of fields, from the study of animals and plants to the analysis of motion, light, and sound. They also developed many ideas and techniques that are central to modern science, such as the reliance on observation and experience and the use of experiments to test theories. However, the term science had a much broader meaning in the Renaissance than it does today. The word could refer to several fields of study, such as alchemy*, astrology*, and magic, that the modern world does not regard as scientific.


Renaissance thinkers based their concept of science on the writings of the ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle, who defined science as knowledge that is certain and unchanging. Aristotle claimed that a person gained perfect knowledge of an object by knowing its cause. The cause of an object, he claimed, made it what it was, and made it impossible for it to be anything else. Thus, Aristotle saw scientific knowledge as fixed and not subject to change. For him, a scientific explanation had to involve a logical proof that one thing was the cause of another.

Since Aristotle's time, however, the concept of science had broadened to include less perfect types of knowledge. Over the course of the Middle Ages, and even more during the Renaissance, thinkers came to recognize that the kind of arguments Aristotle saw as "proof" always involved some amount of speculation. Thus, they began accepting theories that only identified the probable cause of a thing or event, rather than "proving" its cause. They also gave more credit to theories that could predict actual events, such as eclipses, without explaining why they occur.

Renaissance scholars divided science into two main types. The speculative sciences were concerned with knowledge for its own sake. The practical sciences, by contrast, focused on applying knowledge to everyday problems. Each of these broad categories included several more specific fields.

The speculative sciences covered three major areas: mathematics, metaphysics*, and natural philosophy. Of these three, only natural philosophy resembled the modern concept of science. This field, also known as natural science, dealt with the physical world. It included such disciplines as botany (the study of plants), geology (the study of the earth), and zoology (the study of animals). The speculative sciences also included some "mixed sciences" such as mathematical physics, which covered the same subjects as natural science, but examined them in terms of mathematical ideas.

While the speculative sciences dealt with what human beings could know, practical sciences dealt with what human beings could do or make. Renaissance thinkers saw the practical sciences as very close to the arts, and they viewed some fields, such as logic and medicine, as both arts and sciences. Practical sciences during the Renaissance included medicine, engineering, and the "moral sciences" of ethics* and politics.


The natural philosophy of the Renaissance was the basis of the disciplines now known as natural sciences. Several factors helped advance the study of natural philosophy. First, better translations of the classical* works on science became available. Scholars also rediscovered ancient sources that provided alternate views of nature. Perhaps the most important change, however, was the development of new ideas and new approaches in science.

Mathematicians had long relied on the use of suppositions, or hypotheses—ideas that they assumed to be true in order to test an argument. As mathematics and physics began to overlap more in the 1500s, scientists began using the same technique. The famous Italian scientist Galileo Galilei (1564–1642) was one of the first to use experiments to test his proposed ideas. The use of hypotheses and experiments was a major breakthrough in the development of modern science.

Botany. Since prehistoric times, humans had used plants for food, medicine, and other purposes. However, until the Renaissance, there were few attempts to study or describe plants in a systematic manner. The science of botany emerged in the 1400s as a result of several factors, including the revival of classical texts, the discovery of new plants, and the growth of printing, which made it much easier to reproduce pictures and descriptions of plants. Renaissance botany dealt mainly with the medical uses of plants and with identifying plants mentioned in ancient texts. In the later Renaissance, botanists focused more on classifying plants and describing their physical and chemical properties.

Two types of botany texts were widely available in the Renaissance. The first type, known as an herbal, was a list of plants—usually in alphabetical order—along with a brief description of each one, including its habitat and its medical uses. The only illustrations in the earliest printed herbals were woodcuts* based on drawings from medieval* texts, which barely resembled the actual plants. Some later herbals featured more realistic images drawn from life. The other common botany texts were new editions of ancient botanical works, such as Natural History by the Roman author Pliny the Elder and On the Materials of Medicine by the Greek physician Pedanius Dioscorides. The study of these classical texts raised suspicions among scholars that the ancients might not have known all the plants in the world.

In 1530 the scholar Otto Brunfels gave the illustrated herbal a distinctly Renaissance form with his Living Images of Plants. The woodcut illustrations, prepared from drawings made by a student of the famous German artist Albrecht DÜrer, were incredibly lifelike. Some pictures even showed the insect holes and withered leaves on individual plants. The text quoted new editions of classical authors and attacked medieval physicians' ignorance of plants.

Brunfels's success led others to follow in his footsteps. In 1542 Leonhard Fuchs, a German professor of medicine, published Notable Commentaries on the History of Plants. The simple line drawings in this volume could be printed at very small sizes while still showing each plant clearly, making them suitable for use in pocket-sized field manuals. Fuchs's text also included many New World plants not known to the ancients, such as maize (corn). In addition, it featured a glossary of old and new terms for the parts of plants.

By the late 1500s the number of known plants had grown to 6,000—ten times the number listed in Dioscorides' text. These newly discovered plants included many from beyond Europe, and specialized books began to appear about the plants of different lands. Scholars found it difficult to name and classify all these new plants. Over 200 different authorities existed, each with its own set of plant names. The confusion over names made it harder to classify plants. Some texts claimed to arrange plants according to similarities, but the guidelines for similarity—such as habitat, growth pattern, or visible features—differed from one book to the next.

Beginning in the 1530s, humanist* scholars reformed the teaching of medicine to reflect the advances in botany. Formal lectures on the medicinal uses of plants drew on new editions of texts by Dioscorides and the ancient Greek physician Galen. Instructors also began to place more emphasis on direct, hands-on experience. Professors took students on botanical field trips and conducted demonstrations of plants in botanical gardens. An Italian teacher of botany developed a new type of study aid called an herbarium, which contained pressed and dried plants preserved on sheets of paper.

Zoology. During the Renaissance, the study of animals was based on texts and descriptions rather than on real-world experience. Universities emphasized the teachings of Aristotle, which inspired them to group living things into a value-based hierarchy*. Other classical authors, such as Pliny, focused on tales of animals rather than descriptions of them. These writers tended to include mythical creatures, such as unicorns, in their texts. They often assigned human traits to animals.

Like botany, zoology had strong ties to medicine. Most zoologists were physicians who studied stories of animals to seek ingredients for medical cures. Most of what scholars knew at the time about the structure and function of the human body was based on parallels drawn from dissecting* animals such as pigs and apes. Scientists also studied animals to learn more about their roles in transportation, nutrition, and sports.

Humanist activity encouraged the study of zoology as scholars restored the original versions of ancient texts. Works by Aristotle, Pliny, and other classical writers appeared in print in the late 1400s. Other factors promoted the growth of zoology as well. For example, Renaissance artists such as Albrecht DÜrer and Leonardo da Vinci created lifelike portraits of animals. The practice of letter writing also advanced the science by giving scholars a way to exchange information. World travelers brought back reports of new animals in other lands—though these reports were often false or exaggerated. Wealthy and powerful individuals, such as popes, set up their own menageries (the forerunners of modern zoos) to display exotic creatures, such as monkeys and elephants.

During the 1500s scientists who wrote about nature relied mostly on evidence from books. In their eagerness to cover as many ancient sources as possible, they often discussed mythical creatures such as the phoenix that had been included in classical texts. Some of them also accepted as fact the claims of ancient authors that rotting wood could breed a certain type of geese. However, other scientists disproved the theories of ancient authors by dissecting actual animals. The Italian medical scholar Gabriele Falloppio, for instance, countered Aristotle's claim that lions have solid bones with no marrow in them. Similarly, Swiss physician Conrad Gesner disproved the belief that the liver of a mouse grows and shrinks with the phases of the moon.

While knowledge of animals increased, classifying them remained difficult. Scholars used a variety of methods for sorting animals into categories. Aristotle had grouped animals according to their structure, development, and habitat. Another common division involved several categories, including quadrupeds (four-footed creatures), birds, and fish. However, even these large groupings left room for confusion. For example, one text included a picture of a bat nursing, yet described the animal as a bird. Gesner suggested adding further branches to the four basic groups of animals, such as wild versus tame and hornless versus horned.


During the Renaissance, the modern science of physics did not exist. The Renaissance concept of physics reflected the ideas outlined in Aristotle's Physics, which laid out a basic philosophy of nature. However, scientists of the time were studying many of the areas that make up modern physics, such as mechanics (the study of forces at work), optics (the study of light), and acoustics (the study of sound).

Mechanics. In its earliest form, the science of mechanics dealt with weights and the movement of heavy bodies. Renaissance scholars used a variety of sources to study mechanics. Two of the most important were Aristotle's Physics and another work called Mechanics, thought to be Aristotle's but actually written by one of his students. Scholars also relied on texts by ancient Greek mathematicians, such as Archimedes, Hero, and Pappus, and on treatises* about the medieval science of weights. The work of engineers who designed and built machines also contributed to the science of mechanics.

The earliest studies of mechanics occurred in the field now known as statics, which deals with the forces exerted by bodies at rest. The central idea of statics is the law of the balance, which tells how applying weights or forces at certain distances from a fulcrum, or balancing point, will bring the entire system to rest. The ancient Greeks had developed two ways to prove this law. The first, which involved calculating the ratios between the forces and distances involved, assumed that all the bodies were at rest. The other proof treated the bodies involved as if they were moving in a circle around the fulcrum. Renaissance mathematicians eventually came to favor the first proof, which led them emphasize the mathematical aspects of mechanics over its physical aspects.

In the 1300s scholars at Oxford University made advances in the study of bodies in motion. They developed laws more sophisticated than Aristotle's for analyzing the forces that move bodies and created rules for calculating the distances bodies travel in various periods of time. Scientists in Paris applied these new discoveries to the fields of physics and astronomy. In the mid-1500s the Spanish scholar Domingo de Soto sought, with limited success, to find common ground between Aristotle's laws of motion and those discovered at Oxford. De Soto also made a major contribution in 1551 when he suggested that the speed of a falling body changes steadily over time.

Galileo made the last great discoveries in Renaissance mechanics. His work in the field began in 1590, when he challenged one of Aristotle's laws of motion. Aristotle had claimed that the speed of a falling object depends on its weight and on the resistance it encounters. Galileo claimed that what mattered was not the absolute weight of the object, but its weight minus the weight of the volume of air, water, or some other medium that it displaced as it fell. Thus, two objects of unequal size made of the same material would fall at the same speed through a given medium.

Beginning around 1593 Galileo taught a course in mechanics at the University of Padua. In this course he used the law of balance to calculate the mechanical advantage of various simple machines, such as the screw and the lever. In the early 1600s Galileo performed a series of experiments with pendulums and inclined planes to study the properties of falling bodies. Eventually he determined that the speed of a falling object varies according to how long it has been falling, rather than on how far it has fallen. In a series of clever "tabletop" experiments, he succeeded in proving that the speed of a falling body increases steadily with time. After 1610 Galileo turned his attention to astronomy for many years. It was not until 1638 that he published Two New Sciences, which became the basis of modern mechanics.

Optics. The science of optics deals with the study of reflected and refracted (bent) light, as well as with the nature of light and theories of human vision. The most influential medieval work on this subject was Optics, by the Arab thinker known to the West as Alhazen. Drawing on anatomical, physical, and mathematical texts by ancient Greek scholars, Alhazen developed the idea that each point on the surface of an object gives off rays that strike the eye. About 1270 the Polish monk Witelo reworked Alhazen's ideas, along with those of various other authors, in a book titled Perspective. Early Renaissance scholars, however, largely ignored these medieval sources in favor of classical texts. For example, in 1486 the monk Gregorius Reisch published an encyclopedic work that drew on the ideas of ancient Stoic philosophers, who described vision in terms of a series of images that moves from the object to the eye of the viewer.

In 1572 scholar Friedrich Risner published his Thesaurus of Optics. This text combined Optics and Perspective in a single volume and was the first printed version of Alhazen's work. Risner prepared this book by comparing the texts of several different manuscripts. He also divided the book into sections, redrew the figures, and added references to link parts of Alhazen's work to that of Witelo. The book had a major influence on future studies of optics.

The work of German astronomer Johannes Kepler laid the foundation for the modern science of optics. His Supplement to Witelo, published in 1604, explored such topics as reflection, refraction, the nature of light, and the relationship between light and color. Kepler also developed a theory of vision that stated that light rays enter the eye and create an upside-down image on the retina. He was the first to understand the role of the retina in vision.

One of the most important developments in optics during the Renaissance was the use of lenses to magnify the size of objects. This idea was not completely new. Eyeglasses had existed as early as 1313, and by 1500 the use of lenses to improve vision was common throughout Europe. However, making eyeglasses was the work of craftspeople, rather than scientists, and was not related to writings on optics. In 1593 the Italian humanist Giambattista della Porta published On Refraction, which described a series of experiments that combined convex lenses, which curve outward, with concave ones, which curve inward. By 1608 instrument makers in the Netherlands had put this idea to use, creating spyglasses that used two lenses to magnify images to three times their normal size.

Galileo began improving on the spyglass and developed an instrument that could magnify images 30 times. He used his new tool to study and describe the features of the moon's surface, the moons of Jupiter, and many new stars. In 1610 he published his discoveries in the book Sidereal* Messenger. The book stirred controversy about the value of the telescope. A critic in Florence attacked Galileo, denying that images seen through a telescope were real. Kepler responded by declaring his belief in the value of the telescope and the reality of Galileo's observations.

Acoustics. The science of acoustics deals with the physics of sound and the ways that humans hear sounds. For much of the 1400s, scholars and musicians based their understanding of sound on the book Fundamentals of Music, by the Roman scholar Anicius Boethius (480–524). This work combined the theories of various ancient Greek authorities in a single text. Boethius defined sound as a vibration of air that reaches a listening ear. Although a sound wave is actually a series of pulses, the ear senses it as a continuous tone, which is higher or lower depending on how fast the air is moving. Measuring the rate of the pulses, he argued, made it possible to assign a number to a pitch and compare it to the pitch of other notes.

Boethius agreed with the Greek author Pythagoras that only certain ratios between pitches would produce consonances—mixtures of high and low tones that were pleasing to the ear. He believed that simple ratios, like 2:1 or 3:2, produced pleasing sounds. Because there was no way to measure the speed of the vibrations in the air directly, Boethius focused on the size of the objects that produced the sounds. He referred to a legend about Pythagoras hearing consonances coming from a black-smith's shop and speculating that the combinations of pitches resulted from hammers of differing weights striking the anvil. Later scholars, however, proved that the weight of a hammer does not affect the pitch of the sound it produces.

While some parts of Boethius's work used Pythagorean ideas, in other sections he quoted authors who defined consonance and dissonance (a displeasing blend of tones) purely in terms of the listener's judgment. During the 1500s musical theorists argued over whether to define consonance in terms of mathematical ratios or listener reactions. Physicist Giovanni Benedetti analyzed the motion of strings and suggested that a consonance depended on having two vibrating strings pass through the central point of their vibration at exactly the same instant. The more often this happened, the more perfect the interval between the two notes would sound. For instance, if the two strings were tuned exactly one octave apart, then the lower string would be in its central position exactly half the time that the higher one was. Thus, the ear perceived the octave as a consonance.

Another major discovery of the 1500s had to do with sympathetic vibration. This occurs when the sound waves produced by one vibrating object, such as a string, set off vibrations in another object. Italian scholar Girolamo Fracastoro suggested that a vibrating string produces a sound by causing the air to compress and decompress in a series of pulses. When these waves of compressed air hit another string, they will cause it to vibrate if it is tuned to the same pitch as the first object. If the second string is tuned to a different note, it will interfere with the motion of the air and no sound will be produced.


The modern science of chemistry arose out of the "chemical philosophy" of the Renaissance. This philosophy, in turn, grew out of the work of alchemists, especially the Swiss physician Paracelsus (1493–1541). Chemical philosophers sought to identify the basic elements of which things were made. Some of them focused their attention on the study of metals and minerals. Others, such as Paracelsus, aimed to discover new medical uses for various substances. Some of their methods hinted at the techniques that would later be useful in the labs of modern chemists. However, most chemical philosophers did not make a distinction between their field and alchemy, which also contained magical and mystical* elements.

Metallurgy. Many early advances in chemistry occurred in the field of metallurgy (the study of metals). Italian scholar Vannoccio Biringuccio made several major discoveries in this field. Although he based his theories on the works of Aristotle, his methods were much more modern. In On Pyrotechnics, published in 1540, he wrote at length about metallic ores and how to analyze them and prepare them for smelting. He also discussed alloys (blends of two or more metals) and "semiminerals" such as mercury and sulfur.

German scholars Georgius Agricola and Lazarus Ercker also published influential works on mining and metallurgy. Agricola's On Metals was a thorough survey of what Renaissance scholars knew about metals, including how to work with them. Ercker's Description, published in 1574, built on Agricola's work. It explained how to obtain and refine various metals and use them to produce acids, salts, and other compounds. Some consider this text the first manual of analytical and metallurgical chemistry.

Medical Chemistry. Paracelsus pioneered the field of medical chemistry. Unlike most doctors of his time, he favored the use of powerful drugs designed to treat specific diseases. He developed several new laboratory procedures to refine chemical substances for medical purposes, such as a method of concentrating alcohol by purifying and freezing it. He was also the first scientist to group chemicals according to how easy it was to perform certain chemical processes on them.

German scientists of the mid-1500s took the lead in expanding medical chemistry into a more complete field. Adam of Bodenstein edited and translated Paracelsus's works, focusing on the relationship between minerals and medicine. He also recommended the use of metallic compounds for treating disease. German scholar Andreas Libavius, by contrast, opposed the ideas of Paracelsus. The last edition of his book Alchymia, published in 1606, included plans for building a chemical laboratory. The text contained more than 200 designs and pictures of chemical glassware, furnaces, and devices. Many modern scholars view Libavius as the founder of chemical analysis. Another leading medical chemist in Germany was Oswald Croll, who performed experiments to determine the chemical properties of the drugs he used. His book Chemical Edifice (1609) described his preparations in detail and explained how to use them. It became the first textbook of medical chemistry, used for a course in the subject at the University of Marburg.

In France, scientist Guy de La Brosse combined his knowledge of botany with an interest in medicine and chemistry. De la Brosse admired Paracelsus because he had stressed the importance of experiments and direct experience and had opposed the ideas of ancient scholars such as Aristotle and Galen. In 1628 de la Brosse published a work on the nature of plants that he described as a "general treatise on chemistry." According to de la Brosse, the basic idea of chemistry is that everything can be broken down into the basic elements of which it is formed. Reducing a substance in this way, he argued, is the only way to understand it fully.

Belgian scientist Jan van Helmont (1579–1644) made several major discoveries in medicine and chemistry. He relied heavily on the use of experiments to test different substances. He analyzed smoke chemically and described it as a gas with specific properties based on the substance that produced it. Helmont identified several gases produced by burning different substances, including carbon dioxide from charcoal and "explosive gas" from gunpowder. He also designed methods for preparing various acids from substances such as clay and salt.

While Helmont made many practical discoveries, Daniel Sennert of Germany was responsible for the most important advances in the theory of chemistry. He aimed to find common ground between the ideas of Paracelsus, Aristotle, Galen, and other ancient scholars. Sennert argued that all natural objects could be reduced to certain basic parts. He thought of these parts as very small particles, or minima. He viewed a chemical reaction as an object splitting into specific minima, which then moved around and reformed to create a new substance with its own properties. The minima themselves, he claimed, could never be created, destroyed, or changed. Sennert saw the science of chemistry not just as an aid to the practice of medicine, but as a separate field with the goal of breaking down natural substances and prepare them for other uses.

(See alsoAlchemy; Anatomy; Astronomy; Humanism; Magic and Astrology; Mathematics; Medicine; Mining and Metallurgy; Scientific Instruments; Scientific Method; Technology. )

* alchemy

early science that sought to explain the nature of matter and to transform base metals, such as lead, into gold

* astrology

study of the supposed influences of the stars and planets on earthly events

* metaphysics

branch of philosophy concerned with the nature of reality and existence

* ethics

branch of philosophy concerned with questions of right and wrong

* classical

in the tradition of ancient Greece and Rome

see color plate 6, vol. 4

* woodcut

print made from a block of wood with an image carved into it

* medieval

referring to the Middle Ages, a period that began around a.d. 400 and ended around 1400 in Italy and 1500 in the rest of Europe

* humanist

referring to a Renaissance cultural movement promoting the study of the humanities (the languages, literature, and history of ancient Greece and Rome) as a guide to living

* hierarchy

organization of a group into higher and lower levels

* dissect

to cut open a body to examine its inner parts

* treatise

long, detailed essay

Plant Look-Alikes

Most botanists of the 1500s named, pictured, and described plants without attaching any special importance to their outward appearance. However, some held to the longstanding belief that God had made plants look like human organs to reveal their medical properties. The physician Paracelsus supported this view and proposed such remedies as the use of walnuts to treat brain ailments because a walnut resembles the brain.

* sidereal

relating to the stars

* mystical

based on a belief in the idea of a direct, personal union with the divine

Living Rocks

During the Renaissance, scholars first began to suggest that fossils were not merely stones, but objects that had once been living beings. In 1547 the Italian scholar Girolamo Cardano argued that some fossils found on mountainsides had come from sea creatures. However, he rejected the suggestion that the great flood described in the Bible had deposited these fossils on land. In 1566 Conrad Gesner of Switzerland sorted fossils by shape, separating out specimens he felt resembled land and sea animals. His work was a first step toward the modern view of fossils as the remains of living creatures.


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Scientists collect samples of air, water, soil, plants, and tissue to detect and monitor pollution. Pollutants are most often extracted from samples, then isolated by a technique called chromatography and analyzed by appropriate detection methods. Many pollutants are identified by their spectral fingerprints, unique patterns of absorbed or emitted radiation in the ultraviolet (UV), visible, or infrared (IR) region of the electromagnetic spectrum . Biomonitoring and technologies including satellite observation, sidescan sonar, and bioluminescent reporter chips are also used for pollution monitoring. In the United States, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) approves the methods for monitoring regulated pollutants such as pesticide residues and those in air and drinking water.

Sampling and Extraction

Air can be actively or passively sampled. Actively sampled air is pumped through a filter or chemical solution. For example, airborne lead, mostly originating from metals processing plants, is collected on filters by active sampling and then analyzed spectroscopically. Air that is not pumped but allowed to flow or diffuse naturally is passively sampled. Nitrogen oxides, resulting from vehicle emissions and combustion, can be monitored in passive sampling tubes by their reaction with triethanolamine to form nitrates. The tubes are taken to a laboratory and the amount of nitrate analyzed.

Liquid or solid extraction removes a mix of pollutants from samples. In liquid extraction, samples are shaken with a solvent that dissolves the pollutants. Solid extraction involves the adherence or absorption of pollutants to a solid that is then heated to release a mix of vaporized pollutants which are subsequently analyzed.

anions in water (e.g., nitrate, phosphate, sulfate, bromide, fluoride, chloride)ion exchange chromatography/conductivity detector
criteria pollutants sulfur dioxide, ozone, nitrogen oxidesultraviolet absorption spectroscopy
dioxins and furanshigh-resolution gas chromatography/high-resolution mass spectrometry
greenhouse gases carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxideinfrared absorption spectroscopy
herbicides diquat and paraquat in drinking waterhigh-performance liquid chromatography/ultraviolet spectroscopy
chlorinated disinfection by-products, haloacetic acidsgas chromatography/electron capture detector or mass spectrometry
hydrocarbons in vehicle emissionsinfrared absorption spectroscopy
metalsinductively coupled plasmaatomic emission spectrometry or mass spectrometry or graphite furnace atomic absorption spectrometry for trace amounts (e.g. arsenic and lead)
mercurycold vapor atomic absorption spectrometry
organophosphate pesticides (e.g. malathion, parathion)gas chromatography/nitrogen/phosphorus detector
pcbs, chlorinated pesticides (e.g. ddt, lindane) and herbicides in watergas chromatography/electron capture detector or mass spectrometry
phthalates in water or biological samplesgas chromatography/electron capture or photoionization detector or mass spectrometry
toxic gases such as hydrogen sulfide, ammonia, styrene, hydrogen fluorideultraviolet or infrared absorption spectroscopy
volatile organic compounds (vocs) in watergas chromatography/photoionization and electrolytic conductivity detectors in series
volatile organic compounds in airfourier transform infrared spectroscopy


Chromatography is the method most often used in environmental chemistry to separate individual pollutants from mixtures. The mixture to be analyzed is added to a liquid or gas, depending on whether liquid or gas chromatography is employed. The liquid or gas, called the mobile phase, is then forced through a stationary phase, often a column packed with solid material that can be coated with a liquid. The stationary and mobile phases are chosen so that the pollutants in the mixture will have different solubilities in each of them. The greater the affinity of a pollutant for the stationary phase, the longer it will take to move through the column. This difference in the migration rate causes pollutants to separate.

A chromatogram is a graph of intensity peaks that are responses to a detection method, indicating the presence of a pollutant, plotted against time. Individual pollutants are identified by comparing their chromatogram to one for the suspected compounds under the same conditions. The pollutant concentration is determined from the height of the peaks and area under them.

Different kinds of chromatography work best for different pollutants. Gas chromatography separates organic chemicals that vaporize easily (VOCs). Benzene and ethylbenzene are VOCs in vehicle exhaust and are monitored in drinking water. Many pesticides, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), and dioxin are separated by gas chromatography. Less volatile substances such as the herbicide diquat are isolated by high-performance liquid chromatography (HPLC). Ion exchange chromatography separates inorganic ions such as nitrates that can pollute water when excess fertilizer or leaking septic tanks wash into it.


Chromatographic methods are routinely automated. A detector that responds to the pollutants' physical or chemical properties analyzes the gas or liquid leaving the column. Detectors can be specific for individual pollutants or classes of pollutants, or nonspecific.

Nonspecific Detectors. Flame ionization, thermal conductivity, and mass spectrometry are common nonspecific detection methods that detect all molecules containing carbon and hydrogen. In mass spectrometry, molecules of a gas are energized in a variety of ways, such as bombardment with electrons or rapid heating, causing them to gain or lose electrons. Because they have different masses and charges, the resulting ions are separated when they pass through magnetic and electric fields. The size and distribution of peaks for ions with different mass-to-charge ratios, known as the mass spectrum, identify the gas and determine its concentration. Gas chromatography coupled with high-resolution mass spectrometry definitively identifies PCBs and is the most accurate way to determine their concentration. Portable gas chromatograph/mass spectrometers can measure VOCs in soil and water to parts per billion (ppb).

Specific Detectors. Methods that detect classes of pollutants include nitrogen/phosphorous detectors for organophosphate pesticides, thermionic ionization detectors that detect molecules containing NO2, nitro groups, such as dinitrotoluene and electron capture. Electron capture is particularly sensitive to compounds, such as organohalide pesticides that contain the halogen atoms, chlorine, bromine, or fluorine. These atoms strongly attract electrons. The electron capture detector emits electrons that are captured by the halogens atom. The reduction in electric current corresponds to the concentration of pollutant. Chlorinated disinfection by-products, haloacetic acid, and phthalates in drinking water can be separated by gas chromatography and measured by electron capture. Sulfur hexafluoride, an ozone-depleting gas, can be measured to parts per trillion (ppt) by electron capture. Spectroscopic detection methods including IR, UV, and atomic absorption and emission spectroscopy are unique for specific compounds.

Spectroscopic Detection. The electromagnetic spectrum encompasses all forms of electromagnetic radiation from the most energetic cosmic and gamma rays to the least energetic radio waves. The part of the spectrum that is particularly useful in identifying and measuring pollutants consists of radiation that interacts with the atoms and molecules that make up life on Earth. This includes radiation in the UV, visible, and IR regions.

Atomic Spectra. Atoms of different elements may be thought of as having different arrangements of electrons around the nucleus in increasing energy levels. When metals such as lead, copper, and cadmium are vaporized at high temperatures, some electrons jump to higher energy levels. When the electrons drop to their original levels, the metal atoms emit radiation in a range of wavelengths from IR to UV, including visible light. The colors in fireworks result from such emissions. The wavelengths emitted constitute a unique "fingerprint" for each element and their intensity reflects the metal concentration. Inductively coupled plasma emission spectra (ICPAES), in which a high-temperature gas or plasma excites metal atoms, are used to identify and quantify heavy metal contamination.

The same spectral fingerprint is obtained from the wavelengths of light that each element absorbs. Trace amounts of certain metals such as mercury and arsenic are more accurately measured from their absorption, rather than their emission spectra.

UV and IR Spectra. Many pollutants can be identified by their UV and IR spectra because all molecules that absorb strongly at specific wavelengths exhibit spectral fingerprints. Pollutants separated by liquid chromatography are often detected by spectroscopy. Gases such as those from vehicle emissions, landfills, industrial manufacturing plants, electric power plants, and hazardous incineration smokestacks can be monitored by spectroscopic methods. Gas and chemical leaks may also be monitored by spectroscopy.

UV Absorption Spectra. Toxic gases such as hydrogen sulfide, ammonia, and styrene can be monitored by their UV absorption spectra. Open path monitors emit UV radiation from a source, such as a bulb containing excited xenon gas, across the area to be monitored. Detectors record the absorbed wavelengths to produce a spectral fingerprint for each gas. Ammonia is often used as a coolant for turbine generators in power plants. It can be monitored for worker safety by its UV spectrum. The EPA has established National Ambient Air Quality standards for the six criteria pollutants: carbon monoxide, lead, nitrogen dioxide, ozone, particulate matter, and sulfur dioxide.

Satellite instruments monitoring stratospheric ozone generally measure the decrease in intensity in UV solar radiation due to ozone absorption. The total ozone mapping spectrometer on the Earth probe satellite (TOMS/EP) scans back and forth beneath the satellite to detect six individual frequencies of UV light that are scattered by air molecules back through the stratosphere. The more ozone in the stratosphere, the more "backscattered" UV radiation will be absorbed compared to UV radiation directly from the sun.

Some IR open path monitors use a tunable diode laser source in the near IR. The laser emits the specific frequency at which a monitored gas absorbs, so there is no interference from other gases or particles such as rain or snow. Such lasers are widely employed in the telecommunications industry. Pollutants that absorb at specific wavelengths in this range include hydrogen fluoride, an extremely toxic gas used in the aluminum smelting and petroleum industries. Hydrogen fluoride can be monitored to one part per million (ppm) for worker safety by this method.

The greenhouse gases carbon dioxide, nitrous oxide, and methane may also be monitored by IR spectroscopy. Currently, emissions of carbon dioxide from power plants are not generally measured directly but are estimated. However, the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere over Mauna Loa has been measured continuously by IR spectroscopy since 1958. The Mauna Loa Observatory is located on the earth's largest active volcano on the island of Hawaii. It is relatively remote from human activity and changes in carbon dioxide concentration above it are considered a reliable indicator of the trend of carbon dioxide concentration in the troposphere. Data from Mauna Loa show a 17.4 percent increase in carbon dioxide concentration from 315.98 parts per million (ppm) by volume of dry air in 1959 to 370.9 ppm in 2001.

Remote sensors for vehicle emissions contain units that detect and measure carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, and hydrocarbons by their IR spectra. Because IR absorption bands from water and other gases found in car exhaust interfere with the IR spectrum of NOx, the sensor also contains a unit that measures NOx from their UV absorption spectra.

Fourier transform IR spectroscopy (FTIR) analyzes the absorption spectrum of a gas mixture to detect as many as twenty gases simultaneously. The technique involves analyzing the spectra mathematically and then comparing the observed fingerprints with calibrated reference spectra stored on the hard drive of the computer to be used for analysis. Reference spectra for more than one hundred compounds are stored, including most of the VOCs considered hazardous by the EPA. Instruments that use UV Fourier transform analysis are now available. The instruments are generally installed at one location, but are portable and can be battery operated for short-term surveys. Multiple gas-monitoring systems are used in a variety of industries, including oil and gas, petrochemical, pulp and paper, food and beverage, public utility, municipal waste, and heavy industrial manufacturing.


Biomonitoring is the study of plants, vertebrate, and invertebrate species to detect and monitor pollution. Moss and lichens absorb heavy metals, mainly from air, and have been analyzed by scientists studying air pollution.

Water pollution can be studied by recording changes in the number and type of species present and in specific biochemical or genetic changes in individual organisms. Blue mussels accumulate metals in certain tissues over time and are monitored in the United States and international waters for changes in pollution levels. The index of biotic integrity (IBI), first developed by James Karr in 1981 to assess the health of small warmwater streams, uses fish sampling data to give a quantitative measure of pollution. Twelve indicators of stream health, appropriate to the geographical area, including the total number of fish, the diversity of species, and food chain interactions, are numerically rated with a maximum of five points each. An IBI close to sixty corresponds to a healthy stream, whereas a rating between twenty and twelve implies a considerable pollution. Versions of the IBI with appropriate indicators are used to assess rivers and streams in France, Canada, and different regions of the United States.

Bioluminescent Reporter Technology

In bioluminescent reporter technology, bacteria that break down pollutants are genetically modified to emit blue green light during the degradation process. The bacteria are embedded in a polymer porous to water and combined with a light sensor integrated with a silicon computer chip. The sensor measures the intensity of the glow to determine the amount of pollution, and that information is transmitted to a central computer.

Bioluminescent reporter technology is still being studied by researchers, but is currently employed in some wastewater treatment plants in the United Kingdom. Incoming wastewater is monitored for chemicals that inhibit the bacterial activity necessary for efficient wastewater treatment. The incoming water is automatically sampled and mixed with freeze-dried luminescent bacteria from the treatment plant. A reduction in light intensity compared to a control with pure water indicates the chemical inhibition of wastewater microorganisms. This technology is also being used to identify petroleum pollutants, such as napthelene.

Sidescan Sonar

Sidescan sonar instruments bounce sound off surfaces both vertically and at an angle to produce images of sea and riverbeds. Because PCBs tend to stick preferentially to organic matter, there is a greater possibility of finding them in small-grain aquatic sediments, since these contain more organic material. The EPA has analyzed sound reflection patterns from sidescan sonar data to identify areas of small grain size and selectively sample for PCBs in the Hudson River, New York. Sidescan sonars are also used to detect sea grass, an indicator of marine health, and sewage or oil leaks from underwater pipelines.


Once a potentially harmful pollutant is measured in trace amounts, then regulators, such as the EPA, have to decide on a safe limit. Risk analysis is the method used to set limits on harmful pollutants in the United States. Risk is calculated based on laboratory tests, sometimes on animals, and epidemiological studies that relate human health to exposure.

Risk analysis is conducted for individual pollutants, but people can be exposed to multiple pollutants simultaneously, such as pesticides, heavy metals, dioxins, and PCBs. Even though a person's exposure to individual chemicals may fall within regulated limits, the pollutants may interact to cause as yet unknown adverse health effects. It is known, for instance, that exposure to both asbestos and tobacco smoke geometrically increases the risk of cancer. Because there are so many potentially harmful chemicals in the environment scientists cannot predict all their possible interactions and consequent health effects on the body.

see also Air Pollution; Arsenic; Dioxin; Greenhouse Gases; Heavy Metals; Lead; Mercury; Ozone; PCBs (Polychlorinated Biphenyls); Pesticides; Risk; Vehicular Pollution; VOCs (Volatile Organic Compounds); Water Treatment.


Csuros, Maria. (1997). Environmental Sampling and Analysis Lab Manual. Boca Raton, FL: Lewis Publishers.

Manahan, Staley E. (2001). Fundamentals of Environmental Chemistry, 2nd edition. Boca Raton, FL: Lewis Publishers.

Schnelle, Kard B., Jr., and Brown, Charles A. (2002). Air Pollution Control Technology Handbook. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press.

internet resources

Carbon Dioxide Information Analysis Center Web site. "Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide Record from Mauna Loa." Available from

Goddard Space Flight Center Web site. "Ozone Measurements, TOMS on Earth Probe Satellite." Available from

University of Tennessee. Center for Environmental Biotechnology Web site. "Bioreporter Research Projects." Available from

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Office of Water. "Approved Methods for Inorganic Chemicals and Other Parameters." Available from

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Technology Transfer Network Emissions Measurement Center. "CFR Promulgated Test Methods." Available from

U.S. Geological Survey. National Environmental Methods Index Web site. Available from

Patricia Hemminger

When New Jersey inventors John Mooney and Carl Keith invented the three-way catalytic converter in 1974, the Wall Street Journal called it a $20 million mistake. Industry estimates today credit the catalytic converter with preventing fifty million tons of carbon monoxide and fifty million tons each of hydrocarbons and nitrogen oxides from polluting the air worldwide. In addition, the use of catalytic converters required that lead be removed from gasoline.


views updated May 14 2018


As a race, people of African origin have been the object of scientific scrutiny and analysis in America since the colonial period. The practice of scienceand the perspectives of its practitionerswere shaped to a large extent by prevailing social and theological notions of racial hierarchy. Science operated on the assumption that "the Negro race" was inferior; it helped define race and was subsequently abused in the promotion of racism in America.

Racial Concepts

Models of racial classification had roots in the work of the eighteenth-century Swedish naturalist Carl Linnaeus. Linnaeus's framework was adopted by nineteenth-century naturalists and broadened by Georges Cuvier, Charles Lyell, Charles Darwin, and others to include analysis of hair, skull, and facial features. Lyell and Darwin thought of the "Negro" as an intermediate step on the ladder of evolution, somewhere between monkey and Caucasian. Cuvier held that blacks were "the most degraded of human races, whose form approaches that of the beast." Louis Agassiz, the Swiss-born American naturalist and professor at Harvard University, considered the Negro almost a separate species. It was difficult, he said, in observing "their black faces with their thick lips and grimacing teeth to repress the feeling that they are not of the same blood as us."

The racially charged views of these and other scientists became part of the legacy passed on to succeeding generations. Nineteenth-century America, for example, saw the rise of craniometry (measurement of the brain) and anthropometry (the taking of anatomical measurements in general) as methods of exploring and comparing the physical, mental, and moral condition of the races. This work was carried out, during the Civil War and afterward, largely by white physicians in the service of govern-mental bodies such as the U.S. Sanitary Commission, a predecessor of the U.S. Public Health Service.

Physicians played a vital role in developing a science-based analysis of black people. The condition of African Americans (often referred to as "the other race") was a common topic of discussion in professional journals, at conferences, and in articles on health topics for popular newspapers and magazines during the nineteenth century. White physicians portrayed African Americans as constitutionally weakmore prone to disease than whites, with a higher mortality rate, and exhibiting signs that pointed toward eventual extinction. Data and statistics, generally void of appropriate context, were used to buttress this thesis. The low rate of suicide among blacks, for example, was interpreted as a reflection of limited intellectual capacityan indication that blacks lived only for the moment and, unlike whites, lacked the conceptual skills necessary to plan and shape the future.

Nineteenth-century black physicians remained more or less silent about the racial dogmas advanced by their white counterparts for several reasons. First, since white organizations generally refused to admit them to member-ship, black physicians were kept busy developing alternative forumstheir own professional societies, discussion groups, journalsto provide opportunities for shared learning and experience. The National Medical Association, the black counterpart of the American Medical Association, was founded in 1895 through the efforts of prominent physicians such as Miles Vandahurst Lynk and Robert Fulton Boyd. Second, black physicians recognized that generating racial or political controversy risked a backlash that could undermine efforts to place their own professional role and community on a solid foundation. And third, some black professionals accepted the truth of racial stereotypes and distanced themselves from the perceived taint of their race by thinking of themselves as unique, as somehow different from the "typical" African American.

Eugenics and Other Movements

In the early twentieth century, activities pursued under the guise of science continued to point to the alleged inferiority of African Americans. The eugenics movement is a good example. While it had always been present in some form (in spirit if not in name), eugenics assumed formal standing as a science with the rediscovery of botanist Gregor Mendel's seminal paper on genetics in 1900 and the establishment in 1910 of the Eugenics Record Office at Cold Spring Harbor, Long Island, New York. Defined as the science of improving the hereditary qualities of particular races or breeds, eugenics found devotees among geneticists and reputable practitioners in other branches of the biological sciences. It captured the public imagination, bringing issues of racial inferiority into focus not only in the realm of natural science, but in the social arena as well. Eugenics, with its growing stock of data on what were termed "weak races," fed into regressive social policies, such as the anti-immigration movement and programs of coercive sterilization aimed at "purifying" the nation's population stocks. Its ideas permeated American society, promoting racial fear among whites and self-antipathy among some blacks. Although eugenics slipped out of the mainstream of American science in the 1930s following its adoption by the Germans as a social-engineering tool, its assumptions remained firmly embedded in the American social fabric.

The racial thrust underlying the work of the craniometrists, anthropometrists, physician-scientists, and eugenicists persisted past the middle of the twentieth centuryin spite of the rise of the civil rights movement. In some respects, it persists down to the present day. Examples are numerous. From 1932 to 1972, the U.S. Public Health Service carried out the Tuskegee Study of Untreated Syphilis in the Negro Male (popularly known as the Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment). This project gathered together four hundred African-American "guinea pigs"; misled them about the nature of their illness by reinforcing the subjects' belief that they were suffering from vague ailments related to "bad blood"; and withheld treatment from them in order to observe the progress of the disease. One rationale underlying the project was the need to assess racial differences in the impact of the disease. Then there was the segregation of blood in the armed services during World War II. Still later, during the 1960s and 1970s, Arthur Jensen, Richard Herrnstein, and William Shockley applied IQ and other data in studies of racial differences. These scientists drew broad conclusions, for example, about the genetic inferiorityand, in particular, the inherently lower intelligenceof blacks as compared to whites. Since the 1980s, some work in sociobiology and genetic engineering has attempted to identify genes with behavioral traits. In 1992 the National Institutes of Health awarded funds for a conference on heredity and criminal behavior but later withdrew support to placate critics who felt that linking genetics and crime in this way could add renewed authority to theories that blacks (represented disproportionately in U.S. crime statistics) were biologically inferior.

African Americans in Science

Science may have been used and abused in racially motivated ways, but this has not stopped African Americans from being drawn to careers in the field. The history of blacks in American science is as old as the history of science in America. In colonial America, free blacks were known for their inventive, scientific, and technical skills. The first to achieve a national reputation in science was Benjamin Banneker (17311806), known in the latter part of the eighteenth century as a mathematician, astronomer, and compiler and publisher of almanacs. In 1791 Banneker served as part of a team of surveyors and engineers who contributed to planning the city of Washington, D.C. Other free blacks, including Thomas L. Jennings (17911859) and Norbert Rillieux (18061894), developed and patented technical devices in the years leading up to the Civil War. Some slaves were known for their inventive abilities, but their legal status prevented them from holding patents and from receiving widespread public recognition of their achievement.

After the Civil War, the number of blacks undertaking scientific work increased slowly. The establishment of black institutions of higher learningnecessary because white institutions did not routinely admit African-American studentsprovided an essential start. Nevertheless, black colleges and universities tended to focus on curricula in theology, education, medicine, and other fields that were more practical (or technical) than scientific, geared primarily toward creating a niche or foothold for African-American professionals in the social and economic mainstream. Science, in the sense of an activity devoted to pure or basic research, did not fit readily into this framework. As a result, African Americans wanting specialized science education or training were obliged to seek out programs at white institutions. It was a difficult proposition that only a few tackled successfully before the end of the nineteenth century. One of the earliest was Edward Alexander Bouchet (18521918), who earned a Ph.D. in physics from Yale University in 1876. Bouchet was said to have been the first African American to earn a Ph.D. from an American university. His subsequent career did not, however, include research in the sciences. He became a high-school science teacher at the Institute for Colored Youth in Philadelphia. Because of his race, professional opportunities in science were essentially closed to him. Bouchet's was nonetheless an important accomplishment, a counterexample to the widespread mythology about the mental inferiority of blacks.

The number of blacks entering scientific fields increased markedly after the turn of the twentieth century. Among these were Charles Henry Turner, zoologist; George Washington Carver, agricultural botanist; Ernest Everett Just, embryologist; St. Elmo Brady, chemist; Elmer Samuel Imes, physicist; William Augustus Hinton, bacteriologist; and Julian Herman Lewis, pathologist. Percy Lavon Julian, a chemist, and Charles Richard Drew, a surgeon and pioneer of the blood-banking system, followed a couple of decades later. This cohort represents the first group of black scientists to receive graduate degrees from major white universities, pursue science at the research level, and publish in leading scientific journals.

World War II brought African-American scientists, as a distinct group, to public attention for the first time. Prior to this, they had worked primarily as teachers at black colleges and universities, and had notwith the notable exception, perhaps, of Ernest Justexerted their influence widely or made their presence felt in the larger scientific community. As part of the war mobilization effort at the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico and in the various branches of the Manhattan Project attached to laboratories at the University of Chicago, Columbia University, and other universities, some white scientists witnessed for the first time a sizable number of black physicists and chemists entering their world. African Americans who worked on the atom bomb project included Edwin Roberts Russell, Benjamin Franklin Scott, J. Ernest Wilkins Jr., Jasper Brown Jeffries, George Warren Reed Jr., Moddie Daniel Taylor, and the brothers Lawrence How-land Knox and William Jacob Knox Jr. At a postwar conference in 1946, one eminent white scientist, Arthur Holly Compton, remarked on how the bomb project had brought races and religions together for a common purpose.

After the war, even though a few white universities began to open up faculty appointments and graduate fellowships to blacks, racial discrimination continued to operate at many levels within the professional world of science. It was common for major associations, including the American Association for the Advancement of Science, to hold conventions in cities where segregation was both customary and legally enforced, and where hotels serving as convention sites denied accommodation to anyone of African-American origin. Blacks often relied on their own scientific associations, such as the National Institute of Science (founded in 1942) and Beta Kappa Chi Scientific Society (incorporated in 1929), to share ideas and foster collegial ties. Furthermore, most science education for African Americanscertainly at the undergraduate levelcontinued to take place within the confines of historically black colleges and universities.

Following passage of the 1964 U.S. Civil Rights Bill, new educational opportunities gradually opened up for blacks, and scientific careersin both academia and industrybecame more of a tangible, realistic goal. Rosters of noteworthy scientists from the 1960s to the 1990s mention a number of African Americans, including Harold Amos, bacteriologist; Shirley Ann Jackson, physicist; Edward William Hawthorne, physiologist; Marie Maynard Daly, biochemist; and Ronald Erwin McNair, astronautical physicist. Scientific organizations, learned societies, and educational institutions grew more inclusive during this period. David Harold Blackwell, a mathematician, was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 1965. The physicist Walter Eugene Massey became the first African-American president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in 1988 and the first African-American director of the National Science Foundation in 1990.

President George H. W. Bush's Goals 2000 initiative, in which he pledged to make America's students "first in math and science," gave the scientific renaissance of the 1970s and the mid-1980s a boost in 1989. In the ensuing years, African Americans gained greater access to all levels of education in the sciences, increased the percentage of degrees in the sciences they earned relative to their population in the general society, and entered science-related fields in academia and the professions in unprecedented numbers. However, disparities still remain in precollege, undergraduate, and graduate science education and contribute to persistent racial inequalities in the American workforce in the first decade of the twenty-first century. Although African Americans represented around 12 percent of the total U.S. population in 2004, they constituted less than 3 percent of American scientists.

Science in the Twenty-First Century

The postindustrial revolution gained momentum in the early 1990s and prompted dramatic social, economic, and cultural changes in the United States and the international community. The economy in twenty-first-century America, for instance, no longer relies primarily on manufacturing but rather on information. Computers are the engines that drive the information age, and, though underrepresented in the field, black scientists have made basic contributions to advance digital technologies in the global society. For instance, Mark Dean (b. 1957), a Stanford Ph.D. and vice president of IBM and widely considered to be the architect of the modern personal computer, led the design team that created the first one-gigahertz computer processor. Thus, not only was he central to making computers accessible to the common person, he helped to make them faster and much more efficient, too. In addition, Philip Emeagwali (b. 1954), the Nigerian-born Internet and supercomputer pioneer, made scientific breakthroughs that helped to make the world a much smaller place, opening the door to modes of communication that many now take for granted, such as e-mail and text messages.

See also Banneker, Benjamin; Carver, George Washington; Inventors and Inventions; Race and Science; Race, Scientific Theories of


Bolner, Myrtle S., and Gayle A Poirier. The Research Process:Books and Beyond. Dubuque, Ia.: Kendall/Hunt, 2003.

Branson, Herman. "The Negro and Scientific Research." Negro History Bulletin 15 (April 1952): 131136, 151.

Drew, Charles Richard. "Negro Scholars in Scientific Research." Journal of Negro History 35 (April 1950): 135149.

Haber, Louis. Black Pioneers of Science and Invention. New York: Harcourt, Brace, & World, 1970.

Hudson, Wade. Book of Black Heroes: Scientists, Healers, and Inventors. East Orange, N.J.: Just Us Books, 2003.

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Pearson, Willie, Jr. Black Scientists, White Society, and Colorless Science: A Study of Universalism in American Science. Mill-wood, N.Y.: Associated Faculty Press, 1985.

Sullivan, Otha Richard. African American Inventors. New York:Wiley, 1998.

Sullivan, Otha Richard. African American Women Scientists and Inventors. New York: Wiley, 2002.

Warren, Wini. Black Women Scientists in the United States. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2000.

Wright, Clarence. "The Negro in the Natural Sciences." In Negro Year Book: A Review of Events Affecting Negro Life, 19411946, edited by Jessie P. Guzman. Tuskegee, Ala.: Dept. of Records and Research, Tuskegee Institute, 1947.

kenneth r. manning (1996)

garrett albert duncan (2005)


views updated May 29 2018



The term science (in Latin scientia, in Greek epistēmē ) means knowledge. In philosophy it refers strictly to proven ideas, to the exclusion of hypotheses or speculations. Until the twentieth century, proof remained mysterious, but what it achieves has been clear since antiquity: certainty, truth unshakable by criticism or doubt. In the nineteenth century Newtonian mechanics was admitted as scientific in this strict sense, and its overthrow was an earthquake. Scholars now agree that certitude is limited to logic and mathematics. Thus scientists have shifted their efforts toward securing for science a surrogate certainty usually probability.

This shift raises many new questions, thus far unstudied. For example, is Isaac Newtons theory still scientific? In 1962 the historian of science Thomas S. Kuhn spoke of pre-science and of petrified science. Which defunct theory should remain in the up-to-date science textbook? Kuhn suggested that it should present only the latest ideas. Which ones? If not proof, what makes an idea scientific? This is one version of the problem of the demarcation of science (as sets of statements) in disregard for other aspects of the scientific enterprise and its context intellectual, educational, sociopolitical, and so on. Another possible point of departure is the social dimension of science. In the early seventeenth century the English philosopher Francis Bacon said that the advancement of science would improve the human condition, so investing efforts in scientific research would be the most efficient way to spend ones spare time. Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, the early-nineteenth-century German philosopher, noted that the invention of gunpowder made city walls useless and so altered the political landscape. The German political philosopher Karl Marx in the nineteenth century equated science with technology ( grosso modo ) and declared all social and political changes as due to technological progress. Following on Marx, in 1939 the English physicist J. D. Bernal made the dubious claim that medieval science was superior to ancient science. In 1964 the Marxist philosopher Louis Althusser rejected many of Marxs sweeping generalizations but still declared the humanities mostly errors that express bourgeois ideology; he contrasted this ideology with science proper, which includes both the exact sciences and revolutionary dialectical materialism as he understood it. He did not trouble himself to demarcate these fields sufficiently to invite detailed discussions as to whether a certain theory, say, in physics or in economics, is or is not scientific. In 1919decades before Althusserthe American economist Thorstein Veblen studied the nature of science in an effort to examine the validity of claims for the scientific status of diverse economic theories, including that of Marx. He demarcated science historically, by reference to the scientific ethos that, he said, these theories represent; this ethos is often called humanism, the same ethos that Althusser later dismissed as bourgeois. Veblen also drew attention to the wealth of empirical finds and role of theories as explanatory (as opposed to classificatory).

Twentieth-century social science developed ideas about specific aspects of society, including prestige social prestige, the prestige of ideas, and the prestige of scientific ideas. (Prestige is enhanced by power over life; thus nuclear physics is most prestigious.) The concept of science must include the gathering of some sort of empirical information and the search for some interconnections between that information and certain ideas. Science then appears to involve intellectual activities of some sort. Already four centuries ago Bacon deemed science the outcome of the indiscriminate collection of factual information and its use as a solid foundation on which to construct truly scientific ideas. His view, perhaps modified, prevails as the myth of science. (Being a myth proper, it is used at times in its original variant and at other times in modification.) The problem of demarcation then becomes: What do I know, and how can I show that I truly know it? This approach puts science in a psychological context, raising the question, as suggested by the twentieth-century philosopher of science Karl Popper: Is the psychology used to characterize science scientific? Science is also a publicly available fund of knowledge; the traditional view of it as psychological leads to the view (characteristic of the approaches known as reductionism and psychologism) of everything social as inherently psychological.

If science can be viewed as psychological, so too can mathematics, as suggested by Bacon and the nineteenth-century English philosopher and economist John Stuart Mill. The refutation of this notion led to the revolutionary shift of the view of knowledge from psychology to sociologyfrom my knowledge to oursopening the way for the study of the enterprise of science, its prestige, and the social class of its practitioners. This in turn opens interesting secondary questions: Are the teaching of science and the administration of science scientific? (Is the dean of the faculty of science a scientist?) Is all science-based technology scientific? The sociology of science, a young discipline hatched in the early twentieth century, has not yet reached these questions. Such questions pose a difficulty: Science is international, but science-based professions are not. (Compare Japanese science with Japanese technology.) Come to think of it, how international is science? (Is establishing some lingua franca for science advisable?)

Here is a general dispute about all human studies: Existentialists and postmodernists want them to be utterly context dependent, case by case; positivists and analysts want them utterly context free. Seeking a middle ground in sociological laws to set limits on fragmentation, one may view social institutions as generalizations that determine the extent of context dependence. Money is one such institution. Rather than speak separately of the interests of every economic agent, we speak of their profit motive, which, as Georg Simmel argued in 1900, is an intermediary. This role of money makes it important and explains the success of the economic theory that eliminates it from its equations (by replacing prices with relative prices). The trouble is, while waiting for sociology to develop, how should social scientists proceed? They can make use of trivial sociology that at times is powerful. The suitable general concept here is that of games or science regulated by recognized rules (usually institutionalized). Games need not be problematic unless placed under the artificial limitations imposed in game theory, and as in the case of war games, they need not always be frivolous. As to the triviality of the sociology of games, it is advantageous: It stops the question-begging nature of the theory of science from becoming a nuisance. Thus the rules of the game are negotiable. The game of science then might, but need not, exclude science administration, science education, (science-based) technology, and more. Also the rules may be flexible. All this is a secondary issue, as it obviously should be, as long as science remains chiefly the search for ideas and information of a certain kind. The problem of demarcation now reappears: Which kind? Any kind we want.

As this view of science allows excessive freedom, it also invites instituting limitationsto some function, to some tradition, or to some existing paradigms. Paradigms can be ideas (Newton on gravity), preferred ideas (Einstein), institutions (the Royal Society of London, the local medical school, the patent office), traditions, perhaps ways of life. Approaches to problems via paradigms are limited: Taken too seriously, they prove troublesome as too much may depend on an innocent arbitrary choice. The paradigm of this trouble concerns choices of words resting on the view that the commonness of usage is its only justification. We do not want all usage justified, because we want language to function as a useful means for communication.

What then is the function of science? Among several functions, its most conspicuous is explanation, discovery, invention, better living. Jumping a few steps ahead, one can say that its chief function is the search for true explanations (as suggested by Newton, Einstein, and Popper). Its other functions are peripheral. Assuming this to be the case, one can view science as primarily but not solely the enterprise of approaching true explanations of increasing funds of publicly available information.

This is lovely but full of holes. How do we learn from experience? In what way are scientific theories empirical? Popper broke new ground when he said that theories are empirical when they exclude certain observations and to the extent that they do so. Testing them is, then, the search for these observations; the function of testing theories is to refute them so as to usher in their successors. Applying such a test to the theories of Marx and Sigmund Freud, Popper proved them nonempirical. This approach depends on the exact wording of theories, which may become testable by the enrichment of their contents. Popper later tried to square the two ideas: that the empirical is the refutable and that the aim of theorizing is the approximation of the truth (Einstein). The success of his attempt is under debate.

Robert K. Merton approached matters more historically. In 1938, in the wake of Max Weber, the German sociologist of the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century, Merton identified the scientific revolution with the establishment of the Royal Society of London and the motive for it as Protestantism. He then developed a quasi-Weberian model of science, resting on the theory of science of William Whewell (1840, 1858). Mertons views earned much fame and much criticism. The criticism is at times valid, as Whewells view is outdated, and at times based on trivial evidence that he idealized science (which he frankly admitted), both in the sense of presenting it at its best and in the sense that Weber recommended the developing of an ideal type. Reports on poor examples of laboratory life as if they were representative appeared as alleged refutations of his views, although fraud is hard to eradicate anywhere.

The presentation of science by Michael Polanyi (1958, 1966) is the most intriguing, even though he played down the rationality of science. He compared the sociology of science to that of the arts and deemed both artistic and scientific training as the tacit transmission of ways of life in workshops by way of personal example. Polanyis view is insightful and beneficial, although it overstresses tradition as endorsement while slighting the traditional encouragement of criticism and of independence (as suggested by Popper). Polanyi was in error when he ignored efforts to render the tacit explicit and open the results to criticism.

Polanyis views were further developed by Kuhn, who wished to extend the instruction of leaders beyond their immediate personal example limited to their workshops. Their products can travel and serve as substitutes for personal examples. These become chief examples or, in Greek, paradigms. A science is mature, he said, as it gains a ruling paradigm. This notion appealed to those who wanted their products to serve as paradigms, especially in social studies, where the craving for status is strong. Kuhn later admitted that a territory can be divided between paradigms. He also admitted that identifying a paradigm is difficult. This difficulty should not trouble followers of Polanyi, but it does bother followers of Kuhn, as he declared paradigms obligatory. Kuhns approach runs contrary to the view of Merton about the liberalism of science. Kuhn also declared his theory applicable only to the study of nature, not of society.

How do the studies of nature and society differ? Any discussion of this question has to be in accord with one view of science or another. One may of course go to and fro, using the best view of science to differentiate natural and social science and then taking the best differentiation one has to try to learn what it says about science. One thing is certain: Social sciences have a more important role to play in the discussion of science than was heretofore believed.

SEE ALSO Althusser, Louis,; Existentialism; Freud, Sigmund; Ideology; Knowledge; Marx, Karl; Merton, Robert K; Mill, John Stuart; Paradigm; Philosophy of Science; Popper, Karl; Postmodernism; Revolutions, Scientific; Scientific Method; Scientism; Social Science; Sociology, Knowledge in; Veblen, Thorstein


Agassi, Joseph. 1981. Sociologism in Philosophy of Science. In Science and Society: Studies in the Sociology of Science, 85103. Hingham, MA: Kluwer Boston.

Althusser, Louis. 1964. Marxisme et humanisme. Cahiers de lInstitut de Science Économique Appliquée 20: 109133.

Althusser, Louis. 1996. Marxism and Humanism. In For Marx. Trans. Ben Brewster, 219241. London: Verso, 1996.

Bacon, Francis. [1620] 2000. Novum Organum [The new organon], eds. Lisa Jardine and Michael Silverthorne. Cambridge, U.K., and New York: Cambridge University Press.

Bernal, J. D. 1939. The Social Function of Science. London: Routledge.

Carnap, Rudolf, and Richard C. Jeffrey, eds. 19711980. Studies in Inductive Logic and Probability. 2 vols. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Einstein, Albert. 1994. Ideas and Opinions. New York: Modern Library.

Hegel, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich. [1837] 2004. The Philosophy of History. Trans. J. Sibree. University of Idaho, Department of Philosophy.

Kuhn, Thomas S. 1962. The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Latour, Bruno, and Steve Woolgar. 1986. Laboratory Life: The Construction of Scientific Facts. Foreword by Jonas Salk. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Levi, Isaac. 1986. Hard Choices: Decision Making under Unresolved Conflict. Cambridge, U.K., and New York: Cambridge University Press.

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Joseph Agassi

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