Monday, November 17, 2008

Great Feuds in Science

Great Feuds in Science: Ten of the liveliest disputes ever
Hal Hellman © 1998
192 pages, plus bibliography and index

Last week I wanted to read a little science, and while roaming through the shelves, my eyes found this book. It looked interesting, so I checked it out. The book has ten chapters, each on a historical scientific "feud":
  1. Galileo versus Pope Urban VIII: An Unequal Contest
  2. Wallis versus Hobbes: Squaring the Circle
  3. Newton versus Lebniz: A Clash of Titans
  4. Voltaire versus Needham: The Generation Controversy
  5. Darwin's Bulldog versus Soapy Sam: Evolution Wars
  6. Lord Kelvin versus Geologists and Biologists: The Age of the Earth
  7. Cope versus March: The Fossil Feud
  8. Wegener versus Everybody: Continental Drift
  9. Johanson versus the Leakeys: The Missing Link
  10. Derek Freeman versus Margaret Mead: Nature Versus Nuture

The author introduces the 'contestants', providing brief biographies, then moves on to the conflict between the two (or more, in the case of "Evolution Wars") contestants. While I've heard of some of these conflicts, there were were a few (Wallis versus Hobbes, for instance) that were complete unknowns to me. Overall, the book was fairly interesting, and helped to add background to conflicts I've read about in brief -- like Cope versus March, which is mentioned in an inside in Spangenburg and Mosers' history of science series. According to Spangenburg and Moser, they were less scientists and more entrepreneurs who thought of nothing of dynamiting their fossil sites after they were done to prevent other people from finding out about anything they'd missed.

The authors are fairly throrough, although some articles -- "Evolution Wars"-- were stronger than articles like a "A Clash of Titans". The last article on "Nature versus Nurture" was particularly interesting to me. I am interested in both biology and sociology, and so the question of whether our genes or socialization are more important in determining how we act and how our societies function. This author seems to give the impression that the nurture argument is more odminant, at least in the specific case that it examined -- Margaret Mead's experiences in America Samoa.

All in all, fairly interesting and well-organized. If you pay attention to the dates and themes, you may realize that the book starts at the beginning of science as we know it -- Galileo's insistance on observation -- and moves through the history of the centuries following, up to the development of social science in the 20th century.

1 comment:

  1. Wow. It really sound fascintating! And maybe even a little entertaining!


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