Day By Day

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The Continung Collapse of Scientific Authority

Patrick Coffee has a new book out on the history of modern chemistry. Its full title is Cathedrals of Science: The Personalities and Rivalries That Made Modern Chemistry. It's the "Personalities and Rivalries" part that attracted my notice because it is a recognition that "Science" is not an objective enterprise, far from it. As a review states:

Most scientific biographies put their subjects on pedestals. But times are changing, and Coffey's book is representative of a new candor. Weaving together the lives of the leaders of modern chemistry, Coffey shows how fights over priority, backstabbing, cronyism, and grudges shaped the history of chemistry just as much as the actual discoveries. It is an effective antidote to the bromide that science is the work of selfless, Spock-like automatons.
Indeed! "Science" is a fundamentally human undertaking and as such is liable to all the quirks and foibles of humanity. The myth of objective scientific authority is pernicious and has poisoned our public policy debates for decades. It is good to see historians of science finally recognizing the fact that it is quite simply a myth.

Read the review here.

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