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Newton's Apple and Other Myths about Science

Newton's Apple and Other Myths about Science


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A Guardian “Favourite Reads—as Chosen by Scientists” Selection

“Tackles some of science’s most enduring misconceptions.”

A falling apple inspired Isaac Newton’s insight into the law of gravity—or did it really?

Among the many myths debunked in this refreshingly irreverent book are the idea that alchemy was a superstitious pursuit, that Darwin put off publishing his theory of evolution for fear of public reprisal, and that Gregor Mendel was ahead of his time as a pioneer of genetics. More recent myths about particle physics and Einstein’s theory of relativity are discredited too, and a number of dubious generalizations, like the notion that science and religion are antithetical, or that science can neatly be distinguished from pseudoscience, go under the microscope of history.

Newton’s Apple and Other Myths about Science brushes away popular fictions and refutes the widespread belief that science advances when individual geniuses experience “Eureka!” moments and suddenly grasp what those around them could never imagine.

“Delightful…thought-provoking…Every reader should find something to surprise them.”
—Jim Endersby, Science

“Better than just countering the myths, the book explains when they arose and why they stuck.”
The Guardian

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780674241565
Publisher: Harvard
Publication date: 01/07/2020
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 304
Sales rank: 1,121,407
Product dimensions: 5.40(w) x 8.20(h) x 1.00(d)

About the Author

Ronald L. Numbers is Hilldale Professor Emeritus of the History of Science and Medicine at the University of Wisconsin–Madison.

Kostas Kampourakis is Scientific Collaborator, Section of Biology and University Teacher Training Institute, University of Geneva.

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments xiii

Introduction Ronald L. Numbers Kostas Kampourakis 1

I Medieval and Early Modern Science

Myth 1 That There Was No Scientific Activity between Greek Antiquity and the Scientific Revolution Michael H. Shank 7

Myth 2 That before Columbus, Geographers and Other Educated People Thought the Earth Was Flat Lesley B. Cormack 16

Myth 3 That the Copernican Revolution Demoted the Status of the Earth Michael N. Keas 23

Myth 4 That Alchemy and Astrology Were Superstitious Pursuits That Did Not Contribute to Science and Scientific Understanding Lawrence M. Principe 32

Myth 5 That Galileo Publicly Refuted Aristotle's Conclusions about Motion by Repeated Experiments Made from the Campanile of Pisa John L. Heilbron 40

Myth 6 That the Apple Fell and Newton Invented the Law of Gravity, Thus Removing God from the Cosmos Patricia Fara 48

II Nineteenth Century

Myth 7 That Friedrich Wöhler's Synthesis of Urea in 1828 Destroyed Vitalism and Gave Rise to Organic Chemistry Peter J. Ramberg 59

Myth 8 That William Paley Raised Scientific Questions about Biological Origins That Were Eventually Answered by Charles Darwin Adam R. Shapiro 67

Myth 9 That Nineteenth-Century Geologists Were Divided into Opposing Camps of Catastrophists and Uniformitarians Julie Newell 74

Myth 10 That Lamarckian Evolution Relied Largely on Use and Disuse and That Darwin Rejected Lamarckian Mechanisms Richard W. Burkhardt Jr. 80

Myth 11 That Darwin Worked on His Theory in Secret for Twenty Years, His Fears Causing Him to Delay Publication Robert J. Richards 88

Myth 12 That Wallace's and Darwin's Explanations of Evolution Were Virtually the Same Michael Ruse 96

Myth 13 That Darwinian Natural Selection Has Been "the Only Game in Town" Nicolaas Rupke 103

Myth 14 That after Darwin (1871), Sexual Selection Was Largely Ignored until Robert Trivers (1972) Resurrected the Theory Erika Lorraine Milam 112

Myth 15 That Louis Pasteur Disproved Spontaneous Generation on the Basis of Scientific Objectivity Garland E. Allen 119

Myth 16 That Gregor Mendel Was a Lonely Pioneer of Genetics, Being Ahead of His Time Kostas Kampourakis 129

Myth 17 That Social Darwinism Has Had a Profound Influence on Social Thought and Policy, Especially in the United States of America Ronald L. Numbers 139

III Twentieth Century

Myth 18 That the Michelson-Morley Experiment Paved the Way for the Special Theory of Relativity Theodore Arabatzis Kostas Gavroglu 149

Myth 19 That the Millikan Oil-Drop Experiment Was Simple and Straightforward Mansoor Niaz 157

Myth 20 That Neo-Darwinism Defines Evolution as Random Mutation Plus Natural Selection David J. Depew 164

Myth 21 That Melanism in Peppered Moths Is Not a Genuine Example of Evolution by Natural Selection David W. Rudge 171

Myth 22 That Linus Pauling's Discovery of the Molecular Basis of Sickle-Cell Anemia Revolutionized Medical Practice Bruno J. Strasser 178

Myth 23 That the Soviet Launch of Sputnik Caused the Revamping of American Science Education John L. Rudolph 186

IV Generalizations

Myth 24 That Religion Has Typically Impeded the Progress of Science Peter Harrison 195

Myth 25 That Science Has Been Largely a Solitary Enterprise Kathryn M. Olesko 202

Myth 26 That the Scientific Method Accurately Reflects What Scientists Actually Do Daniel P. Thurs 210

Myth 27 That a Clear Line of Demarcation Has Separated Science from Pseudoscience Michael D. Gordin 219

Notes 227

Contributors 271

Index 279

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