Examples abound: James Watson and Francis Crick formed a legendary partnership that led to the discovery of DNA, but they essentially ignored the contribution of female colleague Rosalind Franklin. Later, in the race to sequence the human genome, Watson criticized J. Craig Venter’s technique as a process that “could be run by monkeys.” Nikola Tesla once worked for Thomas Edison, but then quit after a dispute about a bonus. Robert Hooke accused Isaac Newton of stealing his ideas about optics. Plato declared that the works of Democritus should be burned.
With tongue-in-cheek illustrations by renowned science cartoonist Sidney Harris, this book takes the reader behind the scenes of scientific research to shine new light on the all-too-human people who “do” science.
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About the Author
Charles M. Wynn Sr. is Distinguished Professor of Chemistry at Eastern Connecticut State University. Besides the above-named titles coauthored with Arthur W. Wiggins, Wynn is also the author of Quantitative and Qualitative Experiments for General Chemistry.
Sidney Harris was called “America’s premier science cartoonist” by Isaac Asimov. He has contributed to American Scientist for many years and provided illustrations for The Five Biggest Ideas in Science, Quantum Leaps in the Wrong Direction, and The Five Biggest Unsolved Problems in Science.
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The Human Side of Science
Edison and Tesla, Watson and Crick, and Other Personal Stories behind Science's Big Ideas
By Arthur W. Wiggins, Charles M. Wynn Sr.
Prometheus BooksCopyright © 2016 Arthur W. Wiggins and Charles M. Wynn Sr
All rights reserved.
DEMOCRITUS AND ARISTOTLE PONDER THE EXISTENCE OF ATOMS
It is as easy to count atomies as to resolve the propositions of a lover.
— William Shakespeare, As You Like It, act 3, scene 2 (1599)
The idea that matter consists of atoms is pervasive in modern culture, even though no one has ever seen them directly. One of the best and most interesting pictures we've got was produced in 1989. It was obtained by a scanning tunneling microscope at the IBM Almaden Research Center in San Jose, California. A beam of xenon atoms was shot at a chilled nickel crystal, and the atoms that stuck to the crystal were manipulated by the microscope's probe into the pattern shown below:
SLICING AND DICING MATTER
The reality of atoms answers a fundamental question that is simple enough to frame: If any material object is cut into smaller and smaller pieces, would there be some limit, after which no further cuts could be made, or would the material be infinitely cuttable?
To get to the heart of this question, we need to go back, back, way back. How far? As many wags have suggested, "The ancient Greeks thought of everything first." Atoms are a case in point.
DEMOCRITUS: MATTER IS DISCONTINUOUS
Democritus (460 BCE — 370 BCE) was born in the far north of Greece, in Abdera. He was taught by Leucippus, and many of his and Leucippus's ideas are so interwoven they are difficult to separate. As a young man, Democritus traveled extensively, spending a great deal of his inheritance from a wealthy father. He visited Asia, Ethiopia, India, and spent a long time in Egypt. Democritus's writings have not survived intact, so only secondary sources exist to help convey his ideas.
I am the most travelled of all my contemporaries; I have extended my field of enquiry wider than anyone else; I have seen more countries and climes and have heard more speeches of learned men.
Although he was virtually unknown in Athens (he went there once to visit Anaxagoras and was ignored), his students and neighbors in Abdera regarded him highly because he was invariably cheerful and ready to see the humorous side of life. He was referred to as the "Laughing Philosopher." He and Leucippus were materialists in that they looked for mechanistic explanations of phenomena, rather than deeper causes. They thought perception through the senses was so subjective that it was unreliable, so they discounted observations as relevant evidence.
Democritus (and, by extension, Leucippus) answered the fundamental question about divisibility of matter by postulating the existence of an uncuttable unit called an atom (Greek a = "not," tomos = "to cut") as the fundamental unit of matter.
The first principles of the universe are atoms and empty space; everything else is merely thought to exist.
ARISTOTLE: MATTER IS CONTINUOUS
Aristotle (384-322 BCE) was born in the small city of Stagira in north-eastern Greece, and he studied at Plato's Academy in Athens, where he started at about age seventeen. Plato (427-347 BCE), in turn, was a student of Socrates (469-399 BCE). After Plato's death, Aristotle left Athens for about twelve years. During that time, he tutored young people who went on to become kings, including Alexander (the Great). Upon his return to Athens in about 335 BCE, Aristotle established a school called the Lyceum.
Athens was the cultural hub of Greece and featured a tradition of discussion of all issues great and small. Aristotle and his students walked as they talked, earning them the title the "Peripatetic Philosophers." Although Aristotle agreed with Plato about many things, he and Plato also had significant differences of opinion. For example, Plato's reasoning was deductive in that it proceeded from general principles to specific instances. For example, all chairs have four legs, therefore this chair has four legs. On the other hand, Aristotle's reasoning was inductive in that it broadened from the specific to the general. For example, I have seen five tables, all of which have four legs. Therefore, all tables have four legs. Aristotle's emphasis on specifics led him to make systematic observations about living things, especially marine life, which set biology on a sound footing that lasted for centuries.
Aristotle invented and systematized logic as a tool for scientific inquiry. The overall scientific process used by Aristotle was one of careful observation, followed by logical reasoning about causes. Despite his extraordinarily wide-ranging scholarship that laid the groundwork for many intellectual pursuits during his own time and long thereafter, even a man as perceptive as Aristotle surprisingly made a few errors. His analyses of motion in general and planetary motion in particular were both flawed, leading to later difficulties, as we'll see in subsequent chapters. One particular error seems quite blatant, namely:
Males have more teeth than females in the case of men, sheep, goats, and swine.
With his emphasis on careful observation, many have wondered why Aristotle didn't simply count the teeth of both sexes and make a proper comparison.
Excerpted from The Human Side of Science by Arthur W. Wiggins, Charles M. Wynn Sr.. Copyright © 2016 Arthur W. Wiggins and Charles M. Wynn Sr. Excerpted by permission of Prometheus Books.
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Table of Contents
Introduction: Science's Evaluation System, 9,
Chapter 1: Democritus and Aristotle Ponder the Existence of Atoms, 21,
Chapter 2: Aristotle, Aristarchus, Copernicus, and Galileo Seek to Determine Earth's Place in the Cosmos, 31,
Chapter 3: Isaac Newton, Robert Hooke, and Gottfried Leibniz Argue about Motion and Calculus, 49,
Chapter 4: The Battling Bernoullis and Bernoulli's Principle, 61,
Chapter 5: Antoine Lavoisier and Benjamin Thompson (Count Rumford) Have Rival Theories of Heat, 73,
Chapter 6: Mendeleev, Meyer, Moseley and the Birth of the Periodic Table, 83,
Chapter 7: Westinghouse and Tesla versus Edison — AC/DC Titans Clash, 103,
Chapter 8: Alfred Wegener Stands His Ground about Continental Drift, 119,
Chapter 9: Part 1: Albert Einstein, Marcel Grossmann, Mileva Maric, and Michele Besso Struggle with Relativity, 131,
Chapter 10: Part 2: Albert Einstein's Struggles Continue, 153,
Chapter 11: Edwin Hubble and Harlow Shapley Clash/Cooperate over the Universe's Size, 183,
Chapter 12: Disastrous Consequences of Lise Meitner and Otto Hahn's Discovery of Nuclear Fission, 211,
Chapter 13: Maurice Wilkins, Rosalind Franklin, James Watson, and Francis Crick Determine the Structure of DNA, 235,
Chapter 14: J. Craig Venter, James Watson, and Michael Hunkapiller Race for the Human Genome, 255,
Chapter 15: Ten Honorable Mention Mini-Chapters, 271,
To Dig Deeper, 327,