April 27th, 2012
In a new article at the BBC James Stevenson propagates another classic myth in the history of science. Contrary the headline, there was no “Copernican Moment.” Further, Nicholas Copernicus did not “establish that the earth moves around the sun” (see “Humanisation of computing: A Copernican moment for tech”).
Historians of science have show how much time and effort it took to establish the Copernican system. Most recently, Robert Westman’s book, The Copernican Question, has detailed both how long it took Copernicus himself to formulate his ideas about the heliocentric system and how long it took other scholars to accept his system.
Stevenson’s point seems to be that technology is changing rapidly and having a profound influence on our lives. Okay. Few people would argue with him about that. Adding some mythical episode from the history of science doesn’t contribute anything meaningful. It does, however, both reflect an impoverished understanding of history and repeats an erroneous (and I would say deeply problematic) notion of how scientific developments occur.