Categories
Literature & Scholarship

Pseudoscience and orthodoxy

The term ‘pseudoscientist’ is a bit like ‘heretic’. To be a pseudoscientist is to be accused; you don’t describe yourself as a pseudoscientist. … So there was a lot of pseudoscience about in the Cold War decades, but the category – not the content – was manufactured by orthodox scientists concerned about maintaining the boundaries […]

Categories
Collections

Corporate, Personal, and Neon Museums

For more than 500 years people, governments, churches, and other institutions have used their collections of things to assert, display, and establish their own authority and standing. Arranged in cabinets of curiosity, cabinets of wonder, Kunstkammern, Wunderkammern, or museums, the artifacts in such collections often reflect a logic of display idiosyncratic to the collector’s own […]

Categories
History

Hurricanes Were and Remain Political

Various efforts to interpret Hurricane Sandy and to consider its political significance prompted me to look back at some early accounts of hurricanes. By the early 17th century reports of terrifying storms in the New World that lasted days and devastated large areas started appearing in the Europe. Frequently, these accounts were short, dramatic pamphlets […]

Categories
Historical Expertise

Does History Have a Role in Society?

Sarah Dunant’s opinion piece, “What is history’s role in society” makes some good points. These and many works like them have helped to revolutionise our view of the past, incorporating the richness of the ordinary and the iconoclastic. Like a huge pointillist painting, the background to all those well-known central figures is slowly but surely […]

Categories
Press and Pop Culture

On Catalysts and Science Heroes

To return to the metaphor of creating social change, I would suggest that real change is not the product of a single catalytic substance, like the personality of a leader, or a formula that imposes or removes a tax. Change—be it of American attitudes toward conserving electricity, or abandoning racial or gender stereotypes—will come about […]

Categories
Press and Pop Culture

Betting on Theories

Whenever you narrow your gaze to the particular hero/idea you wish to hold up as a real winner in the history of science, you are completely ignoring the amount of contingency that goes into their success. Dominic Berry on “Derren Brown’s Whig History of Science.”

Categories
Press and Pop Culture

Against Whiggish History

Finally, whiggish narratives, strewn with heroes, only hinder understanding of how the world works. As Athene Donald has written, heroes and geniuses are unrealistic and unhelpful for those who might enter scientific careers in the future. They are equally so for those who are not and have no interest in becoming a scientist, but nevertheless […]

Categories
Press and Pop Culture

Fraud, Plagiarism, and Errors in Science

“Misconduct accounts for the majority of retracted scientific publications” in the latest issue of the PNAS has been attracting considerable attention, at Phys.org and at RetractionWatch.com and at Science and at Scientific American and at Chronicle.com and even at the NY Times. As the title of the article suggests, misconduct of various sorts—fraud, plagiarism, errors, […]