- Also check our best rated Biography reviews
Leaps in the Dark: The making of scientific reputations Hardcover – 28 Oct 2004
|New from||Used from|
Enter your mobile number or email address below and we'll send you a link to download the free Kindle App. Then you can start reading Kindle books on your smartphone, tablet, or computer - no Kindle device required.
To get the free app, enter your mobile phone number.
Would you like to tell us about a lower price?
If you are a seller for this product, would you like to suggest updates through seller support?
Leaps in the Dark is a good read, and ought to generate much healthy debate. (Nature)
About the Author
Dr. John Waller is Lecturer in the History of Medicine and Biology at the Centre for the Study of Health and Society and the Department of History and Philosophy of Science, University of Melbourne. His previous books for a popular readership, The Discovery of the Germ (Icon Books, 2002) and Fabulous Science (Oxford University Press, 2002, now available in paperback) have been widely and favorably reviewed.
Top customer reviews
There was a problem filtering reviews right now. Please try again later.
The reason this sort of bubble bursting is painful is that we like our stories. We exist on stories – and the best popular science has a good story at its heart. But, and here’s where we fall into line with Waller, bearing in mind we are talking about science, we shouldn’t let our enthusiasm for a good story get in the way of the truth. Yes, let’s enjoy our history of science, and make it about real people, but not about mythical characters.
Waller points out the strong tendency to push scientists, just as much as any other character in history, into black and white, stark contrasts. So we have the bad guys, the fools, like Joseph Glanvill, the member of the Royal Society who tried to prove that witches existed scientifically, or Max von Pettenkofer, who was so convinced that cholera didn’t spread by pure bacterial infection that he swallowed a whole flask of the bacteria (and survived). Not to mention the good guys, the heroes like Isaac Newton with his stunning flash of genius in performing the experiment that showed white light was composed of a mix of the colours separated by a prism.
Reality, as you might guess, is rarely like that. Waller shows us how the much maligned Glanvill, for instance, was using the best scientific method of the day, even though he came up with the wrong result. And how Newton’s discovery was more a matter of him sticking to a theory despite experimental evidence, as it was only later that optical prisms could be made well enough to prove what he asserted.
It’s nothing new to hear that science mostly consists of small, incremental and often very shaky steps forward, and is sometimes helped along by mistakes – but Waller really hammers this home in a way that hasn’t been done before. at least for a general audience. It’s absolutely amazing, if a little chastening, to see some legends of science prove to be just that – legends. Waller’s book doesn’t mean there aren’t big steps forward in science, or works of genius, even from individuals like Newton, but it does mean that we can see them in a more realistic light.
Because this is such an important topic in understanding science and where it comes from, Leaps in the Dark is a highly recommended book. It mostly reads very well, too. It’s held back from five stars because it just occasionally suffers a little from academic pomposity, and in the end, the man’s a spoilsport. But a realistic spoilsport.