The Overthrow of the Phlogiston Theory: The Chemical Revolution of 1775-1789

The Overthrow of the Phlogiston Theory: The Chemical Revolution of 1775-1789

The Overthrow of the Phlogiston Theory: The Chemical Revolution of 1775-1789

The Overthrow of the Phlogiston Theory: The Chemical Revolution of 1775-1789

Excerpt

The Harvard Case Histories in Experimental Science have been designed primarily for students who are majoring in the humanities or the social sciences. Such students require an understanding of science that will help them to relate developments in the natural sciences to those in the other fields of human activity. To do so demands an understanding both of the methods of experimental science and of the growth of scientific research as an organized activity of society. Experience shows that a man who has been a successful investigator in any field of experimental science approaches a problem in pure or applied science, even in an area in which he is quite ignorant, with a special point of view. One may designate this point of view "understanding science"; it is independent of a knowledge of the scientific facts or techniques in the new area. Even a highly educated and intelligent citizen without research experience will almost always fail to grasp the essentials in a discussion that takes place among scientists concerned with a projected inquiry. This will be so not because of the layman's lack of scientific knowledge or his failure to comprehend the technical jargon of the scientist; it will be to a large degree because of his fundamental ignorance of what science can or cannot accomplish, and his subsequent bewilderment in the course of a discussion outlining a plan for a future investigation. He has no "feel" for what we may call "the tactics and strategy of science."

As a citizen, a businessman, a public servant, a lawyer, a teacher, or a writer, any present college student may a decade hence be called upon to evaluate the work of scientists and to consider the ways in which such work can be organized and financed. He may wish also to consider to what degree systematic investigations more or less analogous to those that have been successful in the physical sciences may be fruitful in other fields. Although the first cases are concerned almost exclusively with the physical sciences, an understanding of the variety of methods by which these sciences have advanced will provide some basis, it is hoped, from which the nonscientists can appraise proposals for research and its applications in the biological and social sciences.

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