Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Writings of Great Scientists Show Drama and Danger of Discovery Anthology Presents Works of Literary and Scientific Importance

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Writings of Great Scientists Show Drama and Danger of Discovery Anthology Presents Works of Literary and Scientific Importance

Article excerpt

Galileo's Commandment: An Anthology of Great Science Writing

Ed. by Edmund Blair Bolles

W.H. Freeman 485 pp., $26.95 Most textbooks no longer describe scientific progress as a ladder of inquiry extending from the ancients to the present. Yet an account of the false starts and discarded hypotheses that litter the history of science can suggest another, more-harmful fallacy, that in the present day we have at last reached the summit of scientific knowledge. Edmund Blair Bolles's new collection, "Galileo's Commandment," is a useful corrective to the notion that the errors of the past lead inexorably to the truths of the present. Bolles, a science writer, has gathered short excerpts from the literature of science, by authors ranging from Herodotus and Galileo to Carl Sagan. The excerpts are selected on the basis of their literary interest and scientific importance. The editor argues that what makes these writings truly lasting is the connection they create between the mind of the author and that of the reader. His title is from the playwright Bertolt Brecht, who has Galileo say that "Science knows only one commandment: contribute to science." The overall impression from reading these selections is that doing science is hard, often dangerous work. The first essay, by Isaac Asimov, is an account of the 19th-century scientific researchers who sacrificed their health and sometimes their lives in the attempt to isolate the highly reactive gas fluorine. The piece is entitled "Death in the Laboratory," and it makes for harrowing reading. Science, Asimov argues, isn't as easy as it looks. The excerpt from the work of Karl Popper makes this point most clearly. Popper, a noted modern philosopher of science, describes "Heroic Science" as practiced by the genuinely great thinkers: "These are men of bold ideas, but highly critical of their own ideas; they try to find whether their ideas are right by trying to find whether they are not perhaps wrong. …

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