Sherlock Holmes as Chemist
We all know that Sherlock Holmes was the first important detective in fiction to go about his business with true scientific rigor.At least we all think we know that. Arthur Conan Doyle wrote the sixty novels and short stories about the master with such winning conviction that he succeeded in convincing his readers that this was so.
Yet that conviction is an illusion. Conan Doyle was surprisingly poor in science, apparently, and Sherlock Holmes, as a scientific detective, does not really come off well for that reason.
Conan Doyle's limitations are visible in his attempt to describe the scientific profundities of the arch-villain James Moriarty, for instance.
In " The Final Problem," Holmes says of Moriarty, "At the age of twenty-one he wrote a treatise upon the Binomial Theorem, which has had a European vogue."
Moriarty was 21 years old in 1865 (it is estimated), but forty years earlier than that the Norwegian mathematician Niels Henrik Abel had fully worked out the last detail of the mathematical subject known as "the binomial theorem," leaving Moriarty nothing to do on the matter.It was completely solved and has not advanced beyond Abel to this day.
Then, in " The Valley of Fear," Holmes says of Moriarty, "Is he not the celebrated author of 'The Dynamics of an Asteroid'—a book which ascends to such rarefied heights of pure mathematics that there was no man in the scientific press capable of criticizing it?"
Why the dynamics of an asteroid, when there were already hundreds known in Moriarty's day? In the Newtonian sense, there was nothing further to be done about asteroidal motion after 1825, when the French