Scientific facts are fun. But probably to a limited number of people.
It’s more fun to know how scientists got those facts – their thoughts, motivations and methods. How they did it. Why they did it. Where did they get the idea to do it in the first place.
It’s even more fun, for a broader number of people, if that finding is placed in a historical context – how work of previous generations of scientists, meandering around various age-specific ideas, led to the work of this particular group.
But it is even more fun watching the historians of science at work. Most recent science is pretty easy to figure out. But going into the past, it gets harder and harder. The unit of information today is the peer-reviewed scientific paper in a journal that is for the most part easily obtainable online. But in the past, books were more important. The standards of evidence were not as stringent. The various pseudoscientific and borderline scientific ideas were mainstream. Many scientific findings were made by adventurous explorers, not people with long and sophisticated scientific training. The line between science and fiction was not very clear. While today English is the language of science, in the past many languages were used, and not everyone could read all of them. Transport of books around the world was slow and difficult. Plagiarism was harder to detect, thus rampant. History of science, and even more the work of science historians, reads like a detective thriller! Now that’s exciting!
Which is why I regularly read John McKay at Archy, who is a professional historian, slowly working on his book. And occasionally putting some of the essays on his blog for the commenters to help with corrections, ideas and additional information. See his latest output – all riveting reads:
Fragments of my research – VIII
A mammoth literary mystery
A very brief history of plagiarism
The intellectual dishonesty of Allan Quist
Quist, Antarctica, and all that
Mammoth on ice
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