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Portal:History of science

The History of Science Portal

The history of science is the study of the development of science and scientific knowledge, including both the natural and social sciences (the history of the arts and humanities is termed history of scholarship). Science is a body of empirical, theoretical, and practical knowledge about the natural world, produced by scientists who emphasize the observation, explanation, and prediction of real-world phenomena. Historiography of science, in contrast, studies the methods employed by historians of science.

The English word scientist is relatively recent—first coined by William Whewell in the 19th century. Previously, investigators of nature called themselves "natural philosophers". While empirical investigations of the natural world have been described since classical antiquity (for example, by Thales and Aristotle), and the scientific method has been employed since the Middle Ages (for example, by Ibn al-Haytham and Roger Bacon), modern science began to develop in the early modern period, and in particular in the scientific revolution of 16th- and 17th-century Europe. Traditionally, historians of science have defined science sufficiently broadly to include those earlier inquiries.

From the 18th through the late 20th century, the history of science, especially of the physical and biological sciences, was often presented as a progressive accumulation of knowledge, in which true theories replaced false beliefs. More recent historical interpretations, such as those of Thomas Kuhn, tend to portray the history of science in terms of competing paradigms or conceptual systems within a wider matrix of intellectual, cultural, economic and political trends. These interpretations, however, have met with opposition for they also portray the history of science as an incoherent system of incommensurable paradigms, not leading to any actual scientific progress but only to the illusion that it has occurred.

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Galileo before the Holy Office by Joseph-Nicolas Robert-Fleury, a classic depiction of science clashing with religion

The conflict thesis, also known as the warfare thesis, the warfare model or the Draper-White thesis, is an interpretive model of the relationship between religion and science. According to the conflict thesis, any interaction between religion and science almost inevitably leads to open hostility, with religion usually taking the part of the aggressor against new scientific ideas. The conflict thesis was a popular historiographical approach in the history of science during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, but many historians of science and related academics no longer accept it. It remains popular with a general audience, and is often invoked both by advocates of science and religion alike with stakes in making science and religion seem irreconcilable.

The most influential exponents of the conflict thesis were John William Draper and Andrew Dickson White. In the early 1870s, Draper was invited to write a book on History of the Conflict between Religion and Science (1874). He directed his criticism primarily against Roman Catholicism, while assessing Islam and Protestantism as having a friendly relationship toward science. In 1896, White published the History of the Warfare of Science with Theology in Christendom, the culmination of thirty years of research and publication on the subject. His target was any form of restrictive, dogmatic Christianity. Most advocates of the conflict thesis, like Draper and White, have focused on the alleged hostility of Christianity toward science, though Islam has received some criticism of its own.

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Erasmus Darwin Temple of Nature.jpg

The frontispiece to Erasmus Darwin's evolution-themed poem The Temple of Nature shows a goddess pulling back the veil from nature (in the person of Artemis). Allegory and metaphor have often played an important role in the history of biology.

Selected inventor

Vannevar Bush

Vannevar Bush (March 11, 1890 – June 30, 1974) was an American engineer and science administrator, known for his work on analog computing, his political role in the development of the atomic bomb, and the idea of the memex—seen as a pioneering concept for the World Wide Web. A leading figure in the development of the military-industrial complex and the military funding of science in the United States, Bush was a prominent policymaker and public intellectual ("the patron saint of American science") during World War II and the ensuing Cold War. Through his public career, Bush was a proponent of democratic technocracy and of the centrality of technological innovation and entrepreneurship for both economic and geopolitical security.

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Did you know

...that the travel narrative The Malay Archipelago, by biologist Alfred Russel Wallace, was used by the novelist Joseph Conrad as a source for his novel Lord Jim?

...that the seventeenth century philosophers René Descartes, Baruch Spinoza, and Gottfried Leibniz, along with their Empiricist contemporary Thomas Hobbes all formulated definitions of conatus, an innate inclination of a thing to continue to exist and enhance itself?

...that the history of biochemistry spans approximately 400 years, but the word "biochemistry" in the modern sense was first proposed only in 1903, by German chemist Carl Neuberg?

...that the Great Comet of 1577 was viewed by people all over Europe, including famous Danish astronomer Tycho Brahe and the six year old Johannes Kepler?

...that the Society for Social Studies of Science (often abbreviated as 4S) is, as its website claims, "the oldest and largest scholarly association devoted to understanding science and technology"?


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Selected anniversaries


January 21:
  • 1969 - An experimental underground nuclear reactor at Lucens Vad, Switzerland, released radiation into a cavern, which was then sealed

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