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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. Before that, investigators of nature called themselves "natural philosophers". While observations 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.

Selected article

The "aether wind," a predicted but unobserved consequence of the luminiferous aether.

Luminiferous aether or ether ("luminiferous", meaning "light-bearing"), was the postulated medium for the propagation of light. It was invoked to explain the ability of the apparently wave-based light to propagate through empty space, something that waves should not be able to do. The assumption of a spatial plenum of luminiferous aether, rather than a spatial vacuum, provided the theoretical medium that was required by wave theories of light.

The aether hypothesis was the topic of considerable debate throughout its history, as it required the existence of an invisible and infinite material with no interaction with physical objects. As the nature of light was explored, especially in the 19th century, the physical qualities required of an aether became increasingly contradictory. By the late 1800s, the existence of the aether was being questioned, although there was no physical theory to replace it.

The negative outcome of the Michelson–Morley experiment (1887) suggested that the aether did not exist, a finding that was confirmed in subsequent experiments through the 1920s. This led to considerable theoretical work to explain the propagation of light without an aether. A major breakthrough was the theory of relativity, which could explain why the experiment failed to see aether, but was more broadly interpreted to suggest that it was not needed. The Michelson-Morley experiment, along with the blackbody radiator and photoelectric effect, was a key experiment in the development of modern physics, which includes both relativity and quantum theory, the latter of which explains the wave-like nature of light.

Selected image

God the Geometer.jpg

Science, and particularly geometry and astronomy, was linked directly to the divine for most medieval scholars. The compass in this 13th century manuscript is a symbol of God's act of creation. God has created the universe after geometric and harmonic principles; to seek these principles was therefore to seek and worship God.

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.


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"?


Selected anniversaries

November 13:

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