(2002) John Waller, Oxford University Press, £8.99, pbk, 308 pp, ISBN 0-198-60939-6
This is the paperback release of the 2002 hardback Fabulous Science and is subtitled Fact and Fiction in the History of Scientific Discovery. It comes in two parts. The first detailing the history of discoveries where scientists either "cooked the books" to get their preferred answers or were, according to the author, genuinely mislead as to the veracity and validity of their experiments. Th second, larger part details the misinformation due to a basically historical process - where sinners become saints and all our historical perspective is distorted.
There is much to recommend this book. It certainly questions our own attitudes to science and the cleanliness of its housekeeping, something I have been concerned of in the past. By lauding the idea of impartial experiment for verification of hypothesis, it is of vast importance that the impartiality is not only real, but that it is seen to be real. The first part of the book cites five examples of possible breaches to this dictum. Such luminaries as Pasteur, Millikan and Eddington all fall under suspicion. For me, however, the two most interesting examples came from the world of social science, where conflicting reports on working practices and management techniques were both based on apparently fabricated results (Frederick Winslow Taylor vs. the Hawthorne studies). The second half, concerned as it is about historical accuracy, attacks legends from Darwin to Mendel, Huxley to Fleming. Waller describes how the legends arose historically and, being fair to the legendary scientists, how they were not actively involved in self-promotion or the corruption of our perspective.
This is an excellent account of some eighteen scientists and their discoveries. It also gives a perspective of the rival theories and how the those accepted were promoted with sometimes flimsy or inexact evidence. Waller is concise and clear and promotes possibly dry facts into historical dramas. A possible must read for all those opposed to science, even more important to defenders. Fish out £8.99 now!
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