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Newton's Apple and Other Myths about Science

Popular Science

By: Ronald L Numbers (Editor), Kostas Kampourakis (Editor)

290 pages, 3 b/w illustrations

Harvard University Press

Hardback | Nov 2015 | #225532 | ISBN-13: 9780674967984
Availability: Usually dispatched within 5 days Details
NHBS Price: £19.99 $24/€22 approx

About this book

A falling apple inspired Isaac Newton's insight into the law of gravity – or so the story goes. Is it true? Perhaps not. But the more intriguing question is why such stories endure as explanations of how science happens. Newton's Apple and Other Myths about Science brushes away popular misconceptions to provide a clearer picture of great scientific breakthroughs from ancient times to the present.

Among the myths refuted in Newton's Apple and Other Myths about Science is the idea that no science was done in the Dark Ages, that alchemy and astrology were purely superstitious pursuits, that fear of public reaction alone led Darwin to delay publishing his theory of evolution, and that Gregor Mendel was far ahead of his time as a pioneer of genetics. Several twentieth-century myths about particle physics, Einstein's theory of relativity, and more are discredited here as well. In addition, a number of broad generalizations about science go under the microscope of history: the notion that religion impeded science, that scientists typically adhere to a codified "scientific method," and that a bright line can be drawn between legitimate science and pseudoscience.

Edited by Ronald Numbers and Kostas Kampourakis, Newton's Apple and Other Myths about Science debunks the widespread belief that science advances when individual geniuses experience "Eureka!" moments and suddenly comprehend what those around them could never imagine. Science has always been a cooperative enterprise of dedicated, fallible human beings, for whom context, collaboration, and sheer good luck are the essential elements of discovery.

"Myth busting is always great fun as well as being educational. Newton's Apple and Other Myths about Science is a splendid sequel to Galileo Goes to Jail and Other Myths about Science and Religion. Here, twenty-eight experts punch holes in widely-held opinions about science. But it may be disconcerting to find a few of your own long-held beliefs in the ranks. So don't read this book if you aren't prepared to change your mind."
– Owen Gingerich, author of God's Planet

"Twenty-seven popular myths about science and its history bite the dust in this engaging and timely book. In these essays, Numbers, Kampourakis, and a host of eminent experts set the record straight and explore how and why these myths become part of our collective memory – whether right or wrong. Each chapter offers important lessons about history and the scientists involved in some of our most significant discoveries."
– Janet Browne, author of Charles Darwin: A Biography

"Numbers and Kampourakis have assembled a splendid collection of essays challenging rampant misconceptions about science past and present. This book will be of interest to researchers, teachers, students, and anyone who cares about getting the history of science right."
– Angela N. H. Creager, author of Life Atomic



    Introduction [Ronald L. Numbers and Kostas Kampourakis]
    I. Medieval and Early Modern Science
        Myth 1. That There Was No Scientific Activity between Greek Antiquity and the Scientific Revolution [Michael H. Shank]
        Myth 2. That before Columbus, Geographers and Other Educated People Thought the Earth Was Flat [Lesley B. Cormack]
        Myth 3. That the Copernican Revolution Demoted the Status of the Earth [Michael N. Keas]
        Myth 4. That Alchemy and Astrology Were Superstitious Pursuits That Did Not Contribute to Science and Scientific Understanding [Lawrence M. Principe]
        Myth 5. That Galileo Publicly Refuted Aristotle’s Conclusions about Motion by Repeated Experiments Made from the Campanile of Pisa [John L. Heilbron]
        Myth 6. That the Apple Fell and Newton Invented the Law of Gravity, Thus Removing God from the Cosmos [Patricia Fara]
    II. Nineteenth Century
        Myth 7. That Friedrich Wöhler’s Synthesis of Urea in 1828 Destroyed Vitalism and Gave Rise to Organic Chemistry [Peter J. Ramberg]
        Myth 8. That William Paley Raised Scientific Questions about Biological Origins That Were Eventually Answered by Charles Darwin [Adam R. Shapiro]
        Myth 9. That Nineteenth-Century Geologists Were Divided into Opposing Camps of Catastrophists and Uniformitarians [Julie Newell]
        Myth 10. That Lamarckian Evolution Relied Largely on Use and Disuse and That Darwin Rejected Lamarckian Mechanisms [Richard W. Burkhardt Jr.]
        Myth 11. That Darwin Worked on His Theory in Secret for Twenty Years, His Fears Causing Him to Delay Publication [Robert J. Richards]
        Myth 12. That Wallace’s and Darwin’s Explanations of Evolution Were Virtually the Same [Michael Ruse]
        Myth 13. That Darwinian Natural Selection Has Been “the Only Game in Town” [Nicolaas Rupke]
        Myth 14. That after Darwin (1871), Sexual Selection Was Largely Ignored until Robert Trivers (1972) Resurrected the Theory [Erika Lorraine Milam]
        Myth 15. That Louis Pasteur Disproved Spontaneous Generation on the Basis of Scientific Objectivity [Garland E. Allen]
        Myth 16. That Gregor Mendel Was a Lonely Pioneer of Genetics, Being Ahead of His Time [Kostas Kampourakis]
        Myth 17. That Social Darwinism Has Had a Profound Influence on Social Thought and Policy, Especially in the United States of America [Ronald L. Numbers]
    III. Twentieth Century
        Myth 18. That the Michelson-Morley Experiment Paved the Way for the Special Theory of Relativity [Theodore Arabatzis and Kostas Gavroglu]
        Myth 19. That the Millikan Oil-Drop Experiment Was Simple and Straightforward [Mansoor Niaz]
        Myth 20. That Neo-Darwinism Defines Evolution as Random Mutation Plus Natural Selection [David J. Depew]
        Myth 21. That Melanism in Peppered Moths Is Not a Genuine Example of Evolution by Natural Selection [David W. Rudge]
        Myth 22. That Linus Pauling’s Discovery of the Molecular Basis of Sickle-Cell Anemia Revolutionized Medical Practice [Bruno J. Strasser]
        Myth 23. That the Soviet Launch of Sputnik Caused the Revamping of American Science Education [John L. Rudolph]
    IV. Generalizations
        Myth 24. That Religion Has Typically Impeded the Progress of Science [Peter Harrison]
        Myth 25. That Science Has Been Largely a Solitary Enterprise [Kathryn M. Olesko]
        Myth 26. That the Scientific Method Accurately Reflects What Scientists Actually Do [Daniel P. Thurs]
        Myth 27. That a Clear Line of Demarcation Has Separated Science from Pseudoscience [Michael D. Gordin]

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Ronald L. Numbers is Hilldale Professor Emeritus of the History of Science and Medicine at the University of Wisconsin–Madison.

Kostas Kampourakis is Scientific Collaborator in the Section of Biology and at the University Teacher Training Institute, University of Geneva.

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