Historically, the scientific method has been said to require proposing a theory, making a prediction of something not already known, testing the prediction, and giving up the theory (or substantially changing it) if it fails the test. A theory that leads to several successful predictions is more likely to be accepted than one that only explains what is already known but not understood. This process is widely treated as the conventional method of achieving scientific progress, and was used throughout the twentieth century as the standard route to discovery and experimentation. But does science really work this way? In Making 20th Century Science, Stephen G. Brush discusses this question, as it relates to the development of science throughout the last century. Answering this question requires both a philosophically and historically scientific approach, and Brush blends the two in order to take a close look at how scientific methodology has developed.
Several cases from the history of modern physical and biological science are examined, including Mendeleev's Periodic Law, Kekule's structure for benzene, the light-quantum hypothesis, quantum mechanics, chromosome theory, and natural selection. In general it is found that theories are accepted for a combination of successful predictions and better explanations of old facts. Making 20th Century Science is a large-scale historical look at the implementation of the scientific method, and how scientific theories come to be accepted.
Stephen G. Brush studied chemistry and physics (at Harvard and Oxford) and did research in theoretical physics at the Lawrence Livermore Laboratory. His group at Livermore showed that a gas of electrons (ignoring quantum effects) could condense to a solid at low temperatures and high densities. Inspired by a graduate seminar with Thomas Kuhn at Harvard, he also conducted research in history of science, and switched to that field full-time in 1968. He has published historical works on the kinetic theory of gases, planetary physics, and other topics.
Table of Contents ; Illustrations ; Preface ; PART I THE RECEPTION AND EVALUATION OF THEORIES IN THE SCIENCES ; Chapter I.1 Who Needs "The Scientific Method"? ; I.1.1 The Rings of Uranus ; I.1.2 Maxwell and Popper ; I.1.3 What is a "Prediction"? A Mercurial Definition ; I.1.4 Hierarchy and Demarcation ; I.1.5 What's Wrong with Quantum Mechanics? ; I.1.6 Was Chemistry (1865-1980) more scientific than Physics? ; Mendeleev's Periodic Law ; I.1.7 Scientific Chemists: Benzene and Molecular Orbitals ; I.1.8 The Unscientific (but very successful) method of Dirac and Einstein: ; Can We Trust Experiments to Test Theories? ; I.1.9 Why was Bibhas De's paper rejected by Icarus? ; I.1.10 The Plurality of Scientific Methods ; Persons mentioned in this Chapter ; Chapter I.2 Reception Studies by Historians of Science ; I.2.1 What is "Reception"? ; I.2.2 The Copernican Heliocentric System ; I.2.3 Newton's Universal Gravity ; I.2.4 Darwin's Theory of Evolution by Natural Selection ; I.2.5 Bohr Model of the Atom ; I.2.6 Conclusions and Generalizations ; Persons mentioned in this Chapter ; Chapter I.3 The Role of Prediction-Testing in the Evaluation of Theories: ; A Controversy in the Philosophy of Science ; I.3.1 Introduction ; I.3.2 Novelty in the Philosophy of Science ; I.3.3 What is a Prediction? (Revisited) ; I.3.4 Does Novelty Make a Difference? ; I.3.5 Evidence from case histories ; I.3.6 Are Theorists less trustworthy than Observers? ; I.3.7 The Fallacy of Falsifiability: Even the Supreme Court was Fooled ; I.3.8 Conclusions ; Persons mentioned in this chapter ; Chapter I.4 The Rise and Fall of Social Constructionism 1975-2000 ; I.4.1 The Problem of defining "Science and Technology Studies" ; I.4.2 The Rise of Social Constructionism ; I.4.3 The Fall of Social Constructionism ; I.4.4 Post Mortem ; I.4.5 Consequences for "Science Studies" ; Persons mentioned in this Chapter ; PART II ATOMS, MOLECULES, AND PARTICLES ; Chapter II.1. Mendeleev's Periodic Law ; II.1.1 Mendeleev and the Periodic Law ; II.1.2 Novel Predictions ; II.1.3 Mendeleev's Predictions ; II.1.4 Reception by Whom? ; II.1.5 Tests of Mendeleev's Predictions ; II.1.6 Before the Discovery of Gallium ; II.1.7 The Impact of Gallium and Scandium ; II.1.8 The Limited Value of Novel Predictions ; II.1.9 Implications of the Law ; II.1.10 Conclusions ; Persons mentioned in this chapter ; Chapter II.2 The Benzene Problem 1865-1930 ; II.2.1 Kekule's Theory ; II.2.2 The first Tests of Kekule's Theory ; II.2.3 Alternative Hypotheses ; II.2.4 Reception of Benzene Theories 1866-1880 ; II.2.5 New Experiments, New Theories 1881-1900 ; II.2.6 The Failure of Aromatic Empiricism 1901-1930 ; Persons mentioned in this Chapter ; Chapter II.3 The Light Quantum Hypothesis ; II.3.1 Black-Body Radiation ; II.3.2 Planck's Theory ; II.3.3 Formulation of the Light-Quantum Hypothesis ; II.3.4 The Wave Theory of Light ; II.3.5 Einstein's "Heuristic Viewpoint" ; II.3.6 What did Millikan Prove? ; II.3.7 The Compton Effect ; II.3.8 Reception of Neo-Newtonian Optics before 1923 ; II.3.9 The Impact of Compton's Discovery ; II.3.10 Rupp's Fraudulent Experiments ; II.3.11 Conclusions ; Persons Mentioned in this Chapter ; Chapter II.4 Quantum Mechanics ; II.4.1 The Bohr Model ; II.4.2 The Wave Nature of Matter ; II.4.3 Schrodinger's Wave Mechanics ; II.4.4 The Exclusion Principle, Spin, and the Electronic Structure of Atoms ; II.4.5 Bose-Einstein Statistics ; II.4.6 Fermi-Dirac Statistics ; II.4.7 Initial Reception of Quantum Mechanics ; II.4.8 The Community is Converted ; II.4.9 Novel Predictions of Quantum Mechanics ; II.4.10 The Helium Atom ; II.4.11 Reasons for accepting Quantum Mechanics after 1928 ; Persons mentioned in this Chapter ; II. 5 New Particles ; II.5.1 Dirac's Prediction and Anderson's Discovery of the Positron ; II.5.2 The Reception of Dirac's Theory ; II.5.3 The Transformation of Dirac's Theory ; II.5.4 Yukawa's Theory of Nuclear Forces ; II.5.5 Discovery of the Muon and Reception of Yukawa's Theory ; II.5.6 The Transformation of the Yukon ; II.5.7 Conclusions ; Persons Mentioned in this Chapter ; Chapter II.6 Benzene and Molecular Orbitals 1931-1980 ; II.6.1 Resonance, Mesomerism, and the Mule 1931-1945 ; II.6.2 Reception of Quantum Theories of Benzene 1932-1940 ; II.6.3 Chemical Proof of Kekule's Theory ; II.6.4 Anti-Resonance and the Rhinoceros ; II.6.5 The Shift to Molecular Orbitals after 1950 ; II.6.6 Aromaticity ; II.6.7 The Revival of Predictive Chemistry ; II.6.8 Reception of Molecular Orbital Theory by Organic Chemists ; II.6.9 Adoption of MO in Textbooks ; II.6.10 A 1996 Survey ; II.6.11 Conclusions ; Persons Mentioned in this Chapter ; PART III SPACE AND TIME ; Chapter III.1. Relativity ; III.1.1 The Special Theory of Relativity ; III.1.2 General Theory of Relativity ; III.1.3 Empirical Predictions and Explanations ; III.1.4 Social-Psychological Factors ; III.1.5 Aesthetic-Mathematical Factors ; III.1.6 Early Reception of Relativity ; III.1.7 Do Scientists Give Extra Credit for Novelty? The Case of ; Gravitational Light Bending ; III.1.8 Are Theorists less Trustworthy than Observers? ; III.1.9 Mathematical/Aesthertic Reasons for Accepting Relativity ; III.1.10 Social-Psychological Reasons for Accepting Relativity ; III.1.11 A Statistical Summary of Comparative Reception ; III.1.12 Conclusions ; Persons Mentioned in this Chapter ; Chapter III.2. Big Bang Cosmology ; III.2.1 The Expanding Universe is Proposed ; III.2.2 The Age of the Earth ; III.2.3 The Context for the Debate: Four "New Sciences" ; and One Shared Memory ; III.2.4 Cosmology Constrained by Terrestrial Time ; III.2.5 Hubble Doubts the Expanding Universe ; III.2.6 A Radical Solution: Steady-State Cosmology ; III.2.7 Astronomy Blinks: Slowing the Expansion ; III.2.8 Lemaitre's Primeval Atom and Gamow's Big Bang ; III.2.9 Arguments for Steady State Weaken ; III.2.10 The Temperature of Space ; III.2.11 Discovery of the Cosmic Microwave Background ; III.2.12 Impact of the Discovery on Cosmologists ; III.2.13 Credit for the Prediction ; III.2.14 Conclusions ; Persons mentioned in this Chapter ; PART IV HEREDITY AND EVOLUTION ; Chapter IV.1 Morgan's Chromosome Theory ; IV.1.1 Introduction ; IV.1.2 Is Biology like (Hypothetico-Deductive) Physics? ; IV.1.3 Precursors ; IV.1.4 Morgan's Theory ; IV.1.5 The Problem of Universality ; IV.1.6 Morgan's Theory in Research Journals ; IV.1.7 Important Early Supporters ; IV.1.8 Bateson and the Morgan Theory in Britain ; IV.1.9 The Problem of Universality Revisited ; IV.1.10 Books and Review Articles on Genetics, Evolution and Cytology ; IV.1.11 Biology Textbooks ; IV.1.12 Age Distribution of Supporters and Opponents ; IV.1.13 Conclusions ; Persons mentioned in this Chapter ; Chapter IV.2 The Revival of Natural Selection 1930-1970 ; IV.2.1 Introduction ; IV.2.2 Fisher: A new Language for Evolutionary Research ; IV.2.3 Wright: Random Genetic Drift, A Concept Out of Control ; IV.2.4 Haldane: A Mathematical-Philosophical Biologist Weighs in ; IV.2.5 Early Reception of the Theory ; IV.2.6 Dobzhansky: The Faraday of Biology? ; IV.2.7 Evidence for Natural Selection, before 1941 ; IV.2.8 Huxley: A New Synthesis is Proclaimed ; IV.2.9 Mayr: Systematics and the Founder Principle ; IV.2.10 Simpson: No Straight and Narrow Path for Paleontology ; IV.2.11 Stebbins: Plants are also Selected ; IV.2.12 Chromosome Inversions in Drosophila ; IV.2.13 Ford: Unlucky Blood Groups ; IV.2.14 Resistance to Antibiotics ; IV.2.15 Two "Great Debates": Snails and Tiger Moths ; IV.2.16 Selection and/or Drift? The Changing Views of Dobzhansky and Wright ; IV.2.17 The Views of other Founders and Leaders ; IV.2.18 The Peppered Moth ; IV.2.19 The Triumph of Natural Selection? ; IV.2.20 Results of a Survey of Biological Publications ; IV.2.21 Is Evolutionary Theory Scientific? ; IV.2.22 Context and Conclusions ; Persons mentioned in this Chapter ; PART V CONCLUSIONS ; Chapter V.1 Which Works Faster: Prediction or Explanation? ; V.1.1 Comparison of Cases Presented in this Book ; V.1.2 From Princip to Principe ; V.1.3 Can Explanation be Better than Prediction? ; V.1.4 Special Theory of Relativity: Explaining "Nothing" ; V.1.5 The Old Quantum theory: Many Things are Predicted, but Few are Explained ; V.1.6 Quantum Mechanics: Many Things are Explained, Predictions are Confirmed too late ; V.1.7 Millikan's Walk ; Notes for Part I ; Notes for Part II ; Notes for Part III ; Notes for Part IV ; Notes for Part V ; Selected Bibliography: Includes works cited more than once in a chapter ; Index