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Portal:History of science

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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 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 century through 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. Some 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 in a wider matrix of intellectual, cultural, economic and political trends. These interpretations, however, have met with opposition for they also portray history of science as an incoherent system of incommensurable paradigms, not leading to any scientific progress, but only to the illusion of progress.

Selected article

Gravitational light deflection at a neutron star

Tests of Einstein's general theory of relativity did not provide an experimental foundation for the theory until well after it was introduced in 1915. Physicists accepted the theory because it correctly accounted for the precession of the perihelion of Mercury, a phenomenon which had long baffled physicists, and because it unified Newton's law of universal gravitation with special relativity in a conceptually simple way. (Einstein has been famously quoted as saying that if his theory was falsified, then he would have felt "sorry for the dear Lord.") Despite Einstein's proposal of three classical tests, the theory was without strong experimental support until a program of precision tests was started in 1959. This program has systematically tested general relativity in weak gravitational fields and severely limited possible deviations from the theory. Since 1974, Hulse and Taylor have studied stronger gravitational fields in binary pulsars. In these regimes, on typical solar system scales, general relativity has been extremely well tested.

On the largest scales, such as galactic and cosmological scales, general relativity has not yet been subject to precision tests. Some have interpreted dark matter and dark energy as a failure of Einstein's theory at large distances, small accelerations, or small curvatures. Likewise, the very strong fields around black holes, especially supermassive black holes, which are thought to power quasars and less dramatic active galactic nuclei, are still an object of intense study. Observations of these objects are difficult, and the interpretation of these observations is heavily dependent upon astrophysics other than general relativity or competing fundamental theories of gravitation, but they are qualitatively consistent with the black hole concept as modeled in general relativity.

Selected image

Galton at Bertillon's (1893).jpg

Francis Galton was an English polymath known for his work in heredity, eugenics, and statistics. This photograph of Galton (age 73) was created upon his visit to Alphonse Bertillon's anthropometry laboratory in 1893. It serves as a good example of Bertillon's identification technology, which intended for the prosecution of criminals. Ironically, fingerprinting, a technique Galton transformed into a rigorously scientific one, eventually replaced Bertillon's system.

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.


Overview In early cultures | In classical antiquity |In the Middle Ages | In the Renaissance | The Scientific Revolution | Scientific method | Modern science
Historiography Historians | Sociology of Scientific Knowledge (SSK) | Science Studies | Science and Technology Studies
Physics Natural philosophy | Astronomy | Aristotelian physics | Optics | Electricity | Classical mechanics | Timeline of thermodynamics | Special relativity | General relativity | Quantum field theory | Materials science
Biology Natural history | Ecology | Biochemistry | Genetics | Molecular biology | Evolutionary biology | Speciation | Model organisms | Great chain of being
Chemistry Alchemy | Atomism | Chemical revolution | Atomic theory | Electrochemistry | Periodic system
Earth science Geology | Geography | Paleontology | Age of the Earth | Volcanology
Technology Ancient Rome | Middle Ages | Industrial Revolution | Second Industrial Revolution | Agricultural science | Computer science | Biotechnology
Medicine Prehistoric medicine | Ancient Egypt | Ancient Greece | India | China | Middle Ages | Islam | Anatomy | Germ theory | Wound care
Scientific culture Royal Society | Académie des Sciences | Nobel Prize | National Academy of Sciences | Scientific publication | Science wars | Women in science | Romanticism in science
Funding of science Patronage | Science policy | Military funding of science | Research and development
Science and religion Relationship between religion and science | Conflict thesis | Merton thesis | Galileo affair | Scopes Trial | Islamic science | Creation–evolution controversy
Big Science Manhattan Project | Soviet nuclear program | Military–industrial complex | Human Genome Project | Space program | High-energy physics
Related fields Philosophy of Science | History of Mathematics | History of Ideas | History of Medicine | History of Technology

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

August 22:

Related portals


Things you can do

Help out by participating in the History of Science Wikiproject (which also coordinates the histories of medicine, technology and philosophy of science) or join the discussion.

Open task for the history of science

History of Science collaboration of the month: Wikipedia:WikiProject History of Science/Collaboration of the Month/current

Science collaboration of the month:

→ Here are some Open Tasks :

Searchtool.svg The History of Science Collaboration is On the Origin of Species.

Associated Wikimedia

The following Wikimedia Foundation sister projects provide more on this subject:






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