Cantankerous Historian of Science Questions Whether Science Can Achieve “Truth”

tags: history of science, Scientific American, Stevens Institute of Technology, James E. McClellan



One of the best things about teaching at Stevens Institute of Technology, which I joined in 2005, is shooting the shit with distinguished historian of science James E. McClellan III. Jim has authored, co-authored or edited half a dozen books, including Science and Technology in World History: An Introduction, which he wrote with our late Stevens colleague Harold Dorn. The book, which won an award from the World History Association, serves as my textbook when I teach “History of Science and Technology.” Every time I read the book I learn something new, which perhaps means that I never read it carefully enough. Just kidding. I’ve learned more about the history of science from Jim than I like to admit....

Horgan: To what extent can we learn about the emergence of modern science by focusing on pre-revolutionary France?

McClellan: You wouldn’t think that Old-Regime France has much to do with anything except Old-Regime France, yet important stuff happens in the history of science in the period. Conceptually, intellectually, the long eighteenth century bridges the Scientific Revolution and more modern science in the 19th century and down to today. Organizationally, institutionally and in terms of emerging norms in science, pre-revolutionary France is remarkable and incomparable. The history of modern science runs through it....



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