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Scientific American


  • Originally published 04/17/2013

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

    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?

  • Originally published 03/13/2013

    A brief history of toilet hygiene

    The last time I visited Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts was in 2004 to see a Rembrandt exhibition. But I might have wandered away from the works of the Dutch master in search of an ancient Greek artifact, had I known at the time that the object in question, a wine vessel, was in the museum’s collection. According to the 2012 Christmas issue of the BMJ (preacronymically known as the British Medical Journal), the 2,500-year-old cup, created by one of the anonymous artisans who helped to shape Western culture, is adorned with the image of a man wiping his butt.That revelation appears in an article entitled “Toilet Hygiene in the Classical Era,” by French anthropologist and forensic medicine researcher Philippe Charlier and his colleagues. Their report examines tidying techniques used way back—and the resultant medical issues. Such a study is in keeping with the BMJ‘s tradition of offbeat subject matter for its late December issue—as noted in this space five years ago: “Had the Puritans never left Britain for New England, they might later have fled the British Medical Journal to found the New England Journal of Medicine.”

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