History of science


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Engineers prepare to enter HAM 6 (left) to install the new septum window between HAM 5 and 6 through which LIGO’s laser beam passes. Staff must wear full bunny suits and goggles to protect their eyes from any stray laser light. The structure visible inside HAM 6 supports the photodetector that ultimately detects gravitational waves. Photo courtesy Caltech/MIT/LIGO Lab

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Philosophy of science
Keep science irrational

Is hard data the only path to scientific truth? That’s an absurd, illogical and profoundly useful fiction

Michael Strevens

Photo by Paul Zinken/dpa-Zentralbild/ZB/Getty

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Illness and disease
The wisdom of pandemics

Viruses are active agents, existing within rich lifeworlds. A safe future depends on understanding this evolutionary story

David Waltner-Toews

Detail of Sunrise III (1936-37), by Arthur Garfield Dove. Gift of Katherine S Dreier to the Collection Société Anonyme/Yale University Art Gallery

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Evolution
Origin story

Perched on the cusp between biology and chemistry, the start of life on Earth is an event horizon we struggle to see beyond

Natalie Elliot

Detail from La Malade (1892) by Felix Vallotton. Courtesy Wikipedia

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Illness and disease
No rest

In the 19th century, the rest cure tested women’s sanity. Today, it challenges cherished myths about work and productivity

Alicia Puglionesi

A facsimile of the Carta marina (1539) by Olaus Magnus. Photo courtesy Wikipedia

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Astronomy
Here be black holes

Like sea monsters on premodern maps, deep-space images are science’s fanciful means to chart the edges of the known world

Surekha Davies

Scientists near the Daneborg research station in Greenland, July/August 2014. Photo by Jean Gaumy/Magnum

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Philosophy of science
The necessity of awe

In awe we hold fast to nature’s strangeness and open up to the unknown. No wonder it’s central to the scientific imagination

Helen De Cruz

A group gather to watch another victim taken to a hospital during the 1956 polio epidemic in Chicago, Illinois. Photo by Francis Miller/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty

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Illness and disease
Stealth infections

From the Black Death to polio, the most dangerous pathogens have moved silently, transmitted by apparently healthy people

Wendy Orent

A hunting scene discovered painted in a cave in Sulawesi, Indonesia, is thought to be 44,000 years old. Photo courtesy Ratno Sardi/Griffith University

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Human evolution
Ancient yet cosmopolitan

Art, adornment and sophisticated hunting technologies flourished not only in prehistoric Europe but across the globe

Gaia Vince

Photo by Simon Dawson/Bloomberg via Getty Images

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Medicine
The medicalised life

Why do so many see vaccines and other medical interventions as tools of social control rather than boons to health?

Bernice L Hausman

Scientists working extra hours during the COVID-19 pandemic at the Laboratory of Infectious Diseases in Athens, Greece. 18 March 2020. Photo by Enri Canaj/Magnum

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Philosophy of science
The good scientist

Science is the one culture that all humans share. What would it mean to create a scientifically literate future together?

Martin Rees

The dilution refrigerator for the IBM Q quantum computer, September 2019. Photo by Graham Carlow/IBM

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The future
At the limits of thought

Science today stands at a crossroads: will its progress be driven by human minds or by the machines that we’ve created?

David C Krakauer

Albert Einstein’s original passport. Photo by Jean-Pierre Clatot/AFP/Getty

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Race and ethnicity
Identifying Einstein

For Albert Einstein, being Jewish and German were not questions of identity but rather mutable matters of identification

Michael D Gordin

From Voyage dans l’Amérique Méridionale, (v.IX, 1835-47), by Alcide Dessalines d’Orbigny. Courtesy the Biodiversity Heritage Library/Public Domain

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Illness and disease
This ragged claw

It is a crab; no, a worm; no, a wolf. Early physicians weren’t entirely wrong to imagine cancer as a ravenous disease

Ellen Wayland-Smith

Planetary System. Eclipse of the Sun. The Moon. The Zodiacal Light. Meteoric Shower. From Yaggy’s Geographical Study, 1887. Courtesy the David Rumsey Map Collection

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History of science
Naming the Universe

How the quick thinking of internationally minded astronomers avoided stamping the solar system with petty European rivalries

Stephen Case

Colourised photographs taken using the schlieren technique depict for the first time the shockwaves of two supersonic jets, typically heard on the ground as the sonic boom. Photo courtesy NASA

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Thinkers and theories
Before, now, and next

Pastness, presentness and futurity seem to be real features of the world, but are they? On McTaggart’s philosophy of time

Emily Thomas

At the European Southern Observatory, La Silla, Chile. Photo courtesy Alan Fitzsimmons/ESO

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Cosmology
Fate of the Universe

Are we part of a dying reality or a blip in eternity? The value of the Hubble Constant could tell us which terror awaits

Corey S Powell

The Garden of Eden with the Fall of Man (c1615) by Jan Brueghel the Elder and Peter Paul Rubens. Early supporters of the Royal Society, founded in 1660, commonly spoke in theological terms about the new science recapturing a lost, pre-Fall human dominion over nature. Courtesy the Mauritshuis, the Hague, Netherlands

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History of science
Reformation of science

Protestantism didn’t hold back science – it revolutionised its methods, its theoretical content and its social significance

Peter Harrison

Parallax (Candles) (1951). Courtesy the Estate of Berenice Abbott/Getty Images

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Philosophy of science
But is it science?

Theoretical physicists who say the multiverse exists set a dangerous precedent: science based on zero empirical evidence

Jim Baggott

Photo courtesy ESA/Hubble/NASA, Fillipenko, Jansen

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Quantum theory
Splitting the Universe

Hugh Everett blew up quantum mechanics with his Many-Worlds theory in the 1950s. Physics is only just catching up

Sean Carroll