History and Philosophy of Science

Review: Stefan Timmermans, Postmortem

May 11, 2006
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Review: Stefan Timmermans, Postmortem

Publishers Weekly recently reviewed Stefan Timmermans’s Postmortem: How Medical Examiners Explain Suspicious Deaths. From the review: "Controversial award-winning sociologist Timmermans looks at the work of medical examiners in this intriguing study, which serves as a welcome antidote to the almost endless stream of true-crime memoirs by MEs across the country.… Some of the writing is not for a mass audience ("a meta-analysis of clinical trials trumps a randomized, double-blind clinical trial…"), but Timmermans’s detailed look at the notorious Louise Woodward ‘nanny trial’ and other topical subjects (such as organ donation) make this a must-read for anyone interested in learning what postmortems really involve." . . .

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Review: Morus, When Physics Became King

April 14, 2006
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Review: Morus, When Physics Became King

The April issue of Physics Today features a glowing review of Iwan Rhys Morus’s When Physics Became King. Reviewer Robert M. Brain wrote: "Excellent.… A few good histories of physics during that remarkable age exist—but none as readable or comprehensive as Morus’s superb book." When Physics Became King traces the emergence of this revolutionary science, demonstrating how a discipline that barely existed in 1800 came to be regarded a century later as the ultimate key to unlocking nature’s secrets. A cultural history designed to provide a big-picture view, the book ably ties advances in the field to the efforts of physicists who worked to win social acceptance for their research. . . .

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Review: Szczeklik, Catharsis

April 10, 2006
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Review: Szczeklik, Catharsis

The Times Higher Education Supplement recently reviewed Andrzej Szczeklik’s Catharsis: On the Art of Medicine. In the review, Niall O’Higgins said: "This book is timely in its publication and timeless in its content.… Drawing on mathematical ideas, physics, music, mythology, clinical science and clinical practice, Szczeklik never forces the issues or compels. He treads lightly. He reminds and explains. He draws attention to details of physiology that can be explained and those that remain mysterious. He shifts gears effortlessly between the known and the mysterious and, being a cardiologist, seems particularly at home in explaining the amazing conducting system of the heart. To describe a single extrasystole, an ectopic heartbeat, as like a slight stumble in a dance and to introduce the complex mechanism of hearing with the statement that ‘every one of us has a tiny harp inside his ear’ suggests that he is a skillful teacher.… The kathartai, forerunners of doctors in pre-Hippocratic Greece, were said to purify the soul by the soothing and calming combination of music, dance, poetry and song. Szczeklik is in tune with them." The ancient Greeks used the term catharsis for the cleansing of both the body by medicine and the soul by . . .

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Review: Rudwick, Bursting the Limits of Time

April 5, 2006
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Review: Rudwick, Bursting the Limits of Time

Nature features a nice review of Martin J. S. Rudwick’s Bursting the Limits of Time: The Reconstruction of Geohistory in the Age of Revolution. From the review by Stephen Moorbath: "Bursting the Limits of Time is a massive work and is quite simply a masterpiece of science history.… Rudwick’s text is beautifully written and grips the attention throughout.… The book should be obligatory for every geology and history-of-science library, and is a highly recommended companion for every civilized geologist who can carry an extra 2.4 kg in his rucksack.… Rudwick has amply fulfilled his stated aim of describing the injection of history into a science that had been primarily descriptive or causal. Indeed, thanks to Rudwick and his kind, we may rest assured that the future of the history of science is in safe hands." Bursting the Limits of Time is the culmination of a lifetime of study by Martin J. S. Rudwick, the world’s leading historian of geology and paleontology. In 1650, Archbishop James Ussher of Armagh joined the long-running theological debate on the age of the earth by famously announcing that creation had occurred on October 23, 4004 B.C. Although widely challenged during the Enlightenment, this belief in . . .

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Review: Theodore Arabatzis, Representing Electrons

March 30, 2006
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Review: Theodore Arabatzis, Representing Electrons

Chemistry World recently reviewed Theodore Arabatzis’s Representing Electrons: A Biographical Approach to Theoretical Entities. From the review by Dennis Rouvray: "erhaps the most disconcerting message contains is that no experiement has indubitably established the existence of the electron. The author of this thought-provoking work is to be congratulated both for challenging some of our most cherished assumptions and for reminding us that the world of chemistry is not nearly as cut and dried as most chemists would have us believe." Both a history and a metahistory, Representing Electrons focuses on the development of various theoretical representations of electrons from the late 1890s to 1925 and the methodological problems associated with writing about unobservable scientific entities. Using the electron—or rather its representation—as a historical actor, Arabatzis illustrates the emergence and gradual consolidation of its representation in physics, its career throughout old quantum theory, and its appropriation and reinterpretation by chemists. As Arabatzis develops this novel biographical approach, he portrays scientific representations as partly autonomous agents with lives of their own. Furthermore, he argues that the considerable variance in the representation of the electron does not undermine its stable identity or existence. . . .

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Into the Cool

March 17, 2006
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Into the Cool

Scientists, theologians, and philosophers have all sought to answer the questions of why we are here and where we are going. Finding this natural basis of life has proved elusive, but in the eloquent and creative Into the Cool: Energy Flow, Thermodynamics, and Life, Eric D. Schneider and Dorion Sagan look for answers in a surprising place: the second law of thermodynamics. This second law refers to energy’s inevitable tendency to change from being concentrated in one place to becoming spread out over time. In this scientific tour de force, Schneider and Sagan show how the second law is behind evolution, ecology,economics, and even life’s origin. Authors Eric Schneider and Dorion Sagan have created a wonderful Into the Cool Web site. It features an in-depth look of each chapter, illustrations, reviews of the book, and a blog. Read an excerpt. . . .

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Review: Mario Biagioli, Galileo’s Instruments of Credit

March 15, 2006
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Review: Mario Biagioli, Galileo’s Instruments of Credit

The New Scientist recently praised Mario Biagioli’s Galileo’s Instruments of Credit: Telescopes, Images, Secrecy. From the review: " study presents a fresh and interesting view of the challenges faced by the 17th-century scientist." Galileo’s Instruments of Credit proposes radical new interpretations of several key episodes of Galileo’s career, including his early telescopic discoveries of 1610, the dispute over sunspots, and the conflict with the Holy Office over the relationship between Copernicanism and Scripture. Galileo’s tactics during this time shifted as rapidly as his circumstances, argues Mario Biagioli, and the pace of these changes forced him to respond swiftly to the opportunities and risks posed by unforeseen inventions, further discoveries, and the interventions of his opponents. Read an excerpt. . . .

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Review: Andrzej Szczeklik, Catharsis

March 9, 2006
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Review: Andrzej Szczeklik, Catharsis

Choice: Current Reviews for Academic Libraries recently reviewed Andrzej Szczeklik’s Catharsis: On the Art of Medicine. From the review: "A rash of reflections on medicine has been published by senior physicians approaching retirement. Most are autobiographical, often maudlin, and usually self-serving. This jewel of a book is an exception. explores the patient-doctor encounter, a mysterious process that has constituted the art of medicine since time eternal.… The text is peppered with illustrative case histories, and salted with the resources of a prodigious intellect that mixes history, philosophy, mythology, and poetry in telling the story. This is a wise, erudite, and insightful book that has been translated sensitively from the original Polish. It makes for an enormously good read that will enrich the life of anyone who peruses it. Highly recommended." Read an excerpt. . . .

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Review: Harry Collins, Dr. Golem

February 21, 2006
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Review: Harry Collins, Dr. Golem

Choice: Current Reviews for Academic Libraries praised Harry Collins and Trevor Pinch’s Dr. Golem: How to Think about Medicine: "This gem of a book is well written, thought provoking, and an enjoyable read. Highly recommended." A creature of Jewish mythology, a golem is an animated being made by man from clay and water who knows neither his own strength nor the extent of his ignorance. Like science and technology, the subjects of Harry Collins and Trevor Pinch’s previous volumes, medicine is also a golem, and this Dr. Golem should not be blamed for its mistakes—they are, after all, our mistakes. The problem lies in its well-meaning clumsiness. Dr. Golem explores some of the mysteries and complexities of medicine while untangling the inherent conundrums of scientific research and highlighting its vagaries. Driven by the question of what to do in the face of the fallibility of medicine, Dr. Golem encourages a more inquisitive attitude toward the explanations and accounts offered by medical science. Read an excerpt. . . .

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Review: Martin J. S. Rudwick, Bursting the Limits of Time

February 3, 2006
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Review: Martin J. S. Rudwick, Bursting the Limits of Time

The latest issue of the London Review of Books features a nice review of Martin J. S. Rudwick’s Bursting the Limits of Time: The Reconstruction of Geohistory in the Age of Revolution. Here is an excerpt from the review, written by Richard Fortey: "To describe Rudwick as scholarly is rather like describing Mozart as musically talented. He is omniscient, and it’s greatly to be wished that this book becomes known beyond the ranks of historians of the recondite. His story stops just as Charles Lyell appears, to become one of the major players in geology, and he promises us a subsequent volume on the development of the ideas of this pivotal figure. In Lyell, we have a British scientist who genuinely earned his place in the pantheon." . . .

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