History of Science

For most of human history if you had a question about the nature of the universe, you asked religious authorities. They appeared to be the only ones who (pretended) to know the answers.

Mathematics was first born in ancient Egypt and the Babylonians were the first to apply it to astronomy.

Then in 700 or so BCE the “pre-Socratic” philosophers were the first to develop a systematic science.

Thales of Miletus (“Father of Science”) was the first to claim a non-supernatural explanation for earthquakes and lightning. He made a lot of money predicting solar eclipses and droughts.

Pre-Socratic Scientists

Anaximander – theorized that life came from water and mud. That humans evolved from lower life forms.

Empedocles – air is made of stuff, using a straw and a glass of water.

Democritus – theorized that stuff is made up of small atoms (atom means ‘uncuttable’)

Eratosthenes – measured the size of the earth using two sticks.

Pythagoras – was the first “philosopher”. Started a school dedicated to math and its applications. Became very famous; folks were afraid, burned him and his school.

Hereclitus – What is the foundation of knowledge? Reason or experience? Is nature permanent or changing?

“Nature loves to Hide, and the job of science is to try and unveil her”


Hippocrates – developed first scientific approach to anatomy and medicine. First medicine experiences.

Science in the Middle Ages

Science continued through the Roman and Greek empires. Plato, Aristotle, and the great engineers of Rome.

But scientific progress in Europe was halted and religious authorities took hold.

Scientific progress continued in the Islamic world. Advancements in Medicine, astronomy, chemistry were continued.

Avicenna, for example, pioneered the modern hospital –

In the 12th century the rise of “scholasticism” attempted to reconcile ancient Greek philosophies with biblical dogma and likely made way for the Reneissance.


St Thomas Aquinas argued for “natural theology’. That is, “knowing God by studying his creation”

It became fashionable to study nature.

This began to weaken the Church sovereignty. Rather than going to the church for answers, folks looked towards nature.

Use our reason to understand the world around us.

Francis Bacon and the Scientific Method

The scholastic world-view deferred to Aristotle as the authority on Science. Aristotle explained things in terms of their ‘telos’ (purpose). The purpose of an acorn is to be a tree. Widely regarded as the smartest man ever.

Bacon says: Science does not require genius, but rather careful observation and deductive reasoning.

Ignaz Semmelweis on handwashing – Pasteur then Lister

Technology Rockets to the Moon

Boyles law of gasses, Galileo, gunpowder, thermometer, printing press, compass.

Scientific Revolution

There is a shift back to the idea that human reason has the power to discover truth.

So the best minds tend to astronomy: Nicholaus Copernicus proposes heliocentrism.

Challenges Ptolemaic astronomy, big deal.

Royal Society


Negative Induction Hypothesis

Science is mostly wrong

But the story if science is trying to get it less-wrong each time. For example, Ptolemy’s Geocentrism construed a remarkably useful model. Copernicus was wrong about circular orbits. Earth isn’t actually a sphere.

Newton spent most of his life working on alchemy. Greatest accomplishment? “Virginity.”

Science is Social Discipline

If you were born 100 years ago? Would you still be a graduate student?

Scientific discoveries and Scientific thought are a product of the social environment of the age. For example, math in the Early Renaissance was anti-social

Paul Erdos for example.


Merton’s CUDOS

  • communism: all scientists should have common ownership of scientific goods (intellectual property), to promote collective collaboration; secrecy is the opposite of this norm.
  • universalism: scientific validity is independent of the sociopolitical status/personal attributes of its participants.
  • disinterestedness: scientific institutions act for the benefit of a common scientific enterprise, rather than for the personal gain of individuals within them.
  • organized skepticism: scientific claims should be exposed to¬†critical scrutiny¬†before being accepted: both in methodology and institutional codes of conduct.

[Taken from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mertonian_norms#Four_Mertonian_norms]

What should scientists strive for? Recognition (not money)

So how do we show recognition?

Scientists are people

Even the famous ones: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LOTlx_UK08I

Professionalization of Science