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Great Feuds in Science: Ten of the Liveliest Disputes Ever 1st Edition

4.0 out of 5 stars 22 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0471169802
ISBN-10: 0471169803
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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

"The facts, even the theories, are history. It is the process that is the living science; that's what makes the activity exciting to those who practice it," science writer Hal Hellman observes. "Often, however, the process of scientific discovery is charged with emotion.... Holders of an earlier idea may not give it up gladly." Hellman describes some of the most emotional, dramatic, and personal debates in scientific history. He rounds up the usual suspects--Galileo versus the pope, Newton versus Leibniz, Cope versus Marsh, evolution versus Creation--but also includes less well known, but no less interesting, conflicts: Wallis versus Hobbes on squaring the circle, Voltaire versus Needham on embryos. And he boldly includes two conflicts in which (some) of the combatants are still alive: Don Johanson versus the Leakeys on human origins and Derek Freeman versus the ghost of Margaret Mead on Samoa. Never a dull moment. --Mary Ellen Curtin

From Library Journal

Ranging from Galileo vs. Pope Urban VIII to Derek Freeman vs. Margaret Mead, this compilation of great scientific feuds covers an interesting variety of personalities as well as subject matter. Proceeding in chronological order, chapter by chapter, science writer Hellman aims to show the human side of scientists, including all their petty frailties. Some of the feuds were more constructive than others; some seemed to center on personality clashes; collectively, they demonstrate that over the centuries science has shown little ability to acknowledge changing interpretations or newly calculated data without falling into conflict. Hellman certainly raises some questions on style in science, but it would have been even more worthwhile if he had tried to derive some theme from these confrontations instead of simply demonstrating that scientists can be just as human as the rest of us. For larger popular science collections.?Hilary Burton, Lawrence Livermore National Lab., Livermore, CA
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Wiley; 1 edition (May 25, 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0471169803
  • ISBN-13: 978-0471169802
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (22 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,563,261 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
I have to disagree strongly with one of the customer reviews of Hal Hellman's "Great Feuds in Science." "Iceage" complains that "... the book dissapoints (sic)... mainly because of its lack of first person perspeective. I was looking for more feeling, more virulent attacking by two historical giants ..." Apparently the reviewer was expecting people like Newton and Leibniz or Thomas Hobbes and John Wallis to stand head to head yelling four-letter words at each other. We should be fair: these feuds are scientific battles, not barroom brawls. As for his complaint that he "was hoping for more of a graphic and detailed picture of the opposition ..." I found Hellman's examples apt and intriguing. One example: John Wallis, mathematician and clergyman, writes to a colleague about Hobbes: "... nor should we be deterred ... by his arrogance which we know will vomit poisonous filth against us." In Chapter 10, Hellman r! elates that Derek Freeman, Australian anthropologist, wrote of that American icon, Maargaret Mead, that many of her assertions about Samoa, made decades earlier, are " ... fundamentally in error and some are preposterously false." Also, "There isn't another example of such wholesale self-deception in the history of the behavioral sciences." These aren't four-letter words, but they are explosive. Hellman has given us that good feel for who these people were and what they meant to society at the time. This book could bring science to life for the young and those of us who are more experienced. Iceage missed the boat but your readers should jump on board.
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By A Customer on August 1, 2000
Format: Paperback
Hellman has an excellent ability to describe the personalities, the scenes, the zeitgeist, but unfortunately he is not too good in science. He never really gets into the heart of the matter, he never discusses any details, he usually relies on second hand sources, he leaves the story in the air just when starts to get exciting. If you know history of science, this book does not contain anything new or startling. But it is fun reading for the uninitiated.
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Format: Hardcover
This book makes science interesting. The science we so often learn in school makes it seem as though science always proceeds in a straight-forward manner. This book explodes that stereotype. I particularly enjoyed the descriptions of Kelvin and his estimate of the age of the earth, and, of course, the famous one between Galileo and the Church.
The most recent one is between Derek Freeman and the late Margaret Mead. After I first read about it I felt that people were being pretty hard on Mead, but since then I've changed my mind. People claiming to do scientific research are held to high standards. If they are found to be not completely honest, even once, their reputation is ruined. That is a high standard, but a fair one.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
The way we teach science in our schools is not a true representation of how science actually is. We teach it as a calm, objective, and detached road to certain truths when, as books like this point out, science is frought with emotionalism, tentativity, and competitiveness. Who discovered what first (and gets the credit)? Whose theories will be superceded by the next big discovery? Whok will be seen as the winner and who, the loser?T

hese are the types of scientific feuds profiled in this highly engaging book. Hellmen profiles what he sees as the 10 greatest feuds.

Some have to do with the all-too-familiar and -touchy area where religion and science collide (Galileo v. Pope Urban, TH Huxley v. Bishop Wilberforce). In both chapters, Hellman describes well how tempers flared, arguments got heated, and science eventually won the day. (Galileo lost the battle but won the war.)

A few are battles that many people may never have heard about. Newton and Leibniz sparred rhetorically over who discovered calculus first. (It turns out that Newton did, but Liebniz was the first to publish.) Hobbes and Wallace wrote many a stinging rejoinder to one another over whether one could square a circle. Cope and Marsh most heatedly accused eachother of everything from incompentence to blatant dishonesty when battling over whether certain sets of fossils were of dinosaurs. Other feuds profiled in this book are more well known (Leaky v. Johanson battling over whose human fossils were the oldest and Derek Freeman slashing into Margaret Mead's reputation posthumously).

What all of these feuds have in common - what Hal Hellman does an excellent job replicating - is that science is not always the calm, detached discipline that we teach our kids of, where truth is the primary goal.
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Format: Paperback
Science is a messy place, and what we know to be true today might not be true tomorrow. There are arguments raging in science even today (and I don't mean faux arguments like climate change deniers). This book attempts to give an overview of some of the most famous shifts in science thinking.

Some of these aren't feuds in the way that we would understand the word, since feuds usually require all of the involved parties to still be alive. Several of these are scientists working to show that the previous understanding wasn't accurate. There are some honest-to-goodness feuds to be found here, and those are the most interesting reading, to see where scientists let emotion overrule their data.

The book suffers from the flaw of 20/20 hindsight. Now, many years removed from most of the feuds presented herein, the feuds lose their sense that there was ever actually anything to argue about. The author makes the old arguments seem ignorant and flawed, instead of helping us understand how they were the best scientific knowledge available at the time. Later, with better instruments and a better ability to create experiments.

It's a good enough overview, but none of the feuds really held my attention.
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