Monday, October 7, 2013
Lies They Told Me in School
The Lunar Men do I realize what an outrageous lie it is. The mechanical innovators were close friends with the top scientists; in fact in a few cases they were top scientists themselves. The members of the Lunar Society in Birmingham included two of the century's top manufacturers, Josiah Wedgwood and Matthew Boulton; one of its top scientists, Joseph Priestley; and one man, James Watt, who was both a builder of improved steam engines and one of the world's top experts on what we call thermodynamics. Erasmus Darwin was both a font of mechanical inventions and a founder of biological science. James Keir's chemical works drew on cutting edge science. Wedgwood used Priestley's work on gases as well as up-to-date mineralogy in developing new types of ceramic, and he was elected to the Royal Society for his invention of a new way of measuring very high temperatures. When Watt learned, through Priestley, about the discovery of chlorine gas, he immediately sent a report to some relatives of his in the cloth bleaching business. There was no separation whatsoever between the new science and the new manufacturing technology. And while I'm at it there absolutely was a close connection between science, technology, and political reform, as anyone who had ever read Thomas Paine or Benjamin Franklin ought to know.
It really irks me that books so obviously and utterly wrong can be taken seriously and get good reviews and be assigned to graduate students because they fit into somebody's ideology or need to reject the received wisdom.
UPDATE: While I'm on the subject, it is not true that medieval people craved pepper to hide the taste of rotten food. They used pepper because they liked it.