The historical way to do science

A review of two history of science books in History Today starts out

The story of science is Whig history. We are forever cherry-picking the routes by which we came to our present understanding of the world – and the implication is always the same: our current grasp is final, perfect and unimpeachable. It’s a bad way to do history, but it’s a good way of doing science. That is the problem.

No, that’s not the problem. The problem is that we have post hoc stories that systematically misrepresent the history of science. Science is not Whiggish. Nobody knows ahead of time what to do and how to proceed. Scientists don’t take a linear pathway from ignorance to a good theory. But after they have one, they will often tell a story as if they did. Historians don’t need to take them at their word.

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