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John Waller

Leaps in the Dark

The picture of a lone scientist struggling to demonstrate an idea, often against a stupid and obstructive establishment makes a popular story, but how much truth is there in this image? In 'Leaps in the Dark' John Waller takes ten such stories and shows how they are often made up long after the fact. Now other authors might have done this in a way that was disparaging to the scientists or the science concerned, but Waller doesn't do this. Rather he shows that those concerned did deserve credit for their work but that truth is much more complex than told by the heroic stories. It's also an entertaining read, and is recommended for anyone who wants to see how science really progresses.

Thus we hear of Max von Pettenkofer, who thought that outbreaks of cholera depended on local soil conditions. His theory was actually more successful than the germ theory in predicting outbreaks, and what is more he was willing to drink a flask full of germs to prove his point - he didn't get cholera. Clearly the makings of a heroic story, but for one thing - hindsight proved him wrong. Thus Koch was presented as the hero, and Pettenkofer as an idiot who delayed the truth. Other stories tell of how the establishment resisted the obvious, such as Newton splitting white light, or the use of lemons against scurvy - but was it really so obvious? This book shows that more detailed research will often tell a different story, and it is well worth reading.

Amazon.com info
Hardcover 300 pages  
ISBN: 0192804847
Salesrank: 2551943
Weight:1.06 lbs
Published: 2004 Oxford University Press
Amazon price $29.95
Marketplace:New from $23.50:Used from $5.05
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Amazon.co.uk info
Hardcover 304 pages  
ISBN: 0192804847
Salesrank: 2353666
Weight:1.06 lbs
Published: 2004 OUP Oxford
Marketplace:New from £45.40:Used from £7.87
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Amazon.ca info
Hardcover 304 pages  
ISBN: 0192804847
Salesrank: 3573590
Weight:1.06 lbs
Published: 2005 Oxford University Press
Marketplace:New from CDN$ 71.62:Used from CDN$ 0.61
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Product Description
In Leaps in the Dark, John Waller presents another collection of revelations from the world of science. He considers experiments in which the scientists' awareness was not perhaps as keen as they might have claimed in retrospect; he investigates the jealousy and opposition that scientific ideas can provoke; he celebrates the scientists who were wrong, but for very good reasons; and he demonstrates how national interest can affect scientists and their theories. The result is an entertaining and highly readable re-examination of scientific discoveries and reputations from the Renaissance to the twentieth century. The tales in Leaps in the Dark range across a wide historical field, from a seventeenth-century witch-finder, Joseph Glanvill, to Sir Robert Watson-Watt, the self-proclaimed 'Father of radar'. Each story underscores the rich, fascinating complexity of scientific discovery. Writing in a clear and engaging style, and skilfully weaving history in with the science, John Waller brings these scientists to life, illustrating how their work and their discoveries influenced their careers and the wider world around them.