Re: [OPE-L] (new book) Clifford D. Conner _A People's History of Science_

From: Rakesh Bhandari (bhandari@BERKELEY.EDU)
Date: Tue Dec 12 2006 - 19:00:25 EST

 From Cliff Conner,
I ordered the book today. Thanks to someone whose name I dare not
speak for bringing this book to our attention.

Dear Rakesh,

        Thank you for your questions. I'm presently fighting a
deadline and can't answer in great detail, but I'll try to give you
at least a brief responses.

On Dec 12, 2006, at 12:45 PM, Rakesh Bhandari wrote:

>1. Is this true in the breakthrough studies in biology? I just read
>a great book by Matthew
>Cobb Generation (wrote a short review on american amazon website)
>which relates the 17 and 18th century history of the scientific
>investigation of conception, development and reproduction. The
>moving actors are scientists funded by wealthy patrons.  Doesn't
>seem to have been much involvement by the masses.

My thesis is not that all scientific breakthroughs can be interpreted
as "people's science," but that there is a great deal of scientific
knowledge that did arise from anonymous artisans, etc. As we come
closer to the present, we see more science being done by professional
scientists and less "involvement by the masses." The breakthrough
studies in biology that you mention are certainly worthy of a
historian's attention, but they are outside the scope of my book.

>2. That said, there may well have been great social influence on the
>scientific theories of heredity. What role did the examples of
>royalty and race play in scientific thought about heredity?

Many of the major thinkers who developed scientific thought about
heredity were strongly influenced by racialist views (which were
then, but are not now, widely considered to be "scientific"). See the
sections on eugenics in chapters 8 and 9 in my book.

>3. Conner's argument seems to echo Grossman's critique of Borkenau,
>no? And I here echoes of an essay I once read by Edgar Zilsel.

Bingo! You said the magic name: Edgar Zilsel. In chapter 5 I give him
full credit for initiating this line of thought. But he died before
he could develop it beyond a few essays and articles, so I was trying
to carry it forward.

>4. Conner seems to believe that the Chinese imperial ban was
>effective rather than royal theater as John Hobson argues it mostly
>was in Eastern Origins of Western Civilization.

I'm not sure exactly what Hobson was referring to, but I might well
agree with him. The Imperial power was often less than formidable,
and its edicts were surely in many instances ignored. However, I
don't think that affects the general point I was trying to make,
namely that the Mandarinate always had a strong stranglehold on
intellectual life in China, and that their influence had an
"anti-science" effect similar to that of the scholastics of medieval

        Best regards,


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