University of Cambridge > > HPS History Workshop > 'Lies and frivolity': manners in scientific dispute in 19th-century Britain and Germany

'Lies and frivolity': manners in scientific dispute in 19th-century Britain and Germany

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If you have a question about this talk, please contact Alexandra Bacopoulos-Viau.

The idea that science is a conflict-driven enterprise is a very popular one among historians and philosophers of science ranging from Karl Popper to Marcelo Dascal. This might give us the false impression that an inherent conflict in the science profession has always been universally acknowledged, and that the question of how to disagree in science is (and ever has been) an unproblematic one. Of course, we know on the basis of the existing historiography that in fact scientific disagreement has been moderated by a historically shifting set of rules ΜΆ or, to use the words of Shapin and Schaffer, by changing ‘manners in dispute’. In my paper, I will explore these manners in scientific dispute in the nineteenth century, comparing ideals that were developed in the United Kingdom with those in the German lands.

My talk will draw on the seldom cases in which codes of conduct were explicitly articulated (in handbooks, offhand remarks found in polemical articles or personal advice in correspondence). My starting point will be the ‘rules of controversy’ as developed in logic and theological polemics around 1800, followed by the newly set-up spaces of scientific discussion at the British Association for the Advancement of Science and the yearly Meetings of German Naturalists and Physicians. I will explore how the rules of discussion were adapted to the popular realm by, amongst others, the secularist George Holyoake and the polemical geologist Carl Vogt, to finally indicate how the latter men would influence the confrontational ethos of late nineteenth-century career scientists such as Thomas Huxley and Ernst Haeckel.

This talk is part of the HPS History Workshop series.

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