Nautilus

Naming the first scientist

“A few years ago I took part in a debate at the Royal Institution on ‘who was the first scientist?’ “, writes Brian Clegg ”http://network.nature.com/forums/sciencewriters/609?page=1#reply-1414">in the science writers’ forum on Nature Network. Brian continues: “Lewis Wolpert championed Archimedes, I stood up for Roger Bacon ….and Frank James spoke for James Clerk Maxwell. Archimedes won, with Bacon a close second. The arguments were loosely that Archimedes was the first to use maths in science, Bacon the first to emphasise the importance of experimental verification, maths and the communication of results, and Maxwell because the word ‘scientist’ wasn’t invented until his time……………..I know it’s a very arbitrary point, but who out of all scientific history would you call the first, and why?”

Predictably, there is a bit of an argument among the replies about the terms of the question, but remarkably few suggestions other than a first-removed nomination of Galileo (attributed to John Gribbin). Here is my contribution: “Eve is my vote. She was the person who did the first scientific experiment, isn’t she? If you won’t count her, I suggest the unnamed man, woman or ape who first worked out how to make fire by rubbing two sticks together. I believe that suggestions such as Galileo and Bacon far too late to be considered “first” (and also show a bit of cultural influence, perhaps?).” Pierre Lindenbaum has helpfully responded with a link to a YouTube clip of the fire experiment (but not Eve’s).

What are your thoughts? (Bearing in mind Brian’s exhortation: “Come on guys, lighten up! I know it’s not possible to really say who the first scientist was, any more that it’s possible to say what was the best scientific idea – but we still have a Nobel Prize. The idea of this exercise (more contributions, please!) is to nominate the person you would like to be thought of as the first scientist and to give a reason.”)

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