Pop history of science is often pretty terrible

An actual historian looks at a pop "history" of science column and discovers it is about as accurate as an explanation of evolution that says, "And one day a fish grew legs and walked up onto the land."

And Christie even missed a problem with the pop history account, in which Potter wrote: "...how the young Newton, sent home from school at Cambridge to avoid the plague of 1665, was sitting under a tree one day, saw an apple fall to the ground, and, in a flash of insight, came to understand the workings of gravity."

Christie notes that "the flash of insight" part is absurd, and it took Newton another twenty years to put his thoughts in publishable form.

But the problem Christie misses is the idea that Newton ever "came to understand the workings of gravity": he did not. He devised a formula describing how objects under the influence of gravity would behave. But he had no model or theory of how gravity was producing this behavior, a fact which he readily admitted himself.


  1. I always thought people discovered how Nature worked as soon as the Church stopped burning them.


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