Science

The foremost student of a belief held by nearly half of all Americans traces its history from Darwin’s bombshell through the storms of the Scopes trial to today’s “scientific creationists”—who find William Jennings Bryan too liberal

The year 1963 brought the death of George McCready Price, whom the science writer Martin Gardner described as “the last and greatest of the anti-evolutionists.” The greatest perhaps, but certainly not the last. That year also witnessed the birth of the Creation Research Society and—more generally—the age of scientific creationism. By the end of the decade battles were being waged over including creationism in public school curricula; the fight culminated in the 1981 court challenge to the Arkansas creationist law. If the proceedings lacked the carnival atmosphere of the 1925 Scopes trial, they compensated by attracting an impressive list of expert witnesses from the ranks of scientists, philosophers, and theologians. Unfavorable court decisions have settled for the moment the issue of equal-time state laws, but creation science as a movement has hardly slowed. Several creation research institutes continue seeking evidence to confute evolution, and the theory’s proponents have evolved new tactics for including special creation in public school curricula. The phenomenon of scientific creationism has evoked a cottage industry of analysts: journalists, sociologists, philosophers of science, theologians, and particularly scientists, who believe they have the most to lose from a theory that denies Darwin. The call to arms that went out among various scientific groups characterized creationists almost uniformly as dangerous quacks who were gulling the public with a specious science. Read more >>
What makes science fiction the literature of choice for so many? Arthur C. Clarke, the novelist and scientist, gave a good answer once, when asked why he chose to write in this genre: “Because,” he said, “no other literature is concerned with reality.” Read more >>

It was discovered in New Jersey in 1858, was made into full-size copies sent as far away as Edinburgh, and had a violent run-in with Boss Tweed in 1871. Now, after fifty years out of view, the ugly brute can be seen in Philadelphia.

During the summer of 1858 almost no one in the United States had even heard of dinosaurs. Read more >>

A HERITAGE PRESERVED
Since 1930, more than half of America’s splendid elm trees have succumbed to disease. But science is now fighting back and gaining ground.

They left behind great names —the Divine Elm, the Justice Elm, the Pride of the State, the Green Tree. Read more >>

For more than two hundred years, Americans have tried to change the weather by starting fires, setting off explosions, cutting trees, even planning to divert the Gulf Stream. The question now is not how to do it, but whether to do it at all.

RAIN MADE TO ORDER: PRELIMINARY EXPERIMENTS IN TEXAS PROVE SUCCESSFUL . The headline might be yesterday’s, but in fact it appeared in August 1891. Read more >>

We talk about it constantly and we arrange our lives around it. So did our parents; and so did the very first colonists. But it took Americans a long time to understand their weather—and we still have trouble getting it right.

Weather makes news headlines almost every day in some community in the United States. Read more >>

At a time when our civilization is trying to organize itself on scientific principles of mathematical probabilities, statistical modeling, and the like, is traditional narrative history of any real use? Yes, says a distinguished practitioner of the discipline; it can always help us. It might even save us.

I was recently sent a well-argued report written by sensible people which insisted that a larger place must be found in our schools and colleges for instruction in mathematics and “quantitative thinking.” Scarcely had I finished reading it when a full professor came by to tell Read more >>

Slovenly, impulsive, impoverished, and grotesque, Constantine Samuel Rafinesque was the greatest naturalist of his age. But nobody knew it.

It is quite fitting,” wrote a Philadelphia journalist in 1804, “that the name ‘Rafinesque’ rhymes with ‘picturesque’ and ‘grotesque,’ because so the little man is.” The subject was a struggling twenty-one-year-old scientist named Constantine Samuel Rafinesque, who actually was Read more >>

America has won more Nobel Prizes in medicine than any other nation: it’s easy when you have the money, the technology, and people from every other nation

In 1977 the sociologist Harriet Zuckerman published a comprehensive study of the American Nobel laureates in science called Scientific Elite . Read more >>

…And what’s more, the planet’s highly civilized inhabitants live together in perfect harmony. So argued an eminent astronomer named Percival Lowell, and for decades tens of thousands of Americans believed him.

EXPLORATION HAS A way of destroying as much knowledge and as many features as it reveals. Read more >>

THE BIRTH OF THE RAND CORPORATION During World War II, America discovered that scientists were needed to win it—and to win any future war. That’s why RAND came into being, the first think tank and the model for all the rest.

ALONG THE jagged coastline of Southern California, past the hills and forests of Malibu, five miles down from the Santa Monica Mountains, just short of Muscle Beach and the town of Venice, there sits some of the most quaintly de Read more >>

One of America s truly great men—scientist, philosopher, and literary genius—forged his character in the throes of adversity

THE YEAR IS 1890 and the place Cambridge, Massachusetts. Read more >>

Was it science, sport, or the prospect of a round-the-world railroad that sent the tycoon off on his costly Alaskan excursion?

The railroad tycoon Edward Harriman was a man of large vision and mysterious ways. When, on a day in March of 1899, he strode into the Washington office of Dr. C. Hart Merriam, chief of the U.S. Read more >>

Coming on Line

From the beginning it was clear—in this case the beginning was December 2, 1942, the day the first man-made nuclear reactor was nudged to criticality in a squash court beneath the west stands of the University of Chicago’s Stagg Field and incidentally the first day of wartime g Read more >>

The sexual habits of American women, examined half a century before Kinsey

The nineteenth century was, according to the stereotype, ashamed and fearful of all things sexual. It was an era when, as one visitor to America swore, teachers put “modest little trousers with frills at the bottom” over the “limbs” of their pianos. Read more >>

It’s our most important, profitable, and adaptable crop—the true American staple. But where did it come from?

In 1748 an inquisitive Swede named Peter Kalm, a protégé of the great botanist Linnaeus, came to America to find plants that could be useful in his country. He went around asking questions of everybody about everything. Read more >>

The Ordeal of Robert Hutchings Goddard

In 1901, just after Christmas, in Worcester, Massachusetts, a sickly nineteen-year-old high school student named Robert Hutchings Goddard sat down to compose an essay on an enterprise of surpassing technological challenge. He was no stranger to enterprise. Read more >>
Maybe they ought to call this the Uneasy Decade. As we move on toward the twenty-first century (and it really is not so far away, when you stop to think about it), we seem to spend a good part of our time looking back over our shoulders. Read more >>

The single greatest medical discovery of the last century began as a parlor game, and brought tragedy to nearly everyone who had a hand in it

In the early 1840’s a visiting surgeon approaching the main building of Boston’s Massachusetts General Hospital, an imposing granite structure designed by Charles Bulfinch, could consider that he was about to enter one of the foremost temples of his art. Read more >>

How a Crash Program Developed an Efficient Oral Contraceptive in Less Than a Decade

A good beginning for this story is a meeting in early 1951 of three remarkable people—the greatest feminist of our age, a great philanthropist who was as notably eccentric as she was fantastically wealthy, and a biological scientist whose subsequent world fam Read more >>

The Agony of J. Robert Oppenheimer

In the life of J. Read more >>
Long before the energy crunch became a crisis, Rube Goldberg was lampooning the American fascination with gadgetry that helped bring it about. Read more >>

New Light on a Much-Loved Myth

The election of a peanut-growing President has evoked much journalistic analysis of his rural Southern roots. Read more >>

IT’S A PETRIFIED MAN!
IT’S A SEVENTEENTH-CENTURY IDOL!
IT’S A HOAX!
ITS THE CARDIFF GIANT!

One morning in early November of the year 1868 three men appeared at the railroad depot in Union, New York, just outside Binghamton. Read more >>

They were botanists, but not of the dull variety: William’s journals inflamed the imaginations of the European romantics, and John may have inadvertently touched off the American Revolution

You can sum up the beginnings of natural history in America in one name: Bartram. John Bartram and his son William laid the groundwork for American botany and either directly or indirectly taught most of our early naturalists. Read more >>

We have come a long way from the philosophy of the Enlightenment...a shift that represents a retreat rather than an advance, argues the noted historian.

We think of our own time as an Age of Enlightenment, but it flouts and even repudiates two essential principles of the Enlightenment: first the priority of the claims of science and culture over those of politics, and second the cosmopolitan and even universal nature of science Read more >>

A bitter feud among the bones

In the early 1870’s two American scientists began a vicious personal contest for position and eminence in the world of science. Read more >>
Everyone knows a little about the rise and fall of DDT—how it was once hailed as a great boon to mankind; how useful it was in field and garden, house and yard; and how at last to our dismay it was unmasked as a killer, the chemical Al Capone, a threat to our Read more >>
For a very long time it has been supposed that man could adjust himself to almost anything in the way of speed, noise, or financial outlay, just to get from one place to another in the least possible time. Read more >>