The premise of the last three posts is that anachronism is back in fashion. By contrast, there is nothing but mustiness about the labels “internal” or “internalism.” Roughly speaking, internalist historians are interested in ideas and evidence rather than politics and institutions. A single article, let alone a single blog post, can't make internal history fashionable again. But at least it can say what a viable defense of internal history of science might look like. Here goes... Works not workers. We should try to avoid applying the label “internalist” to particular people and instead apply it to particular books and articles. This is partly for clarity's sake, since it is not uncommon for the same person to write both internalist and non-internalist works. But it is also to remind us that we should aim for variety not hybridity in the history of science (see below). Non-internalism not externalism. It is often pointed out that “externalism” is a bad label for works that are not internalist. The label conceals important distinctions such as that between explaining scientific theories in social or cultural terms, and simply describing the social and cultural side of science. The term also fails to capture the large number of “hybrid” works that are in some sense a mixture of the internal and the external. We can avoid these thorny matters by saying “non-internalist” where we used to say “externalist.” Unity not uniformity. Like non-internalism, internalism is a broad church. One author might study the technical details of a nineteenth-century optical theory, with little or no reference to outside events; another might study broad changes in the methods used in geology from 1700 and 1900, making passing reference to social and political developments. Internalism also has fuzzy borders. Is it internalist to write about Newton's application of the calculus to questions of biblical chronology, or to study Michael Faraday's metaphysics, or the experimental procedures of alchemists? We should not worry if we can't give definite answers to such questions. We live with historiographical distinctions that are no less fuzzy—try drawing a clean line between “macrohistory” and “microhistory.” And if it really was impossible to distinguish internalism from non-internalism then there would be no sense in opposing internalism, as many people have! Inquiry not intellection. Internal history of science is the victim of misleading pseudonyms. For example, internalists are sometimes described as giving “philosophical” or “epistemic” explanations of scientific beliefs. This is useful short-hand, but it implies that internalists are more concerned with a priori ideas about science than other historians are, and hence that internalists can never be as “naturalistic” as cultural historians of science. Certainly some internalists are interested in answering the questions posed by philosophers of science. But not all of them are, and in general they no more rely on present-day epistemology than social historians rely on present-day sociology. Two other unhelpful labels are “history of ideas” and “intellectual history.” Intellectual historians of science stress the role of religious, philosophical and metaphysical ideas in past science. Internal historians of science may share this interest (it depends how you define them). But internalists are also interested in experiments, instruments, and data-collection. They study scientific inquiry in general, not just intellection. Present value not past associations. It is often implied (although never stated outright) that the internal/external distinction should be abandoned because it is merely a product of Cold War polarities. This is a terrible argument. Its premise is false: internal history of science was practised long before the Cold War. And its inference is shaky: to reject internal history on the grounds that it is popular among anti-Marxists would be like rejecting the theory of natural selection because it is popular among social Darwinists. If there's really something wrong with internalism, its critics should not have to resort to guilt-by-association. Similarly, critics of internalism have to do more than point to the many internalist works that have been guilty of Whiggism or naïve inductivism or whatever. Critics have to show that those sins follow from the very nature of internalism. The reverse is also true: even if all non-internalist works published so far were sloppy and inaccurate, it does not follow that these ills are inherent in the genre. Continuity not catastrophe. Non-internalists are fond of pointing out that what counts as “internal” to science has changed over time. It is a short step to the conclusion that all internalist history is naïvely committed to present-day ideas about what science is. The non-internalists have a point. Internalists must recognise that their subject-matter—like that of historians of France or food or banking—has been defined in different ways at different times, and that at any given time there was disagreement about where its boundaries lay. But the problem is not as bad as it looks. The boundaries have not changed as much as non-internalists sometimes make out. Even if they have changed, the internalist is free to adopt the boundaries that prevailed in the time and place that interest her. Some of the best studies of the changing boundaries of science have been done by scholars who most people would count as internalists, such as Alistair Crombie and Larry Laudan. Finally, consider the histories of France, food and banking: no-one has suggested that these fields are catastrophic failures just because their subject-matter has changed over time. Quality not category. When we defend internalist works, should we focus on their quality as history? Or should we instead ask whether they count as the history of science as opposed to the history of something else? I suggest that we start with the former question because it tells us something about the scholarly value of internal history of science, rather than about which academic box it belongs to. Also, the second question tends to stack the deck in favour of internalist works, which are usually about science in a pretty obvious sense. Whichever of these two questions we answer, we should be sure to distinguish between them. Otherwise we end up with fruitless debates where internalists emphasise that they are writing about the history of science and the non-internalists reply that at least they are writing the history of science. History not philosophy. Internalist works are sometimes defended on the grounds that they help us to answer questions usually posed by philosophers of science, or because they are useful for science teachers, or simply because they are more interesting to scientists than non-internalist works. All this may be true, but it does not follow that internalist works are defensible as history. A historiographical defense of internalist works means showing that they can achieve all the normal virtues of historical writing, and avoid all the vices—or at least that they have just as good a chance of doing so as non-internalist works. Parity not priority. Internalists should give up arguing for the priority of their approach, as history, and instead argue for parity. (This leaves open the possibility that internal history is better as history of science). Parity is an obvious goal but it is rarely defended in print. Instead, some commentators complain that too much attention is given to one side of the internal/external distinction. Most other commentators urge us to transcend the distinction by writing “hybrid” works that collapse the distinction. Variety not hybridity. There's nothing wrong with hybrids (I write them myself). What I object to is the idea that that such works are inherently superior, as history, to works that are either strictly internalist or strictly externalist. The usual argument is that only hybrids do justice to the inextricability of social and epistemic factors in past science (or something along those lines). The obvious reply is that there are lots of other inextricable pairs that the historian should try to knit together—like theory and experiment, or mathematics and physics, or science in France and science in Germany—the list is endless. Given that no single work can hybridize everything, why should the science-society dyad be given special attention? To conclude, if we really want to “transcend” the internal/external distinction, we should stop measuring works according to where they stand with respect to that distinction. There are a variety of legitimate genres ranging from institutional history through trendy hybrids to hard-core internalism, and each of these genres can (and has) produced works of great care and creativity. Expand post.
Friday, November 30, 2012
Tuesday, November 27, 2012
A recurring theme over at Ether Wave Propaganda is what Will Thomas has called “professional theodicy” (see this post for a summary). This phrase refers to a multitude of sins, but mainly to the tendency of recent historians of science to distort the work of their predecessors in a way that amplifies their own insights. I share Will Thomas' impression that this tendency is quite widespread. But I want to draw attention to a striking counter-example, namely the papers by Nick Jardine discussed in my previous two posts. In these papers Jardine couples awareness of past historiography with a down-to-earth suspicion of radical novelty. Let me begin at the end of Jardine's paper “Etics and Emics,” where he issues a complaint that could have come from a post like this one by Will Thomas:
...historians of science have been all too ready to apply to their own discipline that simplistic model of linear progress whose application to the sciences they call in question—in the beginning was the age of triumphal narratives of progress, then the various sociological turns of the 'seventies and 'eighties, and now the all-conquering new cultural microhistories! (274)Earlier in the same article Jardine describes what looks like an example of the kind of historiographical amnesia that exercises Will Thomas. Jardine wonders why cultural historians...
...present past institutions almost entirely in terms of past agents' conceptions and perceptions, surprisingly little attention being paid to the nuts-and-bolts aspects of those institutions—their physical layouts, their memberships, their financial arrangements, etc.He then suggests—and here's the rub—that “there is a tendency to adopt a condescending attitude to the products of 'old-fashioned' studies of institutions, whilst making free use of their fruits” (269). In other words, old-style histories are dismissed with one hand and pilfered with the other. A related point is that historians' recent stress on the perils of anachronism is of a piece with the bias in favour of ideas instead of actions. As Jardine puts it, “the obsession with actors' categories is a hangover from an historiography of scientific ideas based on texts and doctrines” (261). One irony of this claim is that it traces a practice that has been much praised in recent years (sensitivity to actors' categories) to a practice that has been much maligned in the same period (over-emphasis on ideas as opposed to actions and materials). A second irony is that, in Jardine's view, one way to advance beyond our “obsession with actors' categories” is to look backwards—that is, to pay attention to the kind of institutional data that was once collected by our “positivistic” forebears (the term “positivistic” is Jardine's). Empirical data-gathering is not the only “old-fashioned” practice that Jardine hopes to revive. Another is the progress narrative:
...I suggest that historians of science should feel free to return to the long-spurned task of spelling out and explaining the progress of the sciences... Against the objection that such an approach commits anachronism of selection to the extent that it picks out scenes, agendas and doctrines ancestral to those of our sciences, the proper response is surely: so be it! The very existence of history of science as a discipline depends upon such selective anachronism, and there is nothing historically improper in attending to the causal processes that have given rise to our sciences (274) .Jardine has an eye not only for the good habits of past authors but also for the bad habits of more recent ones. Consider his remarks on...
...the dismal 'cultural studies' pick'n'mix style, which jumbles up emic categories with currently fashionable etic theoretical terminology--'habitus' from Bourdieu, 'episteme' from Foucault, 'figuration' from Elias, etc. In so doing, it gets the worst of both the emic and the etic worlds. As isolated anachronisms the words militate against emic interpretation and insight. But there is no payoff: plucked from their theories the etic terms lack the power to analyse or explain anything.Jardine also recognises that dead positivist historians were not the only ones who imposed an unsuitable theoretical framework on aspects of past science. The newer and trendier frameworks are prone to the same error:
We should not expect analytic and explanatory frameworks designed for the sciences of one period to be applicable to those of others. Why should interest theory, with its own historical roots in the era of political economy, be applicable to earlier sciences? Why should actor-network theory, with its paradigmatic applications to colonial science, be appropriate for analysing early-modern science? (“Uses and Abuses,” 263).Finally, Jardine reminds us that we are not the first to wring our hands over historiographical issues like anachronism. Ever since scholars began interpreting texts they have been worrying about whether or not they've done justice to the author's point of view. Jardine's example, drawn from a text published in 1697, is a good way to end this series of posts on anachronism in the history of science:
So we must be aware of lending our notions to the Ancients and then judging their discourse on the basis of these notions, as often happens. If we wish their thought to be understood, our opinions should be as if forgotten... We should not compare their sayings with the nature of the things about which they speak, so as to be able to say that their knowledge of them is greater or less than ours, but should as far as possible interpret them from their very words . Jardine's source here is a paper by Tosh, Nick. “Anachronism and Retrospective Explanation: In Defence of a Present-Centred History of Science,” Studies In History and Philosophy of Science Part A 34, no. 3 (2003): 647–659. I hope to write a post on this interesting paper some time in the New Year.  Daniel Le Clerc, Ars critica (Amsterdam, 1697). Expand post.
Tuesday, November 20, 2012
Readers might conclude from what I've just said that Jardine's two papers have little of value to say about anachronism in the history of science. Nothing could be further from the truth. The papers may not solve my demarcation problem, but they contain many insights and much practical advice. I found the following points especially valuable. Firstly, we can learn a lot about the past from explicit contrasts between it and the present. This is what I take from Jardine's discussion of “false friends” such as the present-day “office” and the early modern “officium”:
Of course, the moral is not that such terms should be banned; on the contrary, reflective and critical employment of them, in which the historian spells out similarities and differences between our usage and earlier usages, may provide valuable access to past life-worlds (“Etics and Emics,” 271).The second lesson speaks for itself:
The example of the disputed time and place of formation of biology as a discipline illustrates what I take to be a general feature of disciplinary history, namely the mutual dependence of historical study and the elucidation of presuppositions. In most cases we cannot first ascertain the presuppositions of a disciplinary category and then, armed with the list of its presuppositions, check out the historical record to see where and when they were first realized. Rather, it the course of a historical investigation the presuppositions of the disciplinary category and the conditions of emergence of the discipline are progressively clarified (“Uses and Abuses,” 262).A third lesson is that there are many borderline cases of anachronism, but that this is easily solved in practice:
There are plenty of devices—the use of scare-quotes and of such locutions as “at a stretch,” “so to speak,” “in modern terminology”—that can be used to indicate partial legitimacy of application of categories (“Uses and Abuses,” 263).Finally, there is no one-size-fits-all rule about what counts as good or bad anachronism. It varies according to what one is studying and which kind of narrative style (eg. analytic or novelistic) one prefers. In general,
historians of science should become less fashion-conscious, less ready to fall for arguments which exclude whole ranges of investigation as anachronistic or scientistic or guilty of some other evil-ism (“Uses and Abuses,” 274-5).In the next post I consider a general virtue of Jardine's papers that takes us back to Jonathan Rée's suggestion that recent historians of science, along with many other late-twentieth-century intellectuals, suffer from delusions of novelty. Expand post.
...provided biographical details for great discoverers and credited them with genius and exemplary adherence to scientific method; but [which] rarely paid attention to the ways in which [the discoverers] themselves conceived their 'scientific' activities (272).My question is whether the no-fantasy condition is strong enough to rule out histories that are Whiggish in this sense. After all, the whole point of examples like the Tycho case is to show that historians can go beyond the actor's “conceptions of their activities” without falling into historical fantasy. At times Jardine suggests a stronger condition. It is not enough that the etic part of a study is innocent of fantasy; the emic part of the study must also be sufficiently great. As Jardine puts it, “[e]tic history of science without emics is empty, if not anemic, because it fails to engage with the life-worlds of past practitioners of the sciences” (275). This condition, though stricter than the no-fantasy condition, may still not be strict enough to rule out the Whiggism that Jardine considers vicious. Do we really think that the classic Whiggish works—the books of George Sarton, for example—say nothing at all about the “life-worlds of past practitioners”? It would be more plausible to say that the difference is one of degree rather than of kind: old-fashioned historians captured some of those past life-worlds, but not as much as later historians have. But plausibility comes at the expense of precision. How much emic history is enough, and how much is too much? Who is to say that we have got the balance right, whereas Sarton et. al. did not? Jardine writes that “[a] history of science properly respectful of the differences of the past must seek out combinations of emics with etics appropriate to its various subjects and aims” (275). Why not extend this pluralist spirit to the subjects and aims of historians like Sarton? I conclude that these two papers by Jardine do not solve the demarcation problem introduced at the end of my previous post and re-stated at the start of this post. That is, they do not give us a principled way of distinguishing good anachronism from bad. This would be fine if we agreed to exclude all anachronism from the history of science. But it is this precisely this blanket ban on present-day concepts that Jardine rejects in these two papers. Expand post.
Wednesday, November 14, 2012
|Which planks of the Whig platform are rotten, and why?|
Thursday, November 8, 2012
|Frederic L. Holmes(1932-2003)|
“Despite the slogan that science advances through experiments, virtually the entire literature of the history of science concerns theory” (Peter Galison, 1987) “Experiment is a respected but neglected activity ... the process of experimentation is taken to be either unproblematic or uninteresting” (David Gooding, Trevor Pinch and Simon Schaffer, 1989) “...little attention has been directed at how experiments are actually done, and how they come to be regarded as meaningful” (Jan Golinski, 1990)Holmes then gives a list of counter-examples to these generalisations. For example, Henry Guerlac declared in 1959 that it was “fallacious to make an arbitrary distinction between ideas and experience, between thought and action, and to treat ideas as if they had a totally independent life of their own, divorced from material reality.” Other historians practised what Guerlac preached. I. Bernard Cohen published a book in 1956 called Franklin and Newton: An Inquiry Into Speculative Newtonian Experimental Science and Franklin's Work in Electricity as an Examble Thereof. Soon afterwards, Guerlac himself wrote a book called Lavoisier--the Crucial Year: The Background and Origin of his First Experiments on Combustion in 1772. The authors of both books made a point of focusing on experiments as much as, or more than, theoretical speculation. The next generation, partly inspired by Guerlac and Cohen, went one step further by studying the drafts and lab notes of past scientists rather than their published articles. Others studied long-term changes in scientific domains, with an emphasis on instruments and institutions. Holmes discusses the following books, all published before the three quotes at the beginning of this post:
L. Pearce Williams, Michael Faraday (1966) Mirko Grmek, Raisonnement expérimental et recherches toxicologiques chez Claude Bernard (1973) Holmes, Claude Bernard and Animal Chemistry (1974) Gerald Geison, Michael Foster and the Cambridge School of Physiology (1978) John Heilbron, Electricity in the 17th and 18th Centuries (1979)  Robert Frank, Harvey and the Oxford Physiologists (1980)  John Lesch, Science and Medicine in France (1984) A number of articles picked more or less at random from the journal Isis between 1957 and 1966.Holmes could have gone on. He could have discussed books by Mauric Daumas on the cabinets de physique of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, or those by William Middleton on the histories of the thermometer and barometer. Nor should we forget the Harvard Case Studies in Experimental Science, which whatever their flaws certainly contain descriptions of experiments. There is also Stillman Drake's work on Galileo's experimental apparatus, Alistair Crombie's Robert Grosseteste and the Origins of Experimental Science, 1100-1700, and Holmes' own Lavoisier and the Chemistry of Life: an Exploration of Scientific Creativity—all of which predate the three quotes at the start of this post. Many more examples can be found under “Scientific Instruments and Special Techniques” in the Isis Critical Bibliographies from 1955 onwards. But that's not all. If Heilbron's Electricity in the 17th and 18th Centuries counts as a study of experiment rather than theory, then so do a large proportion of the histories of science written before 1900. Take the first book-length history of electricity, Joseph's Priestley's History and Present State of Electricity, the first edition of which appeared in 1767. The contents page of the third edition can be viewed here, and anyone who glances at it will note that for each figure in his history Priestley promises to describe their “experiments and discoveries.” And indeed, in the body of the book he describes both. As a work of history, Heilbron's book is greatly superior to Priestley's. But the difference between them is certainly not that Priestley focuses on theory whereas Heilbron focuses on experiment. Granted, Heilbron goes into more detail than Priestley for each major eighteenth-century electrical experiment; but Heilbron also goes into more detail than Priestley for each major theory of that period. Heilbron himself has written that the “experimental turn” is overrated. Here is the first paragraph of his review of two books from 1989, The Uses of Experiment and The Development of the Laboratory .
During the last few years, a few historians and sociologists of science have made the discovery that experiment and measurement are important and problematic parts of the scientific enterprise. The dazzle of this illumination carried conviction of its novelty; and the editors of The uses of experiment open their preface with the astonishing claim that “experiment is a respected but neglected activity.” A few lines later they specify not experiment, but “the process of experimentation" as the neglected subject, only to return immediately to their gambit: “the neglect of experiment is symptomatic of a prejudice against practical activity in favour of speech acts.” Being editors, however, they are condemned to commit speech acts. These include calling attention to rhetorical devices by which scientists put forward arguments based on experiments and emphasising the logical and epistemological difficulties of confirmation and corroboration of results of experiments and instrumental tests. These themes are important; they receive incisive treatment; but they do not have the freshness advertised.*** Holmes suggests in passing two explanations for the false advertising that Heilbron describes. One is that the self-proclaimed innovators are studying new aspects of experiment rather than newly studying experiment itself. This becomes apparent in the second part of Holmes' article where he contrasts his own approach to experiment with the “newer” approach as represented by that of Leviathan and the Air Pump, a book that many subsequent historians of experiment have taken as a guide. Holmes draws the contrast with respect to Robert Boyle, the man whose air pump features in the title of the book in question:
Shapin and Schaffer portray an assertive Boyle, mobilizing literary resources to secure assent for matters of fact he has produced through a material technology [ie. the air pump]. I portray a playful, exploratory Boyle, performing experiments that seek answers to questions he poses, often tentative and uncertain... (133)In other words, the new historians of experiment focus on how experimental knowledge is disseminated rather than how it is acquired. Holmes is interested in the latter, as per the title of the paper under discussion. Holmes seems to say that the former approach is genuinely new, and he rightly admires Schaffer and Shapin's book. But he denies that it represents an increased emphasis on experiment. At most it is an increased emphasis on a particular aspect of experiment, an emphasis that complements traditional accounts but in no way replaces them. The new approach has its own dangers, he says, such as focusing on a small sample of a scientist's experiments and thereby tearing them from “a rich tapestry of intermingled experimentation and reasoning” (126). Another of Holmes' suggestions is that often it seems to be philosophers rather than historians who are accused of neglecting experiment. At the same time, Holmes would not have written the article if he did not think that historians were among the targets of the accusation. Two possibilities arise, although Holmes does not discuss them in this particular article. One is that philosophers really have neglected experiment, but that the so-called innovators have unjustly tarred past historians with the idealistic brush. Another possibility is that the new historians of experiment are writing a kind of meta-history of experiment: one which considers experiment at a more abstract level than historians usually do, and therefore has new things to say about experiment even though it differs little from traditional accounts at the level of basic description. *** There are grains of truth in all of these suggestions. But another explanation, and perhaps a more far-reaching one, is that much of the talk about a neglect of experiment is directed at a small but influential group of recent historians and philosophers of science. This group can indeed be said to have neglected experiment (although they should also be credited with showing just how much experiment depends on theory). The claim that experiment is a new topic—whether that claim is made in 1983 or 2013—is often an error based on an unwarranted extrapolation from this group of recent idealists to all historians and philosophers of science who preceded them. A glance at two pieces, one by a historian and one by a philosopher, can help to substantiate this thesis. The first is an influential chapter by Roy Porter, a wonderful and much-mourned historian of medicine, Britain, and the eighteenth century. His “The Scientific Revolution: A Spoke in the Wheel?” appeared in 1986 in Porter and Teich, eds., Revolution in History (CUP). The title of the chapter says that it is about the idea of the Scientific Revolution in the seventeenth century, but it is also about how that idea shaped the discipline of the history of science between about 1940 and 1970. The Scientific Revolution, Porter writes, was
...initially the brain-child and shibboleth of a specific cluster of scholars emerging during the 1940s, including the Russian émigré Alexandre Koyré, [the Cambridge historian Herbert] Butterfield, whose outline history popularized Koyré's work, Rupert Hall, who was Butterfield's pupil, and, a little later, Marie Boas [Hall]. Their scrupulous scholarship and prolific works of synthesis animated an emerging discipline, and laid down a coherent framework for future research (295). For these historians, science was essentially thought – profound, bold, logical, abstract...Thus idealism has been pervasive, and its implications run even to the interpretation of detailed episodes [such as Alexander Koyré's claim that Galileo didn't perform many of the experiments he described] (296).The first passage answers the “who” question clearly enough, and the second gives an idea of what sort of “idealism” they had in common. It is precisely the kind of idealism that could justly be accused of neglecting experiment, as the example of Koyré suggests. Granted, Porter's article does not make any bold claims for a turn towards experiment; and he explicitly acknowledges that the idealism of Koyré and his English counterparts was a recent and local phenomenon. But by focusing on those idealists and saying little about their predecessors he sets them up as the chief foil to revisionist accounts of the Scientific Revolution, and by extension to revisionist histories of science in general. Compare Porter's targets with those in an influential book in philosophy, Ian Hacking's Representing and Intervening: Introductory Topics in the Philosophy of Science (CUP, 1983). A fair summary of the book is that “representing” is a problematic activity that philosophers have written too much about, and that “intervening” is a promising activity that they have written too little about. Hacking makes some bold claims at the beginning of his discussion of “intervening”:
History of the natural sciences is almost always written as a history of theory. Philosophy of science has so much become philosophy of theory that the very existence of pre-theoretical observations or experiments has been denied. I hope the following chapters might initiate a Back-to-Bacon movement, in which we attend more seriously to experimental science. Experimentation has a life of its own.This is one of the most cited passages—by historians and sociologists as well as by philosophers—in the “new” literature on experimentation. For example, the first two sentences are quoted near the beginning of Leviathan and the Air Pump to show that “even philosophers are beginning to admit the anti-practice and pro-theory prejudices of their discipline” (17). Having read a fair chunk of the recent literature on experimentation, I am confident that a citation analysis would reveal many more examples. However on reading Hacking's ideas about “intervening” it becomes clear that his main targets are not philosophers of science per se but Karl Popper, Thomas Kuhn, Paul Feyerabend, and Imré Lakatos. He criticises Popper for thinking that observations are usually made to confirm or refute pre-conceived hypothesis (155); he criticises Kuhn for preferring a theoretician over an experimenter in a book that Kuhn was editing (151-152); he criticises Feyerabend for saying that all observation is theory-laden (173); and he criticises Lakatos for implying that there is no such thing as a crucial experiment (254-261). Hacking's chief conclusion—that there is such a thing as “pre-theoretical observations or experiments”—is novel with respect to this sequence of recent idealists. But with respect to many earlier philosophers of science, from Robert Boyle to John Stuart Mill, it is a statement of the obvious. Encouraged by Hacking's polemical passages, like the one quoted above, historians and sociologists of science have supposed that his chief conclusion is a piece of earthquake-like novelty that will totally reform the way we do the history and sociology of science. There are some new ideas in Hacking's book, but fewer than is often supposed (and insofar as they are new they are controversial, such as the idea that active experiment furnishes powerful arguments for scientific realism that passive observation does not) . The broader lesson of this post is that historians should be clear about who they are accusing of what. The three quotes at the beginning of this post make claims about a large number of past historians of science. But the books and articles in which those quotes appear do not attempt anything like a systematic survey of the books and articles that they indict. The closest approximations that I have seen of such a survey are by those who reject the indictment, like Holmes, Heilbron, and Brian Baigrie . Among those who make the indictment, the one who supplies the most evidence seems to be a philosopher (Hacking, in Representing and Intervening) rather than any historian. If politeness is the reason for this reticence, it is laudable but misguided: better to be openly critical than to confuse the issue with unsupported insinuations.  To be fair, these two books are sometimes acknowledged as precursors of the experimental turn (eg. Leviathan and the Air Pump, 15).  Medical History, vol. 34, no. 3 (1990), 335 (paywall).  This last point generalises. I am not claiming that there is nothing new about the experimental turn, just that the novelty has been exaggerated and poorly defined and that claims to novelty have not been backed up with much historiographical evidence.  Baigrie, “Scientific Practice: The View From the Tabletop,” in Jed Buchwald, ed., Theories and Stories of Doing Physics (Chicago: University of Chicago Press), chap. 5. Expand post.