jump to navigation

A Fluid Taxonomy of 20c. Sciences October 17, 2008

Posted by Will Thomas in 20th-Century-Science Historiography, Collins-Evans Q&A.
Tags: , , , , ,
add a comment
Will (L) and Christopher pretending to work on the project for the AIP newsletter.

Will (L) and Christopher pretending to work on their web project for the benefit of the AIP's weekly newsletter.

One of my ongoing concerns is the problem of writing a coherent history of 20th-century science and technology.  As I’ve been working on assembling names for my web project on notable post-1945 American physicists (on which Christopher is assisting me), I’ve been trolling through the National Academy of Sciences’ database of deceased members.  Living members are helpfully grouped by section, and we’ve simply taken members of the “physics” and “applied physical sciences” sections.  Deceased members, on the other hand, are not so grouped, so I have to look everyone up and sort out the physicists from the psychologists, anthropologists, chemists, geneticists, and so forth.

Predictably, this has resulted in some problematic category issues.  What to do with physical chemists, electrical engineers (especially those who won Nobel Prizes in physics)?; what separates an astronomer from an astrophysicist? when is mathematics physics-y enough to include mathematicians?

Another interesting problem that I’ve run into is that certain fields seem to have stopped being physics.  Ballistics research becomes more statistical than physical.  Thermodynamics, one of the great products of (more…)