An Old Hand in a New System

  • H. Otto Sibum
Part of the Science, Technology and Medicine in Modern History book series (STMMH)

Abstract

Over the last decades scientists, historians and sociologists of science have continuously addressed the question of the meaning of skill in scientific practice. In order to understand the process of innovation in experimental science, historians ask questions like, ‘Do certain experimental physicists possess powers of perception notably greater than the average person? Can students, by practice, improve their capacities to estimate short time intervals or thermometer readings?’1 From Ludwik Fleck’s point of view the concept of ‘Erfahrenheit’ should be explored here, i.e. ‘(1) the ability to make assumptions and (2) both manual and mental practice together with a research scientist’s entire experimental and nonexperimental fund of knowledge, including features clearly conceived, those that are uncertain, and those that are ‘instinctive’.’ However, ‘the summarized reports of a field of research always contain only a very small part of the worker’s relevant experience, and not even the most important’2 Michael Polanyi coined the term ‘tacit knowledge’ in order to give invisible or inarticulate practices a place in the academic discourse. But finally his remarkable reflections reaffirm that unarticulated competence remains intrinsically tacit.3 Writers who have discussed James Joule’s experiment for determining the mechanical equivalent of heat either disagree or finally give no answer as to what skills were needed in order to perform with such remarkable accuracy.

Keywords

Sugar Fermentation Corn Mercury Manifold 

Preview

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Notes

  1. 1.
    Letter from Donald Cardwell (30 May 1992) to the organizers of the Oldenburg—Cambridge conference on ‘Replications of Historical Experiments in Physics’, 1992, Carl von Ossietzky University Oldenburg, Germany. The relevant experiment here in which thermometer readings matter is James Joule’s paddle-wheel experiment to determine the mechanical equivalent of heat. James Prescott Joule, ‘On the Mechanical Equivalent of Heat’, Philosophical Transactions (1850) Part I. Read 21 June 1849, in The Scientific Papers, vol. 1 (London: Taylor & Francis, 1884), pp. 298–328; for further studies see in particular Trevor Pinch, H. M. Collins, and Larry Carbone, ‘Inside Knowledge: Second Order Measures of Skill’, Sociological Review, vol. 44(2) (1996), pp. 163–86.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. 2.
    Ludwik Fleck, Genesis and Development of a Scientific Fact (Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 1979), p. 96Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Michael Polany; The Tacit Dimension (London: Routledge & Kegal Paul, 1967)Google Scholar
  4. see also Harry Collins, Changing Order Replication and Induction in Scientific Practice (London: SaGE, 1985)Google Scholar
  5. ‘Tacit Knowledge, Courtliness, and the Scientist’s Body’, in Susan Leigh Foster (ed.) Choreographing History (Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1995) 69–81.Google Scholar
  6. 4.
    Heinz Otto Sibum, ‘Reworking the Mechanical Value of Heat: Instruments of Precision and Gestures of Accuracy in Early Victorian England’, Stud, Hist. Phil. Sci, vol. 26 (1995) pp. 73–106CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. ‘Working Experiments: Bodies, Machines and Heat Values’, in R. Staley (ed.), The Physics of Empire (Cambridge: Whipple Museum for the History of Science, 1994) pp. 29–56.Google Scholar
  8. 5.
    Sir William Thomson, Popular Lectures and Addresses, vol. 1, Constitution of Matter, (London: Macmillan, 1889–91), pp. 133–5Google Scholar
  9. 8.
    Marcel Mauss, ‘Les Techniques du corps’, in Journal de Psychologie normale et pathologique vol. 32(3–4) (1935) pp. 271–293Google Scholar
  10. ‘Body Techniques’, in, Sociology and Psychology: Essays, Ben Brewster (ed.) (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1979), pp. 97–135.Google Scholar
  11. 11.
    Anonymous, ‘Maltster and Brewer’s guide’, in The Edinburgh Review or Critical Journal, vol. XLIX (1829) pp. 362–88, 371.Google Scholar
  12. 12.
    For the problems involved in taking reliable measures around 1800 see the report by the supervisor and assayer of spirits in the port of Dublin, William Speer, ‘On the Hydrometer’, Philosophical Magazine, vol. 14 (1802) pp. 151–62, 229–37.Google Scholar
  13. 13.
    See the chapter ‘Beer and Spirits Works’, in P. W. Hammond and Harold Egan, Weighed in the Balance. A History of the Laboratory and the Government Chemist (London: HMSO, 1992) pp. 49–67.Google Scholar
  14. 17.
    This extension from practical to theoretical technologies is based on an understanding of knowledge producing tools as technologies. For the use of practical technologies see S. Shapin and S. Schaffer, Leviathan and the Air-Pump: Hobbes, Boyle and the Experimental Life (Princeton University Press, 1985); on theoretical technologies see Andrew Warwick, ‘Cambridge Mathematics and Cavendish Physics: Cunningham, Campbell and Eisntein’s Theory of Relativity 1905–1911. Part I: The Uses of Theory’, Stud. Hist. Phil. Sci. vol. 23 (1992) pp. 625–56.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. 20.
    Maxine Berg, The Machinery Question and the Making of Political Economy 1815–1848 (Cambridge University Press, 1980); Iwan Morris, ‘Correlation and Control: William Robert Grove and the Construction of a New Philosophy of Scientific Reform’, Stud. Hist. Phil. Sci., vol. 22 (1991) pp. 589–621.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. 22.
    Sir Joseph Whitworth in Conferences held in Connection with the Special Loan Collection of Scientific Apparatus, vol. 1, Physics and Mechanics (London: Chapman & Hall, 2 vols, 1876) p. 218.Google Scholar
  17. 23.
    James Nasmyth, Engineer. An Autobiography, ed. Samuel Smiles (London: Murray, 1885) p. 145.Google Scholar
  18. 27.
    Rev. James Martineau, in W. Hawkes Smith, ‘On the Tendency and Prospects of Mechanics Institutions’, The Analyst, vol. II (1835) p. 336.Google Scholar
  19. 29.
    Autobiographical note by J. P. Joule in: Ashworth, J. R., ‘A List of Apparatus now in Manchester which belonged to Dr. J. P. Joule, FRS, with Remarks on his MSS., Letters, and Autobiography’, Manchester Memoirs, vol. 75, 8 (1930–1), p. 113.Google Scholar
  20. 31.
    On Dancer see ‘John Benjamin Dancer, 1812–1887’, Memoirs and Proceedings of the Manchester Literary and Philosophical Society, vol. 106 (1963/64) pp. 115–42 H. Milligan, ‘New Light on J. B. Dancer’, Memoirs and Proceedings of the Manchester Literary and Philosophical Society, vol. 115 (1972/73) pp. 1–9.Google Scholar
  21. Brian Bracegirdle and James B. McCormick, The Microscopic Photographs of J. B. Dancer (Chicago: Science Heritage Limited, 1993).Google Scholar
  22. 34.
    David Gooding, ‘“In Nature’s School”: Faraday as an Experimentalist’, in David Gooding and Frank A. J. L. James, Faraday Rediscovered. Essays on the Life and Work of Michael Faraday, 1791–1867 (Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1985) pp. 105 ff.Google Scholar
  23. 35.
    Iwan Rhys Morus, ‘Different Experimental Lives: Michael Faraday and William Sturgeon’, Hist. Sci., vol. 30 (1992) pp. 1–28, p. 23.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. 37.
    James Prescott Joule, ‘On the Mechanical Equivalent of Heat’, The Scientific Papers, vol. 1 (1884) p. 303.Google Scholar
  25. 38.
    William Whewell, The Philosophy of the Inductive Sciences, Founded Upon Their History, vol. 1 (London: John W. Parker, 1840) p. 280.Google Scholar
  26. 40.
    J. P. Joule, ‘Determination of the Dynamical Equivalent of Heat from the Thermal Effects of Electric Currents’, British Association Reports (Dundee 1867) (London: John Murray, 1868), pp. 512–22.Google Scholar
  27. 41.
    William Thomson, Popular Lectures and Addresses (London: Macmillan, 1889)Google Scholar
  28. Simon Schaffer, ‘Late Victorian Metrology and its Instrumentation: A Manufactory of Ohms’, in Robert Bud and Susan E. Cozzens (eds), Invisible Connections. Instruments, Institutions, and Science (Bellingham, Washington: SPIE Optical Engineering Press, 1992), pp. 23–56Google Scholar
  29. ‘Accurate Measurement is an English Science’ in M. Norton Wise, The Values of Precision (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1995) pp. 135–72.Google Scholar
  30. 45.
    This is precisely the time when Maxwell gets involved with William Thomson to discuss dissipation of energy and the role of this ‘cunning intelligence’ to which Thomson assigned the name ‘demon’ and Maxwell later named a ‘railway pointsma’. See J. C. Maxwell to P. G. Tait, 11 December 1867, in C. G. Knott, The Life and Scientific Work of Peter Guthrie Tait (Cambridge: 1911) pp. 213–14, for secondary literature on the demon see Crosbie Smith and M. Norton Wise, Energy and Empire: A Biographical Study of Lord Kelvin (Cambridge University Press, 1989) pp. 621–33, and Theodore Porter, ‘A Statistical Survey of Gases: Maxwell’s Social Physics’, Hist. Stud. Phys. Sci., vol. 12 (1981) 77–116.Google Scholar
  31. 47.
    Reports on Thomson’s and Maxwell’s experiments, British Association Reports (Exeter 1869), (London: John Murray, 1870) pp. 434–8.Google Scholar
  32. 54.
    James Prescott Joule, ibid., p. 636; the gauging technique for low-pressure boilers works as follows: a float is placed upon the mercury in the longer leg of _he siphon, from which a string is carried over the pulley, to which a small index is attached, which plays upon a divided scale. For details see D. Lardener, Rudimentary Treatise on the Steam Engine (London: John Weale, 1848) 113.Google Scholar
  33. 58.
    From 1853 Kew Observatory became the obligatory passage point for temperature measurements. They set up a service to calibrate all thermometers which were used by Victorian scientists. Their method of calibration was based on Joule’s and Regnault’s method. John Welsh, ‘On the Graduation of Standard Thermometers at the Kew Observatory’, British Association Reports (Hull 1853) (London: John Murray, 1854) pp. 34–6.Google Scholar
  34. 67.
    William R. Loftus, The Brewer: A Familiar Treatise on the Art of Brewing with Directions for the Selection of Malt and Hops &c.&c. (London: William R. Loftus 1857) pp. 28–9.Google Scholar
  35. 68.
    On the work of Louis Pasteur see Bruno Latour, The Pasteurization of France (Cambridge: Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1988).Google Scholar
  36. 73.
    Lawrence B. Fletcher, ‘A Determination of the B.A. Unit in Terms of the Mechanical Equivalent of Heat’, American Journal of Science, vol. XXX (1885) pp. 22–34.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. 74.
    Rowland’s unpublished concluding sentences are to be found in his draft on ‘Appendix to Paper on the Mechanical Equivalent of Heat, Containing the Comparision with Dr Joule’s Thermometer’ (the author’s emphasis), JHU, Ms. 6, Box 39, Series 5, H. A. Rowland, ‘Appendix to Paper on the Mechanical Equivalent of Heat, Containing the Comparison with Dr. Joule’s Thermometer’, Proceedings of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, vol. 16 (1880), pp. 38–45.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Macmillan Press Ltd 1998

Authors and Affiliations

  • H. Otto Sibum

There are no affiliations available

Personalised recommendations