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Confusion of Tongues

Steven Shapin: Scientific Languages, 3 December 2015

Scientific Babel: The Language of Science from the Fall of Latin to the Rise of English 
by Michael Gordin.
Profile, 432 pp., £25, March 2015, 978 1 78125 114 0
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... there are forms of religion, commerce, finance and military action that bear comparison – but Michael Gordin argues that Babel has long been a special problem for science and that science, in turn, has had a special role in coping with it and in trying to overcome it. Scientists wish to, and sometimes need to, communicate with their peers all over ...

Dozing at His Desk

Simon Schaffer: The Genius of the Periodic Table, 7 July 2005

A Well-Ordered Thing: Dmitrii Mendeleev and the Shadow of the Periodic Table 
by Michael Gordin.
Basic Books, 364 pp., $30, May 2004, 9780465027750
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... smashed up his father-in-law’s desk. ‘Symbolic action’, Blok recorded pithily in his diary. Michael Gordin’s book helps to explain the action’s symbolism and its violence. Blok’s father-in-law, the desk’s first owner, was the greatest of Russian chemists, Dmitrii Mendeleev, who died in 1907 at the age of 73. Mendeleev had put himself at the ...

He preferred buzzers

Michael D. Gordin: Ivan Pavlov, 20 April 2016

Ivan Pavlov: A Russian Life in Science 
by Daniel Todes.
Oxford, 855 pp., £25, December 2014, 978 0 19 992519 3
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... It looked​ for a long time as if Ivan Petrovich Pavlov wouldn't amount to much as a scientist. On Pavlov's 40th birthday in 1889, as Daniel Todes notes in his magisterial biography, ‘an unsympathetic outsider might have described him as an ageing part-time lecturer and lab assistant whose only official position was Commissioned Physician at the Clinical Military Hospital, a scientist with grand notions who had just been passed over for two extremely rare professorships in his field ...

Catastrophism

Steven Shapin: The Pseudoscience Wars, 8 November 2012

The Pseudoscience Wars: Immanuel Velikovsky and the Birth of the Modern Fringe 
by Michael Gordin.
Chicago, 291 pp., £18.50, October 2012, 978 0 226 30442 7
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... It was American scientists who went ballistic over Velikovsky, not historians, and one purpose of Michael Gordin’s probing and intelligent The Pseudoscience Wars is to ask why they responded to Velikovsky as they did. Putting that sort of question is a sign of changed times. Passions have cooled; circumstances have altered. Almost all previous books ...

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