Sunday, September 17, 2006

Scientists Out of History, Available for Free
Via Carl Zimmer at The Loom, I see that the Royal Society of London is making its entire archives available for free. Why is this exciting to me? Well, first, for anyone who doesn't know what the Royal Society is, Carl explains:
In 1665, a group of natural philosophers in England got together and decided to publish what is arguably the first scientific journal: the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London.
For me, this is exciting for several reasons.

Frivolously, this is because it gives me access to the actual historical documents behind the Society that featured so prominently in Neal Stephenson's The Baroque Cycle, which I gushed about here. I love picking up history incidentally from things I'm reading, and it just makes me more curious about what the people behind the characters in the books actually wrote.

But the underlying reason behind my interest in this announcement, as well as my interest in the books, is, well, what child raised properly on the tenets of science wouldn't be excited? How could any normal person not be somewhat in awe of being able to have such easy access to Benjamin Franklin's actual description of flying a kite in a thunderstorm? The Watson & Crick paper describing DNA? Innumerable other scientifically pivotal papers? How can anyone consider what these people did, and not feel all shivery inside?

Seriously, I am utterly in awe of those original scientists, the natural philosophers, and the people who came after them. These are people who have been dedicated to the cause of furthering knowledge. They have been amazingly aware and fantastically curious, asking questions in the true spirit of scientific inquiry, and our society has been incomparably shaped by them. They pushed us forward to where we are now. They are worthy of awe and admiration.

When Mark and I were in Chicago last March, we went to the Planetarium and saw a show about the history of the discovery of space and the solar system. The show didn't tell us anything new. But it did take us through the historical timeline of people who made the major discoveries in the field. We both left feeling warm and fuzzy and inspired and in awe. You know why? Because damn, but scientists are sexy.

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