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    Re: Sumner and the Smalls lighthouse.
    From: Ken Muldrew
    Date: 2006 Apr 5, 09:50 -0600

    On 4 Apr 2006 at 23:34, George Huxtable wrote:
    > The story, it seems to me, was dramatised, to emphasise the point he was
    > trying to make, at the expense of the literal truth. It doesn't detract
    > from the importance of his discovery. But it diminishes the stature of the
    > man, in my eyes and perhaps in the eyes of others.
    George, scientific discourse has changed over the years and it seems to me
    that Sumner was trying to write in a manner that was consistent with the
    earlier tradition. The most striking example of this tradition, to my
    mind, comes from Newton's description of his optical discoveries. Here is
    the opening to his account from the Philosophical Transactions of the
    Royal Society, 80:3075. 1672
    "...in the beginning of the year 1666 (at which time I applyed my self
    to the grinding of Optick glasses of other figures than *Spherical*,)
    I procured me a Traingular glass-Prisme, to try therewith the
    celebrated *Phenomena* of *Colours*. And in order thereto having
    darkened my chamber, and made a small hole in my window-shuts, to let
    in a convenient quantity of the Suns light, I placed my Prisme at his
    entrance, that it might be thereby refracted to the opposite wall. "
    And he goes on in this narrative style to describe these events as clearly
    happening sequentially, on the same day. Are we to believe that his
    corpuscular theory of light and the experiments that led him to it just
    happened on that particular day? He was a genius but these things
    take time, even for genii. He undoubtedly had false starts, unproductive
    thoughts, etc. along the way. Yet he tells the narrative as if none of
    that ever happened.
    I don't think Newton is being perfectly honest in his reconstruction,
    although he does not fudge anything that would impair anyone else's
    ability to replicate any of his experiments. It may be that the intended
    effect is to describe what one might find upon going through the process
    of repeating his experiments, or perhaps it is dramatised to create an
    impression upon the reader. At any rate, my conjecture is that Sumner is
    not writing to be willingly dishonest, but rather to fit into a tradition
    of scientific discourse that has such illustrious precedents as the
    writings of Sir Isaac himself.
    Ken Muldrew.

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