SCIENTIST VERSUS SOCIETY: Six Profiles by Vivian Werner


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Werner ignores such philosophical issues as the conflict between the claims of humanity and the scientist's value-free pursuit of knowledge; rather, her stated subject here is the friction between an unenlightened public and the men and women of genius who became ""martyrs of science."" Even this theme however is not pursued--and certainly not developed--in her six profiles, beginning with Charles Babbage whose paranoia and endless postponements of the publicly funded Difference Machine might try the patience of the most generous foundation. Elsewhere we are introduced to Ada Augusta, Lord Byron's daughter, who wrote brilliantly of Babbage's work but would have gone farther (no specifics) had she been a man; Mendel whose importance was not recognized by his scholarly contemporaries; Freud whose Jewishness was a handicap and whose ideas on sexuality shocked his peers (but they get the same superficial attention here as his education, marriage, cancer, cocaine experience, etc.). Werner is one of those juvenile writers whose concept of clarifying background involves one-page or one-paragraph course outlines designed to substitute for a liberal education (a history of religion in the general introduction which focuses on Darwin, of racist America from slavery to school desegregation in the profile of black physician Charles Drew, of Russian science in the chapter on Soviet geneticist Vavilov, a victim of Lysenkoism)--a practice all the more annoying when it's not matched at the other end by new interpretations or any conclusions. Further carelessness in small matters of fact and usage make this a model of how not to write non-fiction.

Pub Date: Sept. 26th, 1975
Page count: 160pp
Publisher: Hawthorn