Gadflies and Geniuses in the History of Gas Theory

Research paper by Stephen G. Brush

Indexed on: 01 Apr '99Published on: 01 Apr '99Published in: Synthese


The history of science has often been presented as a story of the achievements of geniuses: Galileo, Newton, Maxwell, Darwin, Einstein. Recently it has become popular to enrich this story by discussing the social contexts and motivations that may have influenced the work of the genius and its acceptance; or to replace it by accounts of the doings of scientists who have no claim to genius or to discoveries of universal importance but may be typical members of the scientific community at a particular time and place. In this article I consider a different type of story, which further research might reveal to be more common than we now suspect: progress stimulated by gadflies – outspoken critics who challenge the ideas of geniuses, forcing them to revise and improve those ideas, resulting in new knowledge for which the genius gets the credit while the gadfly is forgotten.