Who are the unsung heroes of developing country science?

A fascinating lecture by a South African astronomer provided food for thought this afternoon.

David Block from the University of the Witwatersrand made an impassioned and convincing argument that Edwin Hubble, the legendary astronomer, stole many of his iconic ideas from less famous colleagues.

Block’s research is published in Shrouds of the Night, a book about dark matter he co-authored with Ken Freeman last year.

For example, he says that the Hubble “tuning fork”—a way of classifying galaxies that was supposedly published by Hubble in 1926—was in fact invented in 1929 by a Sir James Jeans. Hubble, Block says, only used the tuning fork in a 1936 paper, without giving Jeans any credit.

According to Block, Hubble also stole another galaxy classification system and the “Hubble” luminosity profile—a way of modelling the light intensity emitted by a galaxy—from a mysterious “Mr Reynolds” who penned an article on it years before Hubble mentions it in his work.

Block believes this to be a J H Reynolds, an amateur astronomer living at the same time. Incidentally, his telescope eventually found its way to Egypt where it for a long while was the most powerful telescope to study the southern skies.

Figures like Reynolds and Jeans are the unsung heroes of science, Block said. Without a doubt, it should be the Jeans tuning fork, the Reynolds luminosity profile and the Reynolds galaxy classification system.

Why Reynolds or Jeans never spoke up about the blatant plagiarism of their ideas is a mystery. Reynolds and Hubble corresponded, and Block has unearthed strong evidence that Hubble borrowed ideas from Reynolds in old letters.

This begs another important question: Scientific collaborations between Northern and Southern scientists are not always equal. How many unsung scientific heroes from the developing world had their ideas nabbed by people who had the power and networks to claim them as their own?

Linda Nordling, SciDev.Net

One Response to Who are the unsung heroes of developing country science?

  1. First Telescope…

    […]Who are the unsung heroes of developing country science? « SciDev.Net's Blog[…]…

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