The course of
true science does not always run smooth, as we find out in xxxx on yyy
at zzz. Disputes crop up often, and some develop into blazing rows.
One of the most
argumentative as well as one of the greatest scientists of all time was
Isaac Newton. His first scientific paper was published in February 1672.
'In the beginning of the year 1666', he wrote, 'I procured me a
triangular glass prism, to try therewith the celebrated phenomena of
colours.' He explained that sunlight is a mixture of all the colours of
This paper was
given to Robert Hooke for comments; Hooke didn't like it, and said so.
Among other things, Hooke said that Newton’s 'crucial experiment' didn't
work, and ‘I do not therefore see any absolute necessity to believe his
probably trying to be helpfully critical, but Newton took the criticism
personally; after all he believed he was next to God, and therefore was
always right. He refused to write anything else on optics until after
Hooke died, 30 years later. Then Hooke's portrait, and most of his
apparatus and notebooks, mysteriously disappeared from the Royal
Society, while Newton was president...
Newton later had
fierce disputes with Leibniz, about which of them invented calculus, and
with John Flamsteed, the astronomer royal. Flamsteed had been struggling
for ten years to make an accurate map of the stars to help sailors with
navigation, when Newton turned up and demanded all the information,
because it would help with his calculations on gravity and the laws of
motion. Flamsteed protested that his results were only provisional, and
needed checking and refining, but Newton stole them anyway and published
them. Flamsteed was furious, bought all the copies he could, and burned
dispute arose in 1841 over the electric clock, first invented by a
shepherd from Caithness, Alexander Bain, who took his idea to Professor
Sir Charles Wheatstone, hoping for influential and financial support.
Wheatstone dismissed Bain’s clock as a waste of time, but three weeks
later went to the Royal Society to demonstrate 'his' new invention, the
He got his
comeuppance, however. Invited to give a Friday Evening Discourse at the
Royal Institution, Wheatstone became so nervous that he ran away. Ever
since then, the speakers have been locked up for an hour beforehand, to
prevent them from 'doing a Wheatstone'