Sun 10th January 2010, 11:46pm
QUOTE(Milton Roe @ Sun 10th January 2010, 6:24am)
QUOTE(Limey @ Thu 7th January 2010, 4:12pm)
As a matter of fact, I challenge any one out there to provide me with an example of a single full-length Wikipedia article (including or perhaps especially a featured one) without any factual errors or significant omissions.
"Significant omissions" is a hard qualification, since essentially for any complex subject, it's a matter of taste.
However, I'd be interested in what you think of WP's basic coverage of physics and chem topics, like atom
, chemical bond
, radioactive decay
, and so on. How about the wiki on science
itself-- plenty of room to screw up there. Or chemical elements like hydrogen or planets like Jupiter.
Alright, I've had a look at "atom" as its featured and thus presumably quite a good article. Here's what I have so far:
" In approximately 450 BCE, Democritus coined the term átomos (Greek: ἄτομος), which means "uncuttable" or "the smallest indivisible particle of matter"." Britannica places the year at about 430 BCE, a figure born out by the article Stocker, Arthur Frederick. "Atomic Theories Ancient and Modern." The Classical Journal. Volume 43, No. 7 (1948). Given that Democritus was born around 460 (this year is widely accepted, and appears in Wikipedia's own article) and given the supreme unlikeliness that Democritus coined the term at the age of 10, this is undoubtedly an error, and one that shouldn't have been too hard to catch. It is admittedly a rather minor error, but an error is an error.
There is also an important omission here, namely the significance of Epicurus who developed the theory of Democritus and Leucippus more fully, systemized it, and popularized it. As you say, determining what counts as a significant omission is a matter of taste, but the several accounts I've looked at all mention Epicurus.
The article also asserts " Although the Indian and Greek concepts of the atom were based purely on philosophy, modern science has retained the name coined by Democritus." Once again, this is wrong, and in more ways than one. In the first place, speaking of a Greek concept of the atom generally is misleading, as there were significant differences among the views of different Greeks (Johnson, Harold. "Three Ancient Meanings of Matter: Democritus, Plato, and Aristotle" Journal of the History of Ideas. Vol. 28, No. 1 (1967)). More importantly, Democritus's concept was not based "purely on philosophy", instead Stocker writes that "it was a closely reasoned deduction from observed phenomena of nature" (Stocker 396). This view is borne out in a variety of other articles including Luthy, Christoph "The Fourfold Democritus on the Stage of Early Modern Science". Isis. Vol. 91, no. 3 (2000). As a matter of fact, Karl Marx even wrote on Greek Atomism and noted that Democritus was engaged in "an empirical search for positive knowledge of the world" (Bailey, Cyril. "Karl Marx on Greek Atomism". The Classical Quarterly. Vol. 22. No. 3/4. (1928)). Once again, we find an error that is small, but it is still an error, and certainly one that would not be made by a historian of science.
Corpusculanarianism is done poorly as well. To Boyle, and most of his contemporaries, corpuscularianism was a way of bringing together Cartesian and Atomist thought on matter and stands in opposition to Aristotelian views (a fact entirely and I would say significantly omitted, which is present in all the relevant literature, and is important to one's understanding). See Hall, Marie Boas. "Boyle's Method of Work: Promoting His Corpuscular Philosophy". Notes and Records of the Royal Society of London. Vol 41, no 2. (1987).
There are also true errors in the paragraph on corpuscularaniasm. It attributes the theory to Geber, but recent scholarship has shown that the manuscript in question (Summa perfectionis) is "ascribed falsely to Jabir ibn Hayyan or Geber, and actually written by an occidental around the thirteenth century" (Newman, William. "The Alchemical Sources of Robert Boyle's Corpuscular Philosophy". Annals of Science. Vol. 53, No. 6. (1996)). It is possible that this is merely an error in Wikipedia's sources which it has reproduced, but I am not certain.
The article also misstates just what early corpusculaniasm asserted, stating its views as "all physical bodies possess an inner and outer layer of minute particles or corpuscles." In fact, the early view spoke only of metals, and is far more complex that what Wikipedia presents. THe statement "In this manner, for example, it was theorized that mercury could penetrate into metals and modify their inner structure" is plain wrong. Summa perfectionis argues that all metals are composed of sulphur and mercury. Mercury particles were believed to be "composed of uniformly tiny particles" allowing it to penetrate small gaps. Because all metals are composed of mercury and sulfur, the addition of more sulfur would change the composition of a metal. (Newman 571-572).
Finally, the statement that corpusculanarianism was "blended with alchemy by Boyle and Isaac Newton" is nonsensical. Corpusculanariasm, as found in Summa perfectionis, was developed by alchemists. Thus, it was inherently blended with alchemy.
So, for those of you keeping score at home. In the first three paragraph subsection of the "Atom" article there are at least 5 errors (mostly ones that are admittedly minor) and several significant omissions. If this demonstration alone is not satisfactory, I would be happy to continue going through the article.