Almagest: Vol. VIII, Issue 1

Table of Contents and Abstracts, Almagest 8-1, May 2017

Eduard I. Kolchinsky
Nikolaĭ I. Vavilov in the realm of historical and scientific discussions
DOI 10.1484/J.ALMAGEST.5.113696

The modern literature about Nikolai I. Vavilov is analyzed, placing recent attempts to blame Vavilov and to exonerate Lysenko within their social, political and intellectual contexts. We examine the evolution of a historical narrative about Vavilov’s activities and his confrontation with Lysenko as well as the main arguments advanced by Lysenko’s apologists. The paper argues that a distinction must be made, between Lysenkoism, as a set of concepts and theories, and Lysenkovshchina, as the social practice of trying to prevail over other competing research groups by appealing to the Party-State administration. The rise of anti-scientific sentiments among the ruling elites and the general public, along with a growing influence of religious fundamentalism, provide the context for the revival of Lysenkoism. To some extent, the revival of Lysenkoism can also be explained by certain academic traditions of Russian biologists. Neolysenkovshina is a purely social and economic and ideologo-political phenomenon, but not a scientific one. Authors who write pro-Lysenkoist books are guided by various motives, but they all fail to grasp the essence of the historical and scientific events associated with "the Lysenko and Vavilov affair”.

René Sigrist , Alexander Moutchnik
Les fondements sociaux du premier essor de la botanique en Russie, 1700-1830
DOI 10.1484/J.ALMAGEST.5.113697

It is a well-known fact that the development of academic botany in Russia was stimulated by a series of expeditions set up to explore the natural resources of the Empire. This article aims at completing the usual picture by considering other categories of actors, who studied plants in their relations to pharmacy, agriculture and “Gartenkunst”. As often in Russia, the State played a crucial role in that process, notably by promoting the art of gardens (“Gartenkunst”), but also through its interest for the improvement of agriculture and forestry, and its support to pharmacy. Yet, these imperial initiatives would have produced nothing without the backing of a group of noblemen who started to imitate the examples set up at Tsarskoë Selo. Beyond the creation of pleasure gardens, with the help of foreign designers, a rising class of landowners, gathered after 1765 in the “Free Economic Society”, became indeed interested in the development of a profitable agriculture. Some of its members, such as Prokofij Demidov or Alexej Razumovskij, also collected exotic plants and even set up impressive botanic gardens. Another group of actors were the pharmacists and physicians, whose practical approach illustrated the government policy in matters of health care, and therefore benefited from its institutional support. Until the end of the 18th century, the pharmacy gardens were the main centers for the study of plants throughout Russia. At some point, even military schools introduced practical botany in their curriculum. Later on, the main interest of physicians and pharmacists shifted away towards chemistry. “Scientific” botany, which had long suffered from mismanagement at the Imperial Academy of Science, finally took off in the first years of the 19th century with the organization of new institutes in St. Petersburg and the creation of new university chairs – and gardens – at Dorpat, Kazan and Kharkov. This renewed context brought its support to the development of botany as an autonomous discipline.

Noël Golvers
Circulation of knowledge between Europe and China in the 17th-18th centuries: The role of material objects, from gadgets to instruments
DOI 10.1484/J.ALMAGEST.5.113698

In the multiform circulation of knowledge from Europe to China, also objects had a special role often ignored so far, as its materialization, carrying knowledge (as e.g. books are doing), visualizing (diagrams) or producing it (instruments), or being subject to practices and techniques. As such, the various forms of these objects rose –according to the social context in which they circulate in China– amazement or excitement (“voluptas”) and intellectual curiosity, or produced public profit (“usus”). In this first, tentative overview I start from a selection of 6 representative texts (lists), covering the period up to the first half of the 18th century included, which results in a typological scheme, and the subdivision over 7 classes. Among these, I focused especially on the instruments and other devices (tools, etc.), for their central role in the transmission of Western technology, in astronomy, hydraulics, ballistics, mechanics, even medicine. The most advanced European houses of production (Chapotot, Borelly, etc.) are appearing, proving indiscriminately that the technology transmitted by the Jesuits to China was in principle “up-to-date”; it’s introduction happened also in close interaction with the presence and use of technical manuals. This will be further analyzed in a later contribution.

Christián C. Carman
Heraclides of Pontus on the Solar Anomaly
DOI 10.1484/J.ALMAGEST.5.113699

All scholars agree that Heraclides of Pontus affirmed the daily rotation of the Earth on its own axis. Almost all scholars also agree that he did not affirm the rotation of the Earth around the Sun. Nevertheless, there is a text which has been interpreted as asserting that Heraclides defended Heliocentrism. Geminos says: ”And thus a certain person, Heraclides of Pontus, coming forward, says that even if the Earth moves in a certain way and the Sun is in a certain way at rest, the apparent irregularity with regard to the Sun can be saved”. This text has been used to support that Heraclides held Heliocentrism because the diurnal rotation of the Earth cannot account for the solar anomaly (the apparent irregularity with regard to the Sun). Hence it seems that Heraclides must have introduced the annual revolution around the Sun. In this paper I offer a new interpretation of this text showing that it is possible to explain the non-uniform motion of the Sun through the Zodiac introducing some non-uniformity in the diurnal rotation of the Earth and, therefore, that there is no need to affirm that Heraclides held Heliocentrism, which is in clear contradiction to many other testimonies.

Book reviews

Dimitris Koilakos
Jimena Canales, The Physicist and the Philosopher: Einstein, Bergson and the Debate that Changed our Understanding of Time, Princeton and Oxford: Princeton University Press, 2015, 429 pages
DOI 10.1484/J.ALMAGEST.5.113700

Efthymios Nicolaidis
Alexander Jones, A portable Cosmos. Revealing the Antikythera Mechanism, Scientific Wonder of the Ancient World, Oxford: Oxford UP, 2017. 228 pages, illustrations and index
DOI 10.1484/J.ALMAGEST.5.113701