10

I stumbled on this "graph". While it is clearly a dank meme, I was wondering if there was any actual science behind it: Is there anywhere a measure of scientific discovery per unit time? Do we have anywhere a scale of scientific knowledge and if so, what is it based on?

A dank meme…

  • 1
    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – T.E.D. Oct 26 '16 at 14:32
16

The title question asks if there is any science behind the graph and the short answer is "No, not really".

This article is a justification of the graph by its creator. In it he states that the graph is his interpretation and approximation of the advancement of science through time (in Europe). It's used to support the author's "hypothesis" that Christianity was "the antithesis of science".

He offers little but personal opinion to support the shape of the graph and even admits that its guesswork:

I did not put numbers there because I have no information on the actual number of scientific advancements. This is because the graph represents a relational graph showing the relationship between the scientific advancements from different times. How can one show relationships without numbers? Easy. By estimating.

Could a graph be made to show scientific advancement if you did have all that information?

It would be difficult because (a) you'd have to define what a single 'scientific advancement' was (which is going to be difficult to do consistently across many scientific disciplines) and (b) you'd have to be able to accurately date a scientific advance (do you pick the date it was first conceived, first published or first accepted by the scientific community, or some other date?)

  • 11
    You can at least disprove the graph in details; it seriously maligns the high and late medieval ages when there were in fact solid advances in optics and mechanics and much groundwork laid for the scientific method. Claiming that science stood still for a thousand years is false, even if it is hard to quantify how much advance was made. – andejons Oct 21 '16 at 19:26
  • Galen was about the only Western Physician for well nigh 1500 years...which is a pretty sad statement if you think about it. – Doctor Zhivago Oct 22 '16 at 0:46
  • 3
    It also rather thoroughly ignores the golden age of Islamic mathematics. – Mark Oct 22 '16 at 1:40
  • 4
    @andejons I decided against nitpicking on the shape of the graph itself because once you're aware of why it was created, it's obvious it's only that shape in order to fit his hypothesis. He willfully ignores any factors that would affect his 'proof'. – Steve Bird Oct 24 '16 at 14:34
21

I was wondering if there was any actual science behind it: Is there anywhere a measure of scientific discovery per unit time? Do we have anywhere a scale of scientific knowledge and if so, what is it based on?

No. There is no "scientific knowledge" or "scientific discovery" measurable indicator that can be used to compare modern times with the Middle Ages or Antiquity (we have a quite imperfect indicator that can be, with exactly 3,436 caveats, used to measure "scientific advancement" from the Industrial Revolution onwards: patents).

The graph and its article obviously have an ax to grind against "Christianism", and the graph is an ilustration of his ideas about the subject, not of the reality of scientific development.

The graph is obviously problematic, and no article can save it. Here are the main problems:

  1. It is completely eurocentric.
  2. The acceleration from the "Greek" period to the Roman one is imaginary. While the Romans certainly did improve on the basis that the Greeks legated to them, the period and place of quick and impressive advancement is from the 6th century BC to the 3rd, in the Greek and Hellenistic world.
  3. Obviously, there is no such thing as a "Greek" period extending to 1 CE, nor a "Roman" period that starts that late.
  4. The decline of the Roman Empire starts far before the 5th century AD, and while Christianism is certainly related to it, there are several other problems, both conjunctural (a barbarian invasion, for instance) and structural (a long, agonising crisis of slavery, without any perspective of a breakthrough) that are much more central to that decline.
  5. The Middle Ages as a whole were far from that stagnant flat line that is show there, and it is quite obvious that the Renaissance starts at a position more advanced than that of the apex of the Roman Empire
  6. The idea that scientific advancement at the end of Renaissance only matches the advancement of the Roman period borders on the ridicule.

In sum, the graph is a mere impressionistic illustration of a thesis that is at best simplistic. There is not only no actual measurement of anything (as the article recognises), but it doesn't show any real understanding of the dynamics of "progress" during the enormous period it attempts to illustrate.

  • 3
    (+1); especially for #1. Just a nit-pick, #4 should distinguish the fall of the "Western Roman Empire" from the Eastern Roman Empire, which was also Christian and European, and had no dark ages, and continued for centuries after 5 CE. – axsvl77 Oct 22 '16 at 1:26
  • 1
    @axsvl77: Also, the Empire was (largely/legally) Christian from the accession of Constantine in the early 300s. – jamesqf Oct 22 '16 at 5:18
  • 7
    Patents would be a poor indicator of scientific advance for two key reasons; firstly, a patent needs to be original but that does not mean it needs to be scientifically original and, secondly, many areas of science don't generate patents because they don't create marketable products which require protection. – KillingTime Oct 22 '16 at 8:24
  • 4
    @KillingTime - Exactly. This leaves only 3,434 caveats still missing. – Luís Henrique Oct 22 '16 at 9:54
  • 2
    @axsvl77 - Yes, the whole thing is not just eurocentric; it is Western Europe-centric. – Luís Henrique Oct 24 '16 at 14:17

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.