The Human Side of Science

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ALMOST 60 years have passed since Wilhelm Conrad Röntgen, professor of physics at the University of Würzburg (in November 1895), saw the effect of a strange and unusual phenomenon while he was performing some experiments in his laboratory. This was the bright fluorescence of some barium platinocyanide crystals near an electrically excited Hittorf-Crookes tube. He pursued the study of this effect in a most masterly and thorough manner, and discovered it to be due to “new kind of rays,” which he called the “x-rays” and which now are often called the “roentgen rays.” This famous discovery, which so profoundly influenced many branches of science and medicine, placed Röntgen in the ranks of the world's great men.

With a discovery so epoch-making as that of the x-rays, and in view of the immediate and unprecedented interest in it on the part of the scientific world and the general public, it was perhaps inevitable that some confusions and even unjust criticisms concerning it should arise to disturb and plague Röntgen. Because he reacted to criticism with great sensitivity, and even bitterness — though he also did his best to avoid and evade acclaim — an account of these negative unpleasant accompaniments of the discovery forms an interesting chapter on scientific controversy and polemics.

Some of the controversy regarding priority in regard to certain phases or features of the discovery was undoubtedly not inspired by dishonesty, but rather by the confusion which arose naturally from the tremendous publicity concerning the new scientific wonder and ignorance . . .



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