SIDEBAR: Opportunities for Biographers

Scientific biographies have the potential not only to engender interest in an individual's life and work, but also to spark re-examinations of an entire discipline.

Biographers, historians, and scientists, however, have differing views on just what a scientific biography should entail. Should it center on the scientist's life or research? How far should the biographer go to avoid hagiography, a devotional and uncritical work? On the other hand, how can the biographer avoid the other extreme of "pathography," a minute examination of the subject's faults?

Spence Weart
EVOLUTION OF AN ART FORM: Historian Spencer Weart notes scientific biography's roots in eulogy.
Such issues did not concern early biographers, notes Spencer Weart, director of the Center for History of Physics at the American Institute of Physics in College Park, Md. He traces the beginnings of scientific biography to the 18th century, when the French Academy of Sciences began...

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