There is no denying that the history we tell about science is full of achievements often credited to individual efforts. The reality, of course, is that scientific achievements are not done alone or in intellectual vacuums.
Standing on the Shoulders of Giants
Astronomer Edwin Hubble, for example, built upon the ideas of other astronomers when he made his landmark discovery in 1923 that the faint spiral nebulae observed in the sky were actually other galaxies outside our Milky Way. This surprising finding greatly expanded our understanding of the size of the universe.
This is a still image from Hubblecast 89, which talks about the life of Edwin Hubble. Credit: NASA & ESA
Before Hubble’s discovery, scientists were embroiled in a fierce debate about the nature of these nebulae. Some, most prominently astronomer Harlow Shapley, believed that these nebulae were parts of our own Milky Way galaxy. Others, like Heber Curtis, posited that the Milky Way galaxy was smaller than suggested by Harlow Shapley, and these nebulae were likely entire galaxies outside of the Milky Way. This scientific disagreement was brought to the fore during a public debate between Curtis and Shapley in 1920.
It was not until 1923 when Edwin ...