Who was the first scientist?

firstscientist.jpgThe word scientist only entered the English language in 1834, but since then there have been many excited attempts to name the first.
Predictably there is little agreement, but popular candidates, such as Galileo, Archimedes and even Pythagoras, displayed many of the qualities now deemed essential in modern science, and made long-lasting contributions to the field. But there were earlier thinkers and experimentalists who could equally lay claim to the title.
In The First Scientist, Carlo Rovelli argues that this place in history belongs to little-known Greek philosopher Anaximander. According to many accounts, Anaximander was the first to suggest that the Earth floats in space; to put forth the notion that all living creatures are descended from a common ancestor; and that - heaven forbid - meteorological occurrences were not the product of the gods.
Such stories suggest that Anaximander would have made a fine scientist. He certainly seems to have displayed many traits that philosophers of science, from Francis Bacon to Karl Popper, hold up as admirable in its practitioners: he was determined, inquisitive, sceptical - and, above all, a bit of a maverick.
But the basis for Rovelli's argument should be treated with caution. All that remains of Anaximander's original work are four lines of text, which, while inspiring, have limited scope. Necessarily, Rovelli's case is built around second-hand evidence from other ancient scripts, and as such it loses pace and impact.
Anaximander may well have demonstrated some of the strengths required in a scientist. Ultimately, however, a lack of a tangible legacy left by his work makes this attempt to name him as the first one over-ambitious.
The First Scientist: Anaximander and his legacyBy Carlo Rovelli
Published by: Westholme Publishing
Price: $24.95