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Geeks just wanna have fun

In Delights, History on February 15, 2009 at 9:00 pm

In connection with Sarah’s post on scientific clubs in the 18th century, it bears repeating that the majority of these scientists were hobbyists.  While this meant that there was a broader base of interested tinkerers, this system was not without its drawbacks:

“…Not long after the establishment of the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia, Mr. Say was prevailed with to become one of its members. Of the origin of this highly respectable and useful institution, I shall at this time merely assert, that its founders had any thing in view but the advancement of science. Strange as this may appear, it is nevertheless true, that the club of humourists, which subsequently dignified the association under the imposing title of Academy, held its weekly meetings merely for the purpose of amusement; and, consequently, confined itself to those objects which it was thought would be most conducive to that end.

…great was his surprise, on being inducted into the temple of science, to find that the whole collection consisted of some half a dozen common insects, a few madrepores and shells, a dried toad fish and a stuffed monkey: a display of objects of science calculated rather to excite merriment than to procure respect, but which, in the end, proved to be the nucleus of one of the most beautiful and valuable collections in the United States.”

-Say, Thomas and John L. Le Conte, ed. American Entomology: A description of the insects of North America v.1. Boston: Estes & Lauriat, 1859 (?). vii-x.

AcademyAcademy of Natural Sciences
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  1. Nothing excites merriment better than a dried toad fish.

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