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The Royal Society's Place in Science


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The Royal Society's Place in Science (continued)

That was 300 years ago, and the old Roya1 Society has changed a lot since then. It is alike in one way—it still numbers the great figures of science among its members, is it did then. To be elected a fellow of the Royal Society of London is a great honour, a recognition that a man is a leader in his own field. But it has changed especially in that the fellows can no longer all talk together about the latest work or show one another their experiments. As the field of science grows, it divides more and more—first into major subjects, physics and chemistry and botany and zoology; then each subject subdivides and there are many bits of chemistry—biochemistry, the chemistry of the reactions of the living cell, is a huge subject itself and distinct from the others. All this is not a disaster, it is bound to be so. If we have started from 300 years back and then multiplied the total sum of knowledge by a thousand (say) the day must be too short for any man to know more than a very small amount of the scientific world at all well. If the fellow of the Royal Society wants to talk about the latest development in his own subject he will get what he wants in his own society consisting of one kind of expert, a society that concentrates on that subject, but not in a general scientific society.

People in Bright Sparcs - Leeper, Geoffrey Winthrop

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Leeper, Geoffrey Winthrop 1960 'The Royal Society's Place in Science', typescript, Royal Society of Victoria papers, State Library of Victoria, MS 11663, item 35/6.

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