Assignment 4 – Science

The information that Sprat outlines in his book shows how adept the Royal Society was with information and more specifically scientific information and experiments. The experiments detailed in the book show the extensive research they have done and their way of expressing their results in a short and concise format for people to understand. The Spectator warns against having faith in Quacks because they promise to be able to “sell health” for the delights of longevity–something that is obviously not true.  Instead, the Royal Society promotes the written evidence developed through experiments. They served as a central repository for written information—the first of its kind, and provide a sort of vault of information against the claims of Quacks. Although the society was not meant to be a teaching organization, their role was not limited to just being a source of information. By the end, Sprat defends the “experimenting” of the Society and states that it is entirely compatible with the Christian religion. There is the appeal that experimental philosophy demonstrated by the Royal Society can benefit the nation by improving its industry and trade—and more specifically, help defend against the fallacies that the Quacks announce and advertise. Demonstrating an exploring nature and eye, it can encourage the exploration of the natural world for answers rather than looking for the quick fixes for the “desires of life” that the pretenders sell. -Annie Chin

Sprat offers an optimistic view of a society that will be able to act as a single authoritative voice for a fledgling scientific community. Whilst the details of the Society’s operation he describes are intended to build an organization with integrity and offer the beginnings of a system of peer review, they do not offer protection from the kinds of abuses described by The Spectator. Unfortunately as this article says people’s interest in their health creates an easy opportunity to make money which will always be taken advantage of by those with less integrity than Thomas Sprat and his colleagues.
Sprat saw the Royal Society as a vibrant, questioning association of those “whose privileges shall be the same; whose gain shall be in common; whose Members were not brought up at the feet of each other”. It would seem though that as scientific study has flourished through the years rarely, if at all, has it ever remained a purely academic pursuit. As the Wakefield – MMR controversy shows once reputations and monetary gain are at stake the question of academic integrity becomes extremely vexed. The layman is left wondering, which if any, of the many sources of information available can be trusted. -Gavin

There are, in fact, a number things in the guidelines and the aims of the Royal society which would protect the public against the claims of Quacks. First and foremost would be the criterion for the men who would be accepted into the Society: the “Industry, Activity, and Inquisitive humor” and the “cold circumspect and the wary disposition” (64), both of which are necessary in order to carry out the scientific method. In this way, scientists would actively seek out cures and investigate existent remedies for diseases through experimentation, but at the same time be wary enough of the results to carry out multiple trials and fully investigate the effectiveness of their results. This would weed out ineffective “quack” cures as described in The Spectator by finding effectiveness, and furthermore, finding out the physiological reason for the effectiveness of the cures, such that modern versions of “Virgil’s Japis” (91) would not exist. Furthermore, the fact that there would be one reliable body of scientists seeking to separate the facts from the “fancy” and “fables” (63) would possibly impart some of the society’s inborn skepticism into the public itself. However, the effectiveness in its influence of the public does, in fact, hinge upon the fact that the Royal Society would make its findings public and available for the public use, the mechanisms of which were not delineated by Spratt. He simply states that the results of the Royal Society would belong to “no one man” but would “fall to the Crown”(76) -Pauline

Spratt’s guidelines for a scientific society would, in theory, protect society against false scientific claims made by  either unintelligent researchers or by those with capitalistic goals in mind (Quacks and frauds).  The Spectator describes Doctors who sell “real” cures on the streets and the more worrisome “Branch of Pretenders” who “provide themselves of persons to attest the cure, before they publish or make an experiment of the prescription” (Spectator, 87-88).  These individuals are quacks and frauds who intend to make money off of false cures for diseases.  However, Spratt’s description of a scientific society seems to provide a defense for the common man against frauds and Quacks.  The Royal Society would be a collection of people (primarily gentlemen) from various backgrounds committed to the knowledge of truth and the truth of information.  They would protect people from two “corruptions of learning” – that “Knowledge still degenerates, to consult present profit too soon” (Spratt, 67)and that philosophers are not always the best source of information.  In theory, this sounds like a good idea, but it seems difficult in practice.  The royal society could print fliers to warn people against false advertisements, but other than this, it seems difficult to inform thousands of people of the truth.  Spratt specifically says that the royal society should protect people from false doctors with capitalist goals who try to make money with false cures, but it seems that it would be difficult for the Royal Society to actually protect cities from these quacks. -Cody

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