Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Book Review: How Experiments End

Galison, P. (1987). How experiments end. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

"How Experiments End" is an intriguing history of experimentation in modern physics. Galison describes how experimentation transitioned from the table-top experiments of the early 20th century to the large-scale particle experiments of the 1970's. He argues that the earlier, smaller experiments were ended when the individual experimenter believed he had physically manipulated and altered his apparatus enough to diminish all sources of error. Later and larger experiments, however, were ended only after initial data was sorted, analyzed, and compared to computer simulations in order to eliminated background effects and determine the reliability of results. Galison’s conclusions about how experiments end are well supported by research into experimental apparatuses, collaboration memos, conference minutes, and computer records. In fact, he often presents more detail than needed to back up his claims. Overall, “How Experiments End” is a fascinating, thoughtful probe into the history of experiment, considering themes often ignored by most theory-centered histories of science.

Submitted by David Britton

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