Friday, 10 October 2014

Inculcating the Tenets of Great Scientists – A Review

Professor M.U. Adikwu, FAS
Professor of Pharmaceutics and National Coordinator, Science and Technology Education Post-Basic (STEP-B) Project

The book, Inculcating the Tenets of Great Scientists, is one book that is close to my heart and I am glad to review it. While on a postdoctoral research fellowship outside the shores of Nigeria, I stumbled on a book The Western Intellectual Tradition from Leonardo da Vinci to Hegel. The present book is the Nigerian equivalent of that book written by Professor Jacob Bronowski.

On first sight, it seems like a chronology of names and works of great scientists, but a closer peep reveals more than this. The book consists of 14 chapters dealing with science as a body of knowledge; the scientist as a person, and the pains and gains of being a scientist. The book also tries to paint the scientist as a model and celebrity.

Chapter one tries to define what science is and who the scientist is. According to the author, science leads to increase in knowledge in our world and the scientist should be seen as the engine that produces this knowledge. The chapter also classified science into its various branches. Chapter two defined the various words used in the title of the book ranging from tenets to inculcation, while chapters three to seven point out the attributes of a scientist. This is essential because for you to be a millionaire, you have to think like one, as was a popular saying from a Nigerian soap-opera. In fact, there is no better way of becoming a scientist than acting like one.

Chapter four presented the prerequisites for becoming a scientist, ranging from common sense to having a good mentor. Similarly, chapter five to seven are focused on principles that make great scientists to stand out among equals such as imagination and creativity, as well as collaboration and team work. Chapter eight, which is on the Shoulders of Giants’ Concept, simply talks about the need for scientists to refer to the past to improve on the present. Great men are either made by other great men or through the ideas of other great men! There is nothing new under the sun, so goes the Biblical saying. It may interest you to note that Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519), the great artist, did invent a flying helicopter almost 200 years before Isaac Newton (1642-1727) could put gravitation into its proper perspective, and almost 600 years before the Wright brothers could invent the modern flying machine. The idea of gravitation was not original to Newton. Kepler had had the idea that there was a general gravitation. Also, many great scientists became great because they questioned the status quo. This is pointed out in chapter nine. The status quo is not the ultimate!

Chapter 10 deals with the logical way the scientist has to go about his business of discovery or invention through data gathering and presentation. This is known as the scientific method. Chapter 11 deals with the issue of chance. Does the scientist accidentally come upon his discovery or invention? This is the question this chapter tries to answer. For the western world, chance is not a common phenomenon. It is either by reasoning or revelation.

Chapter 12 deals with the community which every scientist belongs. These communities are often referred to as learned societies such as the Royal Society started by Robert Boyle and John Evelyn in November 1660, which also is the oldest national academy of science in existence today.

As the book reaches its concluding chapters, it began to highlight the benefits of being a scientist. The gains are numerous, ranging from fame, honour and the legacies the scientist leaves behind. The writings of the scientist in learned journals live after him, long after the scientist is gone. The book finally concludes in chapter 14 with names of selected Nigerian scientists the author considers to be great scientists.

Each chapter has a litany of names and quotes of great scientists and the sayings of these great minds. I recommend the book not just to students and teachers or researchers in science, but also to those who teach particularly the history of science in all fields ranging from engineering to medicine.

This review was presented on the occasion of the formal launch of the book which held Wednesday October 31 2012 at Chelsea Hotel, Ademola Adetokunbo Crescent, Wuse II, Abuja.