The crumbling wall

Featured in

  • Published 20110301
  • ISBN: 9781921656996
  • Extent: 264 pp
  • Paperback (234 x 153mm), eBook

I GREW UP in an era when science had an aura of certainty and solidity: it was ‘the true exemplar of authentic knowledge’, as the eminent sociologist Robert K Merton put it. History inevitably contains a subjective element, and there are different and legitimate views about the significance of a work of literature, but science was different. At school we learned which chlorides are insoluble and which metals are attacked by hydrochloric acid: no room for subjectivity or different interpretations there. We learned the laws of motion, as set down by Newton hundreds of years ago: not theories but laws that can’t be broken. The science was incontestable, so your answer in the school test was either right or wrong. At university, all the physics and chemistry I learned as an undergraduate was solid, unquestioned knowledge.

Science spoke with a particular authority. It has been argued that other disciplines were affected by this perception; some observers think ‘physics envy’ led economics down the path of mathematical modelling and arcane theories that, applied to financial products, wrought havoc in the real world. That is another story.

Already a subscriber? Sign in here

If you are an educator or student wishing to access content for study purposes please contact us at

Share article

More from author

A long half-­life

EssayON MY DESK there sits a well-­thumbed copy of the 1976 Fox Report, the first report of the Ranger Uranium Environmental Inquiry. I grew up...

More from this edition

The raft

FictionIF ASKED THEN why I had not returned to London I could have – would have – given several clear reasons that, looking back,...

We, the populists

EssayIN OCTOBER 2010 Australia's Director of Military Prosecutions, Brigadier Lyn McDade, brought charges against three Australian soldiers, resulting from an incident in which six...

Stay up to date with the latest, news, articles and special offers from Griffith Review.