Hasok Chang: Is water H2O? Evidence, realism and pluralism
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There is a renewed interest in what to make of the claim that water is H2O and a growing literature on what the history of this claim can tell us about the evolving intersections of science and society. In this context, Hasok Chang offers an insightful account of what scientists were doing and which theories they were testing during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century—that period during which elemental views of water lost out to compound views of water as two parts hydrogen, one part oxygen.
After a precise introduction detailing how this book combines history and philosophy, the next three chapters of the book focus on scientific controversies regarding: (1) how Lavoisier confronted the phlogiston view of water as an element, (2) how the promise of electrolysis failed to confirm Lavoisier’s compound theory of water and, finally, (3) how the attempt to count water atomically did not ultimately settle the matter. Stitching these chapters into a broader thesis, Chang...