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Old January 5th, 2016, 07:08 PM   #1
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why did science lack in the United States 18th, 19th, early 20th century


why did American science lack compared to European counterparts in the late 18th, 19th and early 20th century

it seems like the greatest technological,mathematical, philosophical and scientific achievements were being done by mainly British and German intellectuals followed by France and other European nations

of course you had American achievement like the Wright Brothers, American Pragmatism etc...but it seemed like Europe dominated the stage

was this because European countries were more secular than America at the time? was it because Science wasn't as valued in America as it was in Europe at this time

of course this is if you agree with the premise?
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Old January 5th, 2016, 11:31 PM   #2
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Originally Posted by RemGrade View Post
why did American science lack compared to European counterparts in the late 18th, 19th and early 20th century

it seems like the greatest technological,mathematical, philosophical and scientific achievements were being done by mainly British and German intellectuals followed by France and other European nations

of course you had American achievement like the Wright Brothers, American Pragmatism etc...but it seemed like Europe dominated the stage

was this because European countries were more secular than America at the time? was it because Science wasn't as valued in America as it was in Europe at this time

of course this is if you agree with the premise?
I think you're somewhat right, but I also think you are underestimating what Americans accomplished.

As to the 18th century, you're 100% correct. I mostly attribute that to the U.S. not having any very old and major intellectual centers like Paris or Oxford and Cambridge universities. America was a very rural place at the time, one not likely to spawn intense intellectual activity. The whole American revolution was borrowed from the European Enlightenment.

Once you get into the second quarter of the 19th century things are quite a bit different. The American Transcendentalists were rivaling the best Romantic poets of Europe and I'll put Moby Dick up against any Romantic European novel of the 19th century. And Europe had some major flops, too. I think Marx's Kapital was ingenious, is philosophy of history is laughable with that dated teleology. Personally, I think Hegel is overrated, too. And your right, pragmatism was a huge deal and stll has major proponents as recent s Richard Rorty, but while I like Sartre's Being and Nothingness, existentialism ran out of gas a half century ago.

One area Eurrope kicked U.S. butt in the 19t century was classical music, but by the 20th century the U.S. could match any European country (but not the continent, with all its cultural diversity, as a whole). And America gave birth to jazz which Europe still can't get enough of and they have at least a hundred major jazz musicians of their own as far back as Django Reinhardt.

I don't know enough about European playwrights and novelists of the 20th century, but I doubt they far exceed those of the U.S. (someone can put up a list if tey want and I'll see if I can counter it.

Up at least until the computer revolution about a half century ago, it would seem to me that Europe was beating the U.S. and theoretical science and math, but now I'm not to sure. International cooperation in many areas since WWII is now making this type of comparison irrelevant, IMO. But troughout the whole 20th century, I think you are downplaying U.S.philosophers. I like Jurgen Habermas' work in political philosophy, but IMO it isn't any better than Jon Rawls' work. In philosophy of science, language, and mind, U.S. philosophers like Quine, Putnam, Searle, Dennett, Nagel, Kripke, Kuhn compare with the best Europeans.

I'd have to think more about science, but in astronomy and space exploration the U.S. has led the way (but I'd have to think many Europeans and Asians also worked on these U.S. led projects). But everytime anyone anywhere turns on a light, plays .an .mp3 or goes to the movies, they have Thomas Edison to thank for it.

The biggest problem with Europe for me is they couldn't possibly produce a Frank Zappa or a Richard Pryor or a Muhammad Ali. But Monty Python and Izzy Izzard are very nice tries.

But the comparison aspect of all this doesn't interest me all that much. I'd personally like to thank Galieo, Newton, Einstein, Dickens, Aristotle, Kafka, Wittgenstein and a few hundred other Europeans for making this flying rock I live on an interesting place to be.
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Old January 6th, 2016, 12:42 AM   #3

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The Civil War brought many technological changes that improved weaponry, ships, etc.

I think that, before the 20th century, there were not very many universities capable of producing much in the way of pure scientific research.
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Old January 6th, 2016, 01:50 AM   #4
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The Civil War brought many technological changes that improved weaponry, ships, etc.

I think that, before the 20th century, there were not very many universities capable of producing much in the way of pure scientific research.
There is probably a correlation between urbanisation and scientific development. The US as largely a rural society probably explains any lack of scientific progress.
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Old January 6th, 2016, 02:50 AM   #5

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There is probably a correlation between urbanisation and scientific development. The US as largely a rural society probably explains any lack of scientific progress.
This is a good point. Scientific and technological progress need universities with connected cultural centers, hospitals, research institutions ... This means cities. This means a wide educational system to sustain a university population of students.

Without urbanization this doesn't happen.
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Old January 6th, 2016, 03:16 AM   #6
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Perhaps one the reasons science was allegedly lacking in the US in the 18th century is that for most of that century there was nothing known as the US.
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Old January 6th, 2016, 03:41 AM   #7

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Originally Posted by Baltis View Post
The Civil War brought many technological changes that improved weaponry, ships, etc.

I think that, before the 20th century, there were not very many universities capable of producing much in the way of pure scientific research.
Wait, comparison of the US in the 18th and early 19th centuries is completely inappropriate to Europe. The US population was entirely too small for a valid comparison.

By the 20th century:
*Mass production.
*Mass production of the automobile industry. Europe didn't come up with a car the middle class could drive until the Austrian painter mandated it with the VW Bug.
*The petroleum industry.
*The electric lighting industry.
*The aerospace industry.
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Old January 6th, 2016, 05:25 AM   #8
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There is probably a correlation between urbanisation and scientific development. The US as largely a rural society probably explains any lack of scientific progress.
And the US did lead in advancements in agriculture and animal husbandry for much of that time.

Also I think it depends on what field of science. The US has always been a leader in mechanical and engineering, from Franklin's work to Whitney and Fulton to Ford and Edison. Physics and math not so much. Medicine there was Salk, Clara Barton, Dorothea Dix and James Watson. The later also played a big part in an American engineering feat called the Panama Canal.

And let's not to forget great american mechanical engineers; Sam Colt, Oliver Winchester, Horace Smith and Daniel B. Wesson

Last edited by yakmatt; January 6th, 2016 at 05:37 AM.
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Old January 6th, 2016, 05:35 AM   #9

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Originally Posted by RemGrade View Post
why did American science lack compared to European counterparts in the late 18th, 19th and early 20th century

it seems like the greatest technological,mathematical, philosophical and scientific achievements were being done by mainly British and German intellectuals followed by France and other European nations

of course you had American achievement like the Wright Brothers, American Pragmatism etc...but it seemed like Europe dominated the stage

was this because European countries were more secular than America at the time? was it because Science wasn't as valued in America as it was in Europe at this time

of course this is if you agree with the premise?
The USA was still in its infancy, and to say it didn't achieve much is not right. The Erie Canal, Gatling Gun are two examples. The UK and Germany were just bigger and more developed countries. It's like now, most R&D is from Europe, even though CHina is a bigger economy and will be for years to come.
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Old January 6th, 2016, 05:54 AM   #10
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war brings innovation


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The Civil War brought many technological changes that improved weaponry, ships, etc.
Yes, unfortunately war always leads to inventions, etc. Sad to say...
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