Asked by: Kuzey Kılıç, Turkey
The term ‘scientist’ is a relatively new invention, having been coined by British polymath William Whewell in 1833. Before then, those who tried to fathom the workings of nature were regarded as philosophers. As such, some regard the Ancient Greek thinker Aristotle to be the first scientist, because of his extensive study of natural phenomena. However, his belief that everything has a purpose, and his reliance on ‘common sense’, sometimes led him to erroneous conclusions – such as his idea that heavier objects drop faster than lighter ones.
The 13th-Century scholar Roger Bacon has a better claim to being the first scientist, as he recognised the importance of experiment, and distrusted intuitions and apparently ‘logical’ deductions of the kind that misled Aristotle.
But for his pioneering use of experiment, observation and maths to understand nature, the Italian genius Galileo Galilei arguably best fits the description of ‘first scientist’.
Robert is a science writer and visiting professor of science at Aston University.