Borman, Stu. "Study Shows Dalton Was Right, After All," Chemical and Engineering News 69

 

Borman, Stu. "Study Shows Dalton Was Right, After All," Chemical and Engineering News 69
(6 May 1991), pp. 43-44.

Here is a brief report on a study of John Dalton's original experiments conducted by Melvyn C.
Usselman, Katherine D. Watson, and Derek G. Leaist of the University of Western Ontario,
Canada. Its conclusions were recently presented to the Division of the History of Chemistry.
They find that the results reported by Dalton for his experiments are correct and conclude,
erroneously in my opinion, that their study confirms Dalton's contributions to chemistry.

There are many, including Brush and Nash who have repeated the doubts originally raised about
Dalton's explanations of how he achieved the results he presented in 1803-1805. "Now,
Usselman his coworkers have repeated Dalton's experiments using 19th-century techniques. ‘The
nice surprise,' says Usselman, ‘was that the simple way modern historians and chemists have
viewed the experiments is not correct. The system is a bit more complicated that people have
thought, and Dalton's results turn out to be just the ones you get when you reconstruct the
experiment.'" (p. 44)

Arnold Thackray is quoted on the study: "‘The question, ‘Were Dalton's data authentic, or was
he fudging it?' is probably impossible to answer, says Thackray. ‘My personal bent - from my
sense of the man and of all the other things he did - is that he was a figure of very considerable
exactitude and probity and that he did see the whole-number ratios that chemical atomic theory
would lead one to expect." (p. 44)

"Usselman adds, ‘What I'm saying can sound so much like superficial historical justification, to
say Dalton was a great man and a wonderful person and how can we smudge his reputation? We
do have in science, now and in the past, people who are overly quick to publish. My claim is not
that there can't be that type of person. It's a more specific one - that certainly Dalton was not that
type of person."