The storm controversy (1830–1860) and its impact on American science

Authors


Abstract

Between 1831 and 1857 the amateur weather observer William C. Redfield propounded the view that storm winds often have a rotary motion. This view was opposed by James P. Espy, meteorologist with the Franklin Institute of Philadelphia, Penn. who held the theory of centripetal wind motion within storms. Redfield argued that Espy's theory arose because he followed an incorrect methodology. Instead of practicing “correct induction,” Espy seemed content to develop mere theories. Redfield was also critical of Espy's attempts to gain popular support by using the public press as a platform for scientific debates. Redfield's success in interpreting the motion of storm winds helped to entrench the “Baconian” philosophy in American science—just at the time when it was being replaced by the method of hypothesis in Britain. Espy's incorrect interpretation of the motion of storm winds not only delayed the acceptance of the method of hypothesis in American science but also obscured the validity of his study of cloud thermodynamics.