If you are going to blazon out history of science ‘facts’ at least get them right

Today’s Torygraph has a short video entitled 10 Remarkable Facts about rainbows, at 57 seconds it displays the following text:

Until the 17th Century, no one had

the faintest idea what a rainbow

was, how it got there or what it was

made of…

This is, of course, simply not true. In the 14th century the Persian scholar Kamal al-Din Hasan ibn Ali ibn Hasan al-Farisi (1267–1319) gave the correct scientific explanation of the rainbow in his Tanqih al-Manazir (The Revision of the Optics). Almost contemporaneously the German scholar Theodoric of Freiberg (c. 1250–c. 1310) gave the same correct explanation in his De iride et radialibus impressionibus (On the Rainbow and the impressions created by irradiance). The two scholars arrived at their conclusion independently of each other but both of them did experiments involving the study of light rays passing through glass spheres full of water and both scholars were influenced by the optical theories of Abū ʿAlī al-Ḥasan ibn al-Ḥasan ibn al-Haytham. Unfortunately both explanations disappeared and it was in fact first in the 17th Century that the Croatian scholar Marco de Antonio Dominis (1560–1624) once again gave an almost correct explanation of the rainbow in his Tractatus de radiis visus et lucis in vitris, perspectivis et iride.

De Dominis' explanation of the rainbow Source: Wikimedia Commons

De Dominis’ explanation of the rainbow
Source: Wikimedia Commons

6 Comments

Filed under History of Optics, History of Physics, History of science, Myths of Science

6 responses to “If you are going to blazon out history of science ‘facts’ at least get them right

  1. Pingback: If you are going to blazon out history of science ‘facts’ at least get them right – dohalu

  2. Tony Angel

    When you say “Unfortunately both explanations disappeared” I take it that their works were lost. Were they rediscovered or were quotes from their works in someone else’s lost work and has come to light?

  3. I’d go further than that – the text says ‘no one had the faintest idea what a rainbow was, how it got there or what it was made of’ – there were a number of pre-14th century writers who didn’t get all details correct but who certainly had more than the faintest idea of what it was and how it got there.

  4. Pingback: Whewell’s Gazette: Year 2, Vol. #49 | Whewell's Ghost

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