Article ID: CBB957316210

A Frosty Disagreement: John Tyndall, James David Forbes, and the Early Formation of the X-Club (2017)


How do glaciers move? This seemingly straightforward question provided the backdrop for a heated debate between the physicists John Tyndall (1820–1893) and James David Forbes (1809–1868) in the late 1850s and early 1860s. Forbes described the motion of glaciers as that of a viscous fluid. After visiting the Alps, Tyndall proposed an alternative theory that combined fracture and regelation. The glacial controversy ensued. Yet the debate was never simply about whether glaciers moved like honey, or if they moved by continuously breaking and re-attaching. This paper shows that the glacial controversy formed an important prelude to the strategies used by the X-Club in reforming science and establishing cultural authority. There was a central difference in the way Forbes and Tyndall presented their scientific arguments. Tyndall and his allies used the changes in the periodical press as part of their strategy for establishing and maintaining cultural and scientific authority. By contrast, Forbes and his supporters, including the North British physicists, were not as quick to make use of this new medium. This paper, therefore, examines in detail the significance of these two publishing strategies in shaping the nature and results of the glacial controversy.

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Authors & Contributors
Lightman, Bernard V.
Barton, Ruth
Barton, Michael D.
Corbett, Ken
Wale, Matthew
Message, Reuben
Science in Context
Earth Sciences History: Journal of the History of the Earth Sciences Society
Archives of Natural History
Spontaneous Generations
Osiris: A Research Journal Devoted to the History of Science and Its Cultural Influences
Notes and Records: The Royal Society Journal of the History of Science
University of Pittsburgh Press
University of Chicago Press
Transaction Publishers
Scientific communities; interprofessional relations
Authority of science
Controversies and disputes
Professions and professionalization
Natural history
Tyndall, John
Huxley, Thomas Henry
Hooker, Joseph Dalton
Foote, Eunice
Rendu, Louis
Stainton, Henry Tibbats
Time Periods
19th century
20th century
18th century
Great Britain
London (England)
Royal Society of London
Royal Institution of Great Britain
Geological Society of London

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