Great Feuds in Technology: Ten of the Liveliest Disputes Ever

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9780471208679: Great Feuds in Technology: Ten of the Liveliest Disputes Ever
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The colorful true stories of ten monumental feuds in the history of technology
The history of technology is full of heated disputes over who, exactly, invented what. In this encore to his international bestsellers Great Feuds in Science and Great Feuds in Medicine, Hal Hellman brings to life ten of technology's most celebrated quarrels. Whether illuminating the battles between Philo Farnsworth and RCA (television), and Samuel Morse and Joseph Henry (telegraph) or the feuds currently raging over nuclear submarines and genetically modified foods, Hellman clearly explains the technology involved while providing vivid portraits of the disputants and their times.

Hal Hellman (Leonia, NJ) is the author of numerous science books, including Great Feuds in Science (0-471-35066-4) and Great Feuds in Medicine (0-471-20833-7).

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From the Author:

TECHNOLOGY FEUDS QUIZ
True or False:
1. The word "technology" refers specifically and only to tangible, working machinery, stuff you can touch.
2. The idea that nature is good and human attempts at mastering it are bad is a new one, and had its start with the rise of the Industrial Revolution.
3. The Luddites went about smashing textile machinery in early 19th century England because they hated and feared all kinds of technology.
4. The miner's safety lamp was probably the most important invention in the early days of the Industrial Revolution.
5. Samuel F. D. Morse was a well-recognized painter before he ever even thought of the electromagnetic telegraph.
6. Thomas Edison and George Westinghouse fought "the war of the currents" toward the end of the nineteenth century. Edison won, as usual, which is why we have alternating current as the main form of electricity today.
7. When Henry Ford was a young man, his only interest was in designing and building vehicles for motorized transportation.
8. The Wright brothers were the first people to fly a powered, heavier-than-air vehicle.
9. Electronic television was invented by David Sarnoff.
10. The fact that the U.S. Navy has a strong nuclear component has had much to do with the efforts of one man, who managed to head two different organizations, one civilian and one military, at the same time.
11. Now that biotechnologists have sequenced the human genome, it should be possible to take a single blood sample from a patient and, when prescribing a drug, determine the precise dose needed and whether it will have any side effects.
12. Jeremy Rifkin and many others say that we should not allow a new technology or product, such as genetically modified foods, to be introduced until it has been thoroughly tested and shown to be risk-free. Theyre right, of course.
13. Public feelings about science and technology have always been generally positive and remain so today.

Answers
1. False. The term has a much wider meaning and refers to any tools, methods or techniques in use for getting a job done. So it can include linguistic and intellectual tools, including communications technologies, and computer software as well as hardware. It also includes the world of living things. Today there is probably more excitement in biotechnology than there is in any of the typical hard technologies.
2. False. The idea that nature is good and human attempts at mastering it are bad has appeared over and over again throughout history. Goethe's Faust and Mary Shelley's Frankenstein story are just two of the better known examples out of many. Earlier, the French philosopher Jean Jacques Rousseau had written of the noble savage, who lived in harmony with nature. And, in fact, much of religion probably had its beginnings in nature worship.
3. False. Its true that fear of technology does have a long history. Even writing was at one time thought of with suspicion. But in general it was not the machines that the Luddites were after. They were workers and subcontractors, and they smashed the machinery to get back at the owners, who they felt were using the machines as a tool to subjugate them and squeeze them financially.
4. True. Coal was the prime energy source, but as coal mines were pushed wider and deeper they became ever more hazardous. The miner's safety lamp saved many lives, and made the great expansion of coal mining possible.
5. True. In fact, Morse was hoping that his invention of the telegraph would provide the funds that would enable him to continue his art career.
6. False. Edison was pushing his entry, direct current. It was, says history, the one case in which Edison picked the wrong side. He said, essentially, that building power plants in out-of-the-way areas and shipping the electricity long distances in alternating current form was a poor idea. Its true that if he had had his way there would be small generating plants all over the place, for the effective reach of direct current is limited to half a mile or so. But a falling tree, or someones mistake, would never knock out power for a whole region, even a country. Could it be that Edison was right after all?
7. False. Its true that Ford thought often of replacing horses with machines. But as a farm boy with little interest in farming he was at first more interested in putting motors to use to lighten farmers' loads than for transportation.
8. False. Were they the first to fly such a vehicle in a controlled manner? That's harder to answer. A lot of people, including Glenn H. Curtiss, thought not, and fought their patent for years.
9. False. Credit should be given to Philo T. Farnsworth, a fifteen-year-old high school student who was famous by the late 1930s and a complete unknown a decade later. The story could be titled, "The Rise and Fall of Philo T. Farnsworth." His battle with David Sarnoff and RCA has elements of Greek tragedy and a modern spy novel.
10. True. Admiral Hyman G. Rickover, almost single-handedly and in spite of much opposition, changed the face of the U.S. Navy forever. One objection was that his high-tech approach cut down on the numbers of craft that could be built for the same money.
11. True, but not quite yet. Although the not-always-pleasant race between Craig Venter and Francis Collins to sequence the genome has been completed, and was called a tie, the ultimate objective of fully decoding the book of life goes on, with more work to be done.
12. This is a tough one. Supporters of genetically modified foods, and most scientists, say that that position is false. Though widely promulgated by those with an ax to grind, it is a position that sounds reasonable at first, but it presumes that there are risk-free alternatives, which is not so.
13. False, but with explanation. Although public feelings about technology have mostly been positive in recent centuries, there has certainly been more questioning over, say, the last quarter century, and powerful interest groups have been exerting increasing pressure on a variety of technologies. Jeremy Rifkin's crusade against genetically modified foods is a good case in point. Rifkin has been referred to by a mathematical scientists as a dangerous loon, and by an Italian organization as worthy of a Nobel Prize. Chapter 10 in Hellman's excellent new book will help you make up your own mind.

From the Inside Flap:

Fascinating accounts of technology’s biggest bust-ups

If someone were to ask you who invented the miner’s safety lamp, you’d probably have no trouble answering "I don’t know." But what about the telegraph? The automobile? The airplane? Television? Conflicting claims over the answers to these questions have led to some of the longest and most bitter battles in the history of technology. Great Feuds in Technology takes a close look at each of these celebrated disputes and reveals that the answers are far more complex, entertaining, and enlightening than you might ever imagine.

In this book, you’ll discover how the use of new technologies sparked years of violence among the Luddites in nineteenth-century England; why Thomas Edison lost the biggest battle of his career–which may explain why we have regional blackouts today; and how one small, rude, and brilliant admiral flogged the United States Navy into creating, first, nuclear submarines, and later an entire nuclear fleet. You’ll also learn the true story behind the race to map the human genome and meet the man who has spent most of his adult life fighting the commercial use of genetically modified organisms.

Great Feuds in Technology features lively accounts of unusual personalities and their heated battles, as well as wonderfully clear descriptions of the technologies in question, how they were developed, and how they changed the world. These lively, informative, and fair-minded accounts also reveal how these disputes have shaped the way technology is used, how patents are granted and administered, and how new technologies have affected the economy, work and social life, politics, and more.

Complete with a thoughtful analysis of recent developments in the anti-technology movement and their impact on our social and technological future, Great Feuds in Technology offers lively, informative, and enlightening reading, whether you’re a technophile, a technophobe, a history and biography enthusiast, or just someone who enjoys a good fight.

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