This site uses cookies. By continuing to use this site you agree to our use of cookies. To find out more, see our Privacy and Cookies policy.
Skip to the content

Share this

Free weekly newswire

Sign up to receive all our latest news direct to your inbox.

Physics on film

100 Second Science Your scientific questions answered simply by specialists in less than 100 seconds.

Watch now

Bright Recruits

At all stages of your career – whether you're an undergraduate, graduate, researcher or industry professional – can help find the job for you.

Find your perfect job

Physics connect

Are you looking for a supplier? Physics Connect lists thousands of scientific companies, businesses, non-profit organizations, institutions and experts worldwide.

Start your search today


How Bacon egged on empiricism

Bacon put the sizzle into science

By Hamish Johnston

If you do experiments; collaborate with other scientists; or benefit from government research grants you may want to thank this chap — the English lawyer and political schemer Francis Bacon (1561-1626).

Bacon lived at a pivotal time when the West was moving out of the renaissance and its reverence of the ancient Greek thinkers — and towards evidence-based methods of understanding nature. Bacon was one of the driving forces in the development of what we now call the “scientific method”.

This morning on BBC Radio 4’s In Our Time, Melvyn Bragg and company discussed Bacon’s role (sorry, couldn’t resist another pun) in the shaping of modern science.

It was a fascinating discussion and you can listen to it here until next Thursday.

I was struck by how Bacon was an advocate of collaborative, yet hierarchical, research groups in which minions collect data and pass it on to progressively smaller groups of people who interpret it and develop theories. This sounds a lot like how modern research groups operate.

I was also interested in the connection between empiricism and imperialism. In Bacon’s day England and other western powers were investing in navies and commercial fleets to reap the benefits of trade with the New World.

Bacon argued that state investment in research could be just as profitable as scientists returned from metaphorical journeys of discovery laden with new knowledge. As a result, he made science more relevant to the modern state and society in general.

And I had to laugh when I learned that Bacon described thinkers who develop theories without experimental evidence as spiders who weave elaborate webs — string theory anyone!

As for experimental scientists — they are more like bees, according to Bacon.

This entry was posted in General. Bookmark the permalink.
View all posts by this author  | View this author's profile

Comments are closed.


  • Comments should be relevant to the article and not be used to promote your own work, products or services.
  • Please keep your comments brief (we recommend a maximum of 250 words).
  • We reserve the right to remove excessively long, inappropriate or offensive entries.

Show/hide formatting guidelines

Tag Description Example Output
<a> Hyperlink <a href="">google</a> google
<abbr> Abbreviation <abbr title="World Health Organisation" >WHO</abbr> WHO
<acronym> Acronym <acronym title="as soon as possible">ASAP</acronym> ASAP
<b> Bold <b>Some text</b> Some text
<blockquote> Quoted from another source <blockquote cite="">IOP</blockquote>
<cite> Cite <cite>Diagram 1</cite> Diagram 1
<del> Deleted text From this line<del datetime="2012-12-17"> this text was deleted</del> From this line this text was deleted
<em> Emphasized text In this line<em> this text was emphasised</em> In this line this text was emphasised
<i> Italic <i>Some text</i> Some text
<q> Quotation WWF goal is to build a future <q cite="">
where people live in harmony with nature and animals</q>
WWF goal is to build a future
where people live in harmony with nature and animals
<strike> Strike text <strike>Some text</strike> Some text
<strong> Stronger emphasis of text <strong>Some text</strong> Some text