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History of science, technology & medicine

Collecting science in debate

"Science in debate" in the Princeton University Library: defining the boundaries of science, defining the boundaries of a collection

Historians of science know that "science" is created by a process: new ideas are proposed, tested, published, debated. This collection seeks to explore the process itself by documenting the literature of what is sometimes called “fringe science,” "alternative science," "controversial science," or even “pseudoscience.”  It includes books on topics that were credible as “science" at the time they were proposed, but that may now be discredited and disproven; irreproducible experiments; questioning or denial of scientific theories; advocacy of claims that violate the known laws of physics; scientific study of unusual phenomena; and hoaxes if aimed at the scientific community. Anything where where proponents make use of the scientific method in arguing for their theories, may be included. Topics are wide-ranging: for example phrenology, UFOs, cryptozoology, parapsychology, cold fusion, perpetual motion machines and antigravity.

The collection emphasizes material from the 19th, 20th and 21st century, but note that Princeton's Rare Books & Special Collections holds many books on 16th, 17th and 18th century science, including material on alchemy, astrology, and mesmerism. 

There is no comprehensive bibliography on this topic, but researchers may find it helpful to consult the work of Martin Gardner and Brian Regal' s Pseudoscience: a critical encyclopedia. The largest similar collection is the Robert J. Schadewald Collection on Pseudo-Science at the University of Wisconsin.