In science, attack, from the point of view of scientific endeavors being a type of intellectual warfare (Thomas Young, 1810), refers to an assault on theory, belief, position, argument or point of view, often times made publically, such as in journal article format, via letter or article; sometimes done personally, via communication, directly or indirectly; at other times delivered in group between different factions or schools of thought.

In physics, classic examples of attacks can be found in the 17th century battles between Isaac Newton and Robert Hooke on gravitation and light.

Human chemistry
The 1809 physical chemistry based novel Elective Affinities by German polymath Johann Goethe has been under attack nearly ever since its publication. As summarized in the 1859 New American Cyclopedia, edited by George Ripley and Charles Dana, describe Goethe's novella as follows: [1]

“In 1809, Goethe printed the most exceptionable of his novels, the Wahlverwandschaften (“Elective Affinities”), in which the charms and graces of this style are employed in the description of the impulses which spring from the collision of passion and duty in the relations of marriage. By the title of the book, and in the whole spirit of it, he would represent that sexual affinities follow the same inevitable law as chemical affinities, and that humanity struggles impotently against the dictates of nature. Like all his productions, this was suggested by circumstances in his own experience. The work shocked the moral world, in spite of the beauty with which it was written, and to this day tasks the ingenuity of those of his admirers who seek to defend it from attack.”

As Goethe himself commented in 1827 eighteen years after its publication:

“I [would] have been much cheered to hear [a] kind word about the Wahlverwandtschaften; for at that time, and afterwards, not many pleasant remarks were vouchsafed be about that novel.”

The long and the short of the central reason for the attack on Goethe's novella is that the view presented by therein (that morality is based on physical chemistry) in direct opposition to the view presented in the Bible (that morality is governed by the negative confessions) and the general morality doctrine found the in the Ra theologies in general.

The classic example of attack is that of the energetics school led by Ernst Mach attacking the work of Ludwig Boltzmann and his belief in atomic theory, the result of which was Boltzmann putting a noose around his neck while on family vacation (see: founders of thermodynamics and suicide).

German physicist Justus Liebig's use of vitalism (Animal Chemistry, 1842) was quickly attacked by the Helmholtz school.

A classic example of prolonged multi-decade attack was the attack on Erwin Schrodinger’s 1943 comment that “life feeds on negative entropy”, by his fellow physicist colleagues, after which he was forced to append a “Note to Chapter 6” to defend himself and explain his actions, and in the decades to follow was given royal trashings by the likes of those as Linus Pauling.

The work of Spanish civil engineer Antonio Portuondo (Notes on Social Mechanics, 1912) was vigorously attacked by French sociologist Petre Trisca (Introduction to Social Mechanics, 1922). [2]

In his 1928 Contemporary Sociological Theories, Russian-born American sociologist Pitirim Sorokin devoted the first 62-pages, his entire first chapter, to what he classified as the “mechanistic school of social thermodynamics”, to argue his viewpoint that subjects such as “human chemistry”, “human physics”, and “social mechanics” are, in his own words, “inadequate, and therefore defective.” [3]

Since going public, in 2005, the human chemistry, human physics, and human thermodynamics work of American electrochemical engineer Libb Thims, has been under attack, almost at nearly monthly, if not weekly rate (see: Libb Thims (attack)).


The following are related quotes:

“Christoph Rothmann who did not withdraw from entering into the so-called field of combat with Scaliger on the subject of comets, declared, in a certain letter to Tycho, that: ‘the lighter exhalations of the earth are carried on high with the help of good angels and are lifted above the moon, which the result that, being lighted by the penetrating rays of the sun there, they appear in the form of comets with tails or beards.”
Otto Guericke (1665), “Reply Letter to Sanislaus Lubienietzki”, Aug 5/15; in New Experiments on the Vacuum of Space (pg. 298)

“I shall attack chemistry like a shark.”
Samuel Coleridge (1800) (see also: Whewell-Coleridge debate) [4]

“The biographical articles seldom amuse me much in writing; there is too little invention to occupy the mind sufficiently: I like to a deep and difficult investigation when I happen to have made it easy to myself if not to all others—and there is a spirit of gambling in this, whether as by the cast of a die, a calculation a perte de vue [i.e. a farfetched calculation] shall bring out a beautiful and simple result, or shall be wholly thrown away. Scientific investigations are a sort of warfare, carried on in the closet or on the couch against all one’s contemporaries and predecessors; I have often gained a single victory when I have been half asleep, but more frequently found, on being thoroughly awake, that the enemy had still the advantage of me when I thought I had him fast in a corner—and all this, you see, keeps one alive.”
Thomas Young (c.1820), “Letter to Hudson Gurney” [7]

“The works of Willard Gibbs can only be attacked with profit by the expert mathematician.”
William Bayliss, Principles of General Physiology (1915)

“Indeed, not all attacks—especially the bitter and ridiculing kind leveled at Darwin—are offered in good faith, but for practical purposes it is good policy to assume that they are.”
– Hans Seye (1964) [6]

“I prefer rationalism to atheism. The question of God and other objects-of-faith are outside reason and play no part in rationalism, thus you don't have to waste your time in either attacking or defending.”
Isaac Asimov (date) (link)

1. Ripley, George and Dana, Charles D. (1859). The New American Cyclopedia: a Popular Dictionary of General Knowledge, Volume 8 (pg. 337). D. Appleton and Co.
2. Trisca, Petre. (1922). Prolégomènes à Mécanique Sociale: Étude sur la Mécanique Sociale: Analyse des Ouvrages Ayant le meme Titre (Introduction to Social Mechanics: Study of Social Mechanics: Analysis of Works of the Same Title). Libraire Felix Alcan.
3. Sorokin, Pitirim. (1928). Contemporary Sociological Theories (ch. 1: Mechanistic School, pg. 3-62). Harper & Brothers.
4. Davyeridge, Samuel. (1800). “Letter to Humphry Davy” (on his plans to set up a joint chemistry laboratory with Davy and Wordsworth in Lake District), Jul 15. (link).
5. In Isaac Asimov and Janet Asimov (ed.), It's Been a Good Life (2002), 21 (link).
6. From Dream to Discovery: On Being a Scientist (1964), 157 (link)
7. Robinson, Andrew. (2006). The Last Man Who Knew Everything: Thomas Young, the Anonymous Genius who Proved Newton Wrong and Deciphered the Rosetta Stone, among other Surprising Feats (self-taught, pg. 15; burn, pg. 179; Lagrange, pgs. 182-83). Plume Books.

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