George Sarton is widely considered to be the most powerful figure in the history of science during the early twentieth century. As with other positivists, some of George Sarton's actions and statements point toward a negative bias toward Christianity (see Sarton:A Case for Bias). Knowing this, it makes sense to take a closer look at his editorial record while at Isis, the pre-eminent journal of the history of science during his lifetime. George Sarton was editor of the journal between 1912 and 1952. Isis has been converted into an electronic journal so it can be easily searched. If there was historian bias in the selection of articles it should show up in our searches.
A scan through the early issues of Isis does raise obvious questions. One is the sparse reference to Pierre Duhem [_1_] . Pierre Duhem had written extensively on medieval science and had discovered that there had been important advances in physics during the late middle ages. His work was both well-researched and quite novel for the time. Certainly, Pierre Duhem is of more interest to modern historians of science than his contemporaries; including George Sarton [_2_] . Yet Duhem's name was referenced in barely one article per year during Sarton's editorship. Sarton was even more extreme in eliminating Duhem from any discourse on medieval science in his own works. In some of Sarton's works on science in the middle ages Duhem and his work aren't mentioned at all and others he is only very rarely referenced.
One english-language article that deals specifically with Duhem's work deserves special mention; a 1936 article by a graduate student on Pierre Duhem's work on a medieval scientist, Jordanus Nemorarius. The article attacked both Duhem's work and Duhem personally. Modern academics would be surprised that it was even published by a major journal. The prose rambled. More troubling was the fact that the author injected his own editorial (and derogatory) comments into a serious historical discussion. He even implied that Pierre Duhem was not fit to understand the physics involved in his historical work [_3_] . George Sarton allowed the article to be published even though he had long known of Duhem's stature as a physicist. Duhem's theories are still taught in graduate physics courses today but during his own time he was considered a peer to such great physicists as Poincare. The publication of the article may say more about the editor of the journal than the author of the article.
George Sarton did sign an appeal for the publication of Duhem's manuscripts in 1937, but it is thought that this was more out of respect for the widow of Paul Tannery (a noted French historian of science) than for Duhem himself. Helene Duhem had been able to enlist Paul Tannery's widow in her 30 year battle to get her father's final manuscripts published.
Another problem with the early issues of Isis is the scant treatment of physics in the middle ages. It seemed that there was more interest in medieval alchemy than medieval physics. This doesn't make sense. The focus of the discussion of seventeenth century science (sometimes known as the scientific revolution) had always been physics and astronomy. Certainly, Galileo and Newton are written about more than Robert Boyle. It makes sense that you would want to know what knowledge these scientists inherited from their predecessors.
The limited discussion of medieval physics cannot be explained simply by the difficulty of finding source material. Two of the medieval thinkers who proposed important scientific concepts, Archbishop Thomas Bradwardine and Father Jean Buridan, were amongst the most famous and respected thinkers during the middle ages. Both had an academic following that spanned centuries and national borders. Thomas Bradwardine was so famous that he had even been mentioned in Geoffrey Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales, where he had been placed in league with the greatest of early Christian philosophers, St. Augustine and Boethius. Bradwardine and a follower of his school, Paul of Venice, had also received the greatest honor possible for a medieval academic, being bestowed with a special surname. Bradwardine had received the honorary title doctor profundus and Paul of Venice had received the name doctor profundissimus. Overlooking these three figures in a treatment of medieval science would be like overlooking Einstein in a treatment of 20th century science.
The limited discussion can't be explained by suggesting that their advances weren't of interest to a modern audience either. The Calculatores, of whom, Bradwardine is usually thought of as the pre-eminent member, had proposed the mean-speed theorem. This was supposed to be one of Galileo's important contributions to science. Jean Buridan had proposed a theory of impetus very similar to Galileo's own impetus theory. This would eventually be refined by Newton into the theory of inertia.
Bradwardine had one article in Isis completely devoted to his work (in German) and Jean Buridan had none over a 40 year period. Buridan was mentioned in a 16-page survey of physics that covered all physics over the entire middle ages. [_4_] .
The journal's treatment of early modern science poses some problems as well. One scientist from this period was Father Domingo De Soto. He had published the correct law of free fall in the mid-sixteenth century; 75 years before Galileo's important works on mechanics. Unlike Bradwardine and Buridan, De Soto was not a famous philosopher with many works. It would have been inappropriate to assume that his work was widely read. Regardless, it is amazing that through two generations of historians there was so little interest in the first author to publish such an important theorem. This, in spite of the fact that Duhem had discussed his work in the early twentieth century [_5_] .
It is now known that the De Soto's Physics, which outlines the correct law of free fall, was already in its eight edition during Galileo's university days at Pisa. De Soto's Physics was being read and taught! There is speculation that Galileo may even have been told the correct law of free fall. De Soto's work was commonly taught in Jesuit schools in Italy and other parts of Europe before Galileo finally decided on the correct law of free fall in Padua. Galileo is known to have corresponded with Jesuit scientists while at Padua. [_6_]