BSc, Bristol; Msc, Manchester; PhD, London, Fellow of the Australian Academy of the Humanities

Alan works in the history and philosophy of the physical sciences. He is a member of an international group of scholars who are intent on integrating the history and the philosophy of science. They call their project &HPS and hold an international conference each year. Alan has published on seventeenth-century physics and chemistry, nineteenth century chemistry and nineteenth century electromagnetic theory and the history of atomism. His more philosophically-oriented research includes symmetry in physics, the nature of laws in physics and Brownian motion. His book, What is this thing called science?, has become a standard teaching resource in the philosophy of science and is available in nineteen languages.


His main project is funded by an ARC Discovery grant and is entitled ‘The scientific revolution: mechanisation of the world view or the emergence of science as opposed to w world view’. A focus on less well-researched aspects of the scientific revolution, such as the emergence of chemistry and hydrostatics. is intended to illustrate the idea that modern science involved the experimental investigation of intermediate causes (like weight and pressure) rather than the identification of ultimate causes (like atoms).

Work on the general philosophy of science is concerned to identify an account of confirmation in science that can serve to distinguish it from other forms of knowledge but which is nevertheless historically sensitive.

A new, fourth, edition of What is this thing called science? is in preparation which will contain a thirteen thousand word Postscript that will develop and clarify themes in the earlier edition that draws on Alan’s latest book, The scientist’s atom and the philosopher’s stone.


One Hundred Years of Pressure: Hydrostatics from Stevin to Newton (2017) Springer International Press, Switzerland.

What Is This Thing Called Science?, (2013)Queensland University Press, Open University Press and Hackett Publishing Company. (First Edition, 1976, Second Revised Edition, 1982, Third Revised Edition, 1999). (Translated into French, German, Dutch, Italian, Spanish, Greek, Polish, Estonian, Latvian, Japanese, Chinese, Korean, Indonesian, Turkish, Iranian, Danish, Norwegian and Portuguese.)

The Scientist’s Atom and the Philosopher’s Stone: How Science Succeeded and Philosophy Failed to Gain Knowledge of Atoms. (2009) Springer.

Science and Its Fabrication, Open University Press and University of Minnesota Press, (1990).
(Translated into French, German, Dutch, Spanish, Korean and Chinese)

Some Recent Articles

“Understanding science through its history: A response to Newman’, Studies in History and Philosophy of Science, 42, (2011), 150-153.

‘The philosophical significance of Perrin’s experiments on Brownian motion’, British Journal for the Philosophy of Science, 62, (2011), 711-732.

‘Boyle and the origins of modern chemistry: Newman tried in the fire’, Studies in History and Philosophy of Science, 41, (2010), 1-10.

‘Atom and aether in nineteenth-century physics’,Foundations of Chemistry, 10, (2008), 157-166

‘The status of Dalton’s atomic theory’, The Rutherford Journal, 1, (2005)
‘The theory-dependence of the use of instruments in science’, Philosophy of Science, 70, (2003), 493-509.

"Atomism from the 17th to the 20th Century", Edward N. Zalta (ed.), The Stanford Encyclopedia Fall Edition.

‘Experiment versus mechanical philosophy in the work of Robert Boyle’, Studies in History and Philosophy of Science, 33, (2002), 191-97.
‘Maxwell, mechanism and the nature of electricity’, Physics in Perspective, 3, (2001), 425-438.

Book Chapters
with N. Rasmussen, ‘The role of theory in the use of instruments’ in J. Buchwald and A. Warwick (eds) ,Histories of the Electron: The Birth of Microphysics. MIT Press, (2001), 467-502.

‘Experiment and the growth of scientific knowledge’ in P. Gardenfors, J. Wolenski and K. Kijania-Placet (eds), In the Scope of Logic, Methodology and Philosophy of Science, Vol., 1, Dordrecht: Kluwer. (2002),157-169