University of Cambridge > Talks.cam > Sedgwick Club talks > Building a model from scratch: Gravity, the earth’s figure, and the problems of measurement in geoscience, 1680-1924

Building a model from scratch: Gravity, the earth’s figure, and the problems of measurement in geoscience, 1680-1924

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“Understanding the inferential structure and justification of scientific measurements is a crucial problem for scientists and philosophers of science alike. However, the standard work on the philosophy measurement is almost exclusively based on case studies from experimental physics or behavioural science. My work aims to enrich our understanding of measurement by focussing on some of the central problems in the history of physical geoscience, where measured system are significantly more complex and it is virtually impossible to shield measurements from confounding perturbations. In this talk, I present some of my results based on a study of geodetic measures of the earth’s figure and external gravity field. I give an overview of how these measurements developed, starting with the work of Isaac Newton and ending with the first global reference ellipsoid and gravity field models that were accepted in the 1920. I hope to illustrate two basic points. First, constructing even the most basic models and measurements in physical geoscience involved substantial mathematical, empirical, and philosophical problems that are easily overlooked from today’s perspective. Second, understanding the methods by which scientists overcame these problems holds valuable lessons for both our understanding of measurement and current geoscientific practice.”

This talk is part of the Sedgwick Club talks series.

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