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Mike Sutton
Mike Sutton
Dr Mike Sutton is the author of 'Nullius in Verba: Darwin's greatest secret'.
 

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On the Origin of the Word Asteroid: Big Data Strikes Again

Jun. 15, 2014 7:17 pm
image

Trumpet form the rooftopsPublic Domain

Important Postscript 18 September 2104. Example of unique strength and limitations of the IDD method kindly revealed by Dr Clifford Cunningham, who in fact found an earlier published use of the word asteroid and published it in his Ph.D. Armed with this intelligence, we know now that at least two famous books. published by two famous authors, contained the word asteroid before the son of Burney Jr recommended it be used in 1802.

IMPORTANT REFUTATION RESPONSE FROM

Dr. Clifford Cunningham

September 17, 2014 at 10:04 am Refutation of Your Asteroid Claim.

Since my professional research is being misrepresented in this blog, I feel compelled to respond. First, I did not claim the word asteroid was created by Burney Jr in 1801. The correct year is 1802. Second, this attack on my credibility was based entirely on a newspaper story that originally appeared in the Ft. Lauderdale Sun Sentinel. While it covered the main points, the writer did not even know the difference between etomology and etymology, so clearly this story (which was repeated by the Smithsonian website) is not a reliable source. The actual scholarly source for my research is contained in my PhD thesis, which was rated "great" and "worthy of a gold medal" by its professional examiners. The fact that the word asteroid had been used prior to 1802 is included in my thesis, but it was deemed irrelevant to my discovery that it was coined anew to describe Ceres and Pallas. Third, the IDD method is clearly faulty as a simple search on Google books will reveal that "asteroid" was coined for botanical use by the great Carl Linnaeus himself in 1767, four years before Forster used it. It is in the incredibly famous book Systema Naturae, Tomus II, on pg. 563. Thus, your entire premise collapses like a house of cards. The "rather improbable" was in fact reality.

I would appreciate it if the author either took down this page entirely as personal embarrassment to him, or at the very least acknowledged my position as the world authority on historical asteroid research.

****

[ Please refer to comments section below for my published apology to Dr Cunningham and recognition of his clearly superior knowledge on the topic. In light of what he tells us we now know that there was not just the one book he names that was discovered by him, but at least two publications (once we add the one independently discovered by myself) that used the word 'asteroid' before the son of Charles Burney Jr suggested its use. Mike Sutton ].

My ORGINAL - Incorrect and completely unedited - blog post - follows

The word asteroid is clearly one that is created from Greek asteroeidēs ‘starlike’, from astēr ‘star’ and from ‘oid’, which means like - from the Latin oides.

My Chambers Dictionary of Etymology (2012) has it that the word asteroid was first published in 1802. But it’s wrong, as is every other source including Wikipedia on 15th June 2014, which is the day I bust the Asteroid Myth.

Cunningham and Orchiston ( 2011) have the word 'asteroid' as being William Herschel’s invention in 1801 and was introduced to the Royal Society in 1802. They wrote: ‘The word “asteroid” was coined by Herschel,” But that too is wrong! Because Cunningham changed his mind two years later with new knowledge that the word ‘asteroid’ was supposedly coined by the son of Charles Burney Jr –in 1801 (Smithsonian.com).

At the time of writing, Cunningham is boldly claiming a new discovery that the son of Herschel's, Greek scholar poet friend Charles Burney Jr., originated the word asteroid in 1801 and, from that independently coined source, Burney gave it to Herschel: “It will actually cause books to be rewritten and dictionaries to be revised," said the astronomer. see here, and later: here. But, I am sorry to say that Clifford Cunningham's, revised knowledge is wrong about who actually coined the word 'asteroid', despite being most fascinating, compelling and hard won by years of expert, unique and extremely valuable research. The reason being that I achieved in five minutes what Cunningham could not have discovered in his 30 years of painstaking research into this precise topic. I expect that neither Cunningham nor any other scholar could have found out who actually coined the word 'asteroid' in 100 lifetimes with traditional expert scholarly techniques. After all, at what point would an astronomer start trawling through all the old books on plants to find the one word asteroid hidden on just one musty page in just one book?

'Big Data' 'Internet Date Detection' (IDD) analysis – the exact same new method that proved neither Darwin nor Wallace independently discovered ‘natural selection’ (Sutton 2014) - allowed me to boldly and uniquely go further than any other astronomer or etymologist to bust both the Herschel and Burney Asteroid Myths in just five minutes.

My Internet Date Detection (IDD) research method allowed me to analyse over 30 million documents in Google’s library to uniquely discover that John Reinhold Forster (1771, p. 37) used the word asteroid to name the chamomile flower fully thirty years before current knowledge has it as either Burney's or Herschel’s creation in 1801.

Using my IDD research method to search all the literature in Google's amazing Library Project, I was unable to find any other published sources of the word asteroid that came before Forster's 1771 book. Such a source might well exist, but it it does it has not yet been uploaded to the Internet. As for the existence of any other published sources between 1771 and 1801, I've not looked. If you want to find out for yourself then click here to learn how to use the IDD research method and see if you can add to our knowledge. Who knows, perhaps you will uniquely find a pre-1802 document containing the word 'asteroid' that we know, from the wider literature, was read by either Hershel or Banks.

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Trumpet from the rooftopsPublic Domain

Earlier use of the word asteroid from 1771

Matricaria, Fever Few, Asteroid

In typical 18th century archaic fonts, the lower case s appears like a modern f. Therefore, in the above image from Forster (1771) you can see the word 'asteroid' and discern also that it is likewise an s and not an f in the abbreviation 'Penslyv.'

image

Trumpet from the rooftopsPublic Domain

Fever few - named also in 1771 as 'asteroid'

Maticaria, also known as ‘fever few’, is a daisy lookalike plant perhaps best known today as chamomile.With hindsight, unsurprisingly, in light of my discovery, it is known also as one of the Aster family of plants asteraceae.

image

Trumpet from the rooftopsPublic Domain

Forster - published the word asteroid in 1771

Unless new evidence of earlier use comes to light it appears that John Rhinehold Forster, who was born in Poland in 1729, a German pastor-naturalist of Scottish descent coined the word asteroid whilst living in England in 1771. A year later he was made a fellow of the Royal Society.

In hs youth Forster was an outstanding student of ancient languages before making his name as the first leading authority on North American botany. He famously sailed with Captain Cook on Cook's second Pacific voyage and became professor of natural history and mineralogy at the University of Halle.

The word asteroid currently appears, then, to have been coined by Forster in 1771

Asteroid was, apparently, first an obscure botanical name, coined by Forster for a star shaped flower, before it was adopted by astronomers many years later.

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Trumpet from the rooftopsPublic Domain

Asteroid Flower

Did William Herschel or Charles Burney read Forster's famous book on North American plants before offering-up the word asteroid? Perhaps someone will soon find out. I'm not sure I've got the stomach to go looking myself - my recent research into the plagiarism by Darwin and Wallace, of another Scot - Patrick Matthew, has left me a little jaded and I'm rather tired of digging about in such foul historical matters this year. But some telling clues are present for anyone who cares to dig deeper in the hidden historical record and associated published literature. Perhaps Cunningham might use these initial clues to go deeper and tell a fuller story of the naming of the Asteroid? Firstly, Forster's associate, Joseph Banks of the Royal Society, had first been chosen for Cook's second Pacific voyage. Forster stepped into that role at Bank's recommendation, and they knew one another as fellow botanists as well as through being fellow's of the Royal Society. Of course, both Herschel (FRS) and Forster (FRS) were Royal Society fellows. But it is notable that they were also fellow Germans. These facts are all highly relevant since Banks and Hershel, both leading lights of the Royal Society, were a the centre of choosing and approving the astronomical term asteroid in the first half of the nineteenth century (see Cunningham and Orchiston 2011). Moreover, there may have been a powerfully malevolent reluctance to cite Forster because he was not well liked. In fact there would have been a great and powerful reluctance to acknowledge Forster's apparent coinage of the word asteroid since he had incurred the wroth of some of the most powerful men in England for publishing his findings separately from the official account of Cook's second Pacific voyage (see here). Forster died in 1798, three years before the word Asteroid was first proposed by Herschel. Forster has been described as '...a disagreeable sort who did not inspire trust, he soon found that professional opportunities for him in England had dried up.'

Forster is recognised as one of the earliest scholars to formally teach natural history. He knew many great men of science. For example, besides Banks he was well known to Benjamin Franklin.

Conclusion

It seems rather improbable to me that the word asteroid was coincidentally and independently coined by Burney's son and offered to Herschel given the close connections between Herschel and Forster via Banks. Most significantly, Banks recommended Forster to take his place on Cook's second Pacific voyage (see here).

Forster may well have been much despised by many members of the scientific establishment in the Royal Society, for publishing - against strict (though unfair) Admiralty prohibition - his independent account of discoveries made on the second Pacific voyage. Forster's disobedience towards the British Admiralty, a major source of scientific funding at the time, might explain the intense antipathy towards Herschel's (1802) choice of the word asteroid. If the widespread objection to the word asteroid was so politically motivated then the conventions of gentlemen of science of the Royal Society, and the British Association for Advancement of Science, would have forbidden any mention of that fact in the published scientific literature - a fact which might well explain the "asteroid-rage" displayed by members of the Royal Society who objected to Herschel's use of the word. Beyond pointing out these related facts that make Forster's and Herschel's use of the word asteroid a coincidence beyond belief, it is profitless, without more data, to construct and choose between unproven mere possibilities for any purpose other than entertaining self-excitement.

Whatever the facts of the case - which may never be known - in light of my discovery about Forster's earlier use of the word asteroid, more research is definitely needed by experts in the field.

Reflections

I recently gave my five year old daughter chamomile tea to help with symptoms of a stomach upset, and it seemed to work. She certainly got a lot of comfort from sipping it and believing it was helping. Perhaps now chamomile should be re-branded as “Asteroid Tea”?

Many years ago, I was once given a most delicious bottle of sweet home made chamomile wine when I visited someone in the French Alps. Since many more myths will be busted before the meteorological impact of big data analysis is done. I suspect that something stronger than a non-alcoholic herbal infusion will be required to comfort some of the expert authors of erroneous books and scholarly articles. Sweet soothing, delicious, aromatic, chamomile - "Asteroid Wine" - perhaps? Apparently "Asteroid Tea" is good for migraines - although nothing more than a placebo effect has been established, as far as I know..

I wonder if Asteroid Tea might ameliorate the effects of too much Asteroid Wine? Now that is one little experiment I might just conduct one day. Any chance of getting it funded do you think?

All joking and shameless trumpeting aside, I sincerely hope that Cunningham, or a similarly high-calibre expert, can utilise the discovery, uniquely revealed in this blog post, and set it in context of Cunningham's steadfast and important expert research into this particularly fascinating episode in the history of science.

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References

Cunningham, C. J. and Orchiston, W. (2011) Who invented the word asteroid: William Herschell or Stephen Weston? Journal of Astronomical History and Heritage. 14 (3). Pp. 230-211

Reinhold Forster, John (1771) Flora Americæ Septentrionalis; Or a Catalogue of the Plants of North America.Containing an Enumeration of the Known Herbs, Shrubs, and Trees, Many of which are But Lately Discovered; Together with Their English Names, the Places where They Grow, Their Different Uses, and the Authors who Have Described and Figured Them. B. White; and by T. Davies


 
Dr. Clifford Cunningham
September 17, 2014 at 10:04 am
Refutation of Your Asteroid Claim

Since my professional research is being misrepresented in this blog, I feel compelled to respond. First, I did not claim the word asteroid was created by Burney Jr in 1801. The correct year is 1802. Second, this attack on my credibility was based entirely on a newspaper story that originally appeared in the Ft. Lauderdale Sun Sentinel. While it covered the main points, the writer did not even know the difference between etomology and etymology, so clearly this story (which was repeated by the Smithsonian website) is not a reliable source. The actual scholarly source for my research is contained in my PhD thesis, which was rated "great" and "worthy of a gold medal" by its professional examiners. The fact that the word asteroid had been used prior to 1802 is included in my thesis, but it was deemed irrelevant to my discovery that it was coined anew to describe Ceres and Pallas. Third, the IDD method is clearly faulty as a simple search on Google books will reveal that "asteroid" was coined for botanical use by the great Carl Linnaeus himself in 1767, four years before Forster used it. It is in the incredibly famous book Systema Naturae, Tomus II, on pg. 563. Thus, your entire premise collapses like a house of cards. The "rather improbable" was in fact reality.

I would appreciate it if the author either took down this page entirely as personal embarrassment to him, or at the very least acknowledged my position as the world authority on historical asteroid research.

Thinker's Post
Mike Sutton
September 18, 2014 at 6:05 am

Dear Dr Cunningham

Very many thanks for your enlightening response. I am pleased, although very personally and painfully embarrassed, to learn that the media misrepresented the depth of your knowledge in this area. And I profoundly apologise for taking the media's (and Smithsonean website's) superficial interpretation of your knowledge at face value and running with it. My only wriggling excuse (for what little it is worth) being that nowhere other than here - in your comment - have I seen your fuller explanation of the facts of this matter.

I think it would be somewhat cowardly and unhelpful of me to remove what I have written here. When I am proven wrong I should admit it and provide the evidence for all to see. That is the painful price I believe we should all pay when we are proven wrong. I take your comments on the chin and would much rather add your refutation to the very top of this article as prominently as possible as a salutary reminder to myself and others not to take what we read in the press at superficial value. And I thank you for correcting the fact I have been harbouring wrong information on this topic in my brain these past few months. I am glad to have that remedied.

You are right about the limitations of the IDD method. It is only as good as what is scanned that actually exists and is only as good as what is scanned by the person doing the scanning. In which regard, if we look at the very bottom of the page to which you so rightly refer (it turns out) the "A" is missing from the word "asteroid" which is why I never detected it with IDD. This is because (it appears) the person doing the scanning missed it off their scanning of the page. I am genuinely glad to hear that you found this earlier publication of the word Asteroid and that you and cited it in your PhD. In favour of the IDD method, it does reveal that Forster published it in English before Burney used it in 1802 and so disproves the superficial information published in the newspapers and replicated (wrongly as it now turns out) on the esteemed Smithsonean website. I see now also that the full word "asteroids" also appears on p.116 of the earlier book - to which you kindly refer me - with a hyphen and the word spit on two "lines" of text.

For the record, I did try to contact you at a university in Thailand, and being unable to find an email address there or anywhere I did email a member of staff there and ask them to forward to you the information contained in this blog post - with a link to it, I can find that email if required to prove my good intentions in attempting to find out if the newspaper and Smithsonian reports were entirely representative of the depth of your knowledge on this topic..

The poorly scanned page (minus the "A" from asteroid in the word in question is to be found here: in the book and on its very page you inform me of (page 563)

For the record, I was wrong about the depth of your knowledge in this area - as you have now very kindly informed me that an earlier uniquely identified published use the word asteroid is actually contained in your PhD.

I have only one question: why do you reach the considered conclusion - now that we know that at least two famous books, written by two famous authors (the one you discovered plus the one that I discovered independently of you by using the ID method), contained the word 'asteroid' - that the son of Burney Jr did not read it in either book, but instead , as you write: "coined it anew"?


Sincere apologies and

Kindest regards

Mike Sutton

 

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