Giants and Dwarfs in Science, Technology and Medicine
The development of human understanding has not been balanced. Since time immemorial, it has depended on many objective and subjective factors. This unevenness is not merely chronological. Development also differed from region to region in a single era of history. Moreover, in a single region and a single era there may be great differences in the support of disciplines, teams, prominent figures. The title of the congress therefore features the terms “dwarfs” and “giants”, which symbolise this difference.
We can find a number of areas in which we, as science historians, use both terms figuratively. In what particular sense? We generally use these terms to refer to entities that stand out for their unusual size, i.e. entities that are visibly bigger than one might expect, or, on the other hand, considerably smaller.
Giants and dwarfs amongst scientific figures
First of all, we need to ask what are the criteria for the size of a scientific figure? Have they always been the same? To what extent do they relate to the criteria used today to evaluate science at the global or national levels? When classifying a particular scientist as a “giant”, does a historian make the decision based on that person’s scientific contribution, or rather how that individual was perceived and rated by his or her peers? Are the size, importance and respect of such figures also proof of their unity of status (e.g. scientific titles, membership of societies of excellence, receipt of national and international awards or awards within their field, etc.)