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dc.contributor.authorFalconer, Isobel
dc.identifier.citationFalconer , I 2017 , ' No actual measurement ... was required : Maxwell and Cavendish's null method for the inverse square law of electrostatics ' , Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part A , vol. 65-66 , pp. 74-86 .
dc.identifier.otherPURE: 245237356
dc.identifier.otherPURE UUID: 8c6a19e2-0c20-48c0-9779-2d33568be390
dc.identifier.otherScopus: 85019642221
dc.identifier.otherORCID: /0000-0002-7076-9136/work/46761206
dc.identifier.otherWOS: 000418627500008
dc.description.abstractIn 1877 James Clerk Maxwell and his student Donald MacAlister refined Henry Cavendish’s 1773 null experiment demonstrating the absence of electricity inside a charged conductor. This null result was a mathematical prediction of the inverse square law of electrostatics, and both Cavendish and Maxwell took the experiment as verifying the law. However, Maxwell had already expressed absolute conviction in the law, based on results of Michael Faraday’s. So, what was the value to him of repeating Cavendish’s experiment? After assessing whether the law was as secure as he claimed, this paper explores its central importance to the electrical programme that Maxwell was pursuing. It traces the historical and conceptual re-orderings through which Maxwell established the law by constructing a tradition of null tests and asserting the superior accuracy of the method. Maxwell drew on his developing ‘doctrine of method’ to identify Cavendish’s experiment as a member of a wider class of null methods. By doing so, he appealed to the null practices of telegraph engineers, diverted attention from the flawed logic of the method, and sought to localise issues around the mapping of numbers onto instrumental indications, on the grounds that ‘no actual measurement … was required’.
dc.relation.ispartofStudies in History and Philosophy of Science Part Aen
dc.rights© 2017 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved. This work has been made available online in accordance with the publisher’s policies. This is the author created accepted version manuscript following peer review and as such may differ slightly from the final published version. The final published version of this work is available at:
dc.subjectNull methodsen
dc.subjectCoulomb's lawen
dc.subjectInverse square lawen
dc.subjectJames Clerk Maxwellen
dc.subjectHenry Cavendishen
dc.subjectQA Mathematicsen
dc.subjectQC Physicsen
dc.titleNo actual measurement ... was required : Maxwell and Cavendish's null method for the inverse square law of electrostaticsen
dc.typeJournal articleen
dc.contributor.institutionUniversity of St Andrews.Applied Mathematicsen
dc.description.statusPeer revieweden

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