Sunday April 19th, 2020 Water Blog

The importance of rigorous experiment is not a new concept


The history of experimentation dates back to ancient Greece – and much of reported studies are arising from the Aristotelian and Ptolemaic vision of the universe. Robert Hooke (1635 – 1703) was an English scientist who was curator of experiments at the Royal Society. Robert Boyle (Boyle’s Law) was one of the founding members of the society in November 1660. Hooke and the medical Fellows he worked with, were very active during the Society’s first decade.  However, his incredible and renowned productivity in experiments slowed in 1665 when the plague caused many members to move to the safety of Oxford. In the years that followed, the level of experiments dropped off significantly. Hooke had incredible “commitment to the rigorous practice of experimental philosophy[1]” which maintained the Royal Society in the middle of a scientific revolution in the last part of the 17C.


These days we hear a lot in the media about the shortage of “reagents” necessary to do the quantity of testing needed for COVID-19. This testing is a critical part of understanding where the infection is in the community and across the globe. This COVID-19 testing involves using methods that are established and proven for many years. But innovations and experimentation in testing more quickly and with simple devices for rapid results, are under development at the moment.  These highly sought-after innovations will help with understanding how this current virus behaves.  Others like Dr David Ho are already interested in the study of the next viral pandemic.[2]

The current crisis has seen the importance of communication, a community-focused and cohesive effort. This is not a new approach, but an important one – The foundations of the Scientific Revolution in Elizabethan London were reported to depend on three interrelated social endeavours: forging communities, establishing literacies and engaging hands-on practices. [3] So, while we innovate for solutions in the COVID-19 crisis, we look back at very early approaches that demonstrated the need for experimentation, a good understanding through scientific research and a cohesive effort.

Unlike Hooke and colleagues during the plague of 1665 we cannot stop experimenting – in fact we need to ramp up the research efforts across the globe to address all the issues that are linked with the COVID-19 crisis.  This includes studies to understand the climate impacts as a result of our global distancing practices.



[1] A. Tinniswood, The Royal Society & The Invention of Modern Science, 2019 Head of Zeus Ltd.

[2] Matthew Hutson, The Quest for a Pandemic Pill, Can we prepare antivirals to combat the next global crisis? The New Yorker, April 13, 2020 Issue

[3] D. E. Harkness, The Jewel House Elizabethan London and the Scientific Revolution, 2007, Yale University Press.

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