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Many, Many Experiments

Many, Many Experiments

(p.28) Chapter Two Many, Many Experiments
About Method
Jutta Schickore
University of Chicago Press

In the mid-seventeenth century, experiments on snake venom were conducted within the larger contexts of discussions about body functions and the nature of disease; about blood, its role in the body, and its circulation; about nerve function and the theory of animal spirits; about chemical and mechanical philosophy; about iatrochemistry; and about the analogy between the actions of poisons and the actions of specific medicines. Francesco Redi’s extended studies of viper venom showed that a substance was responsible for the adverse effects of the bite—namely, the “yellow liquor” that was discharged from the viper’s teeth. Taken by mouth, this substance was innocent. Put in wounds, it was fatal to humans and animals. Moyse Charas, his French adversary, turned against Redi and argued that the rage of the viper was responsible for the fatal effects. These writings on venom exemplify how more concrete methodological views and conceptions of experimentation were integrated in experimental reports to establish proper procedure. Two experimental strategies stand out: comparisons and repetitions. The chapter argues that repetitions, not comparisons, were the new feature in Redi’s experimental project.

Keywords:   snake venom, methods discourse, experimentalism, experimental reports, repetition, Francesco Redi, Moyse Charas

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