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Experiment as the Only Guide

Experiment as the Only Guide

(p.77) Chapter Five Experiment as the Only Guide
About Method
Jutta Schickore
University of Chicago Press

Felice Fontana’s Treatise on the Venom of the Viper; on the American Poisons; and on the Cherry Laurel, and some other Vegetable Poisons is considered a milestone in venom research. Throughout the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, his research served as a starting point for investigations of snake venom, and his experimental methods were praised as exemplary. Fontana’s methods discourse was both as a creative appropriation of a long tradition and as a product of the challenges he encountered in his own endeavors. Fontana performed countless experiments to explore the effects of viper venom on the animal body, initially to confirm Redi’s (and Mead’s) view that the yellow liquor flowing from the viper’s protruding teeth was the substance that contained the poison. Like Redi and Mead, Fontana was a committed experimentalist. Unlike his predecessors, Fontana offered very detailed discussions of experimental strategies, emphasizing the significance of variations in experimental practice. The treatise describes numerous experiments on the nature and action of venom. As an integral part of the account, it offers detailed comments on proper procedure, describing countless variations and drawing attention to the circumstances of each trial.

Keywords:   snake venom, methods discourse, experimentation, variation, circumstances, Felice Fontana

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