List of multiple discoveries

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Historians and sociologists have remarked the occurrence, in science, of "multiple independent discovery". Robert K. Merton defined such "multiples" as instances in which similar discoveries are made by scientists working independently of each other.[1] "Sometimes", writes Merton, "the discoveries are simultaneous or almost so; sometimes a scientist will make a new discovery which, unknown to him, somebody else has made years before."[2]

Commonly cited examples of multiple independent discovery are the 17th-century independent formulation of calculus by Isaac Newton, Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz and others, described by A. Rupert Hall;[3] the 18th-century discovery of oxygen by Carl Wilhelm Scheele, Joseph Priestley, Antoine Lavoisier and others; and the theory of the evolution of species, independently advanced in the 19th century by Charles Darwin and Alfred Russel Wallace.

Multiple independent discovery, however, is not limited to such famous historic instances. Merton believed that it is multiple discoveries, rather than unique ones, that represent the common pattern in science.[4]

Merton contrasted a "multiple" with a "singleton"—a discovery that has been made uniquely by a single scientist or group of scientists working together.[5]

A distinction is drawn between a discovery and an invention, as discussed for example by Bolesław Prus.[6] However, discoveries and inventions are inextricably related, in that discoveries lead to inventions, and inventions facilitate discoveries; and since the same phenomenon of multiplicity occurs in relation to both discoveries and inventions, this article lists both multiple discoveries and multiple inventions.

3rd century BCE[edit]


13th century CE[edit]

14th century[edit]


16th century[edit]


17th century[edit]


18th century[edit]


19th century[edit]

Ramón y Cajal

20th century[edit]

Nettie Stevens
Alexander Friedmann
Hsien Wu
Perlmutter, Riess, Schmidt

21st century[edit]

McDonald, Kajita


"When the time is ripe for certain things, these things appear in different places in the manner of violets coming to light in early spring."

— Farkas Bolyai to his son János Bolyai, urging him to claim the invention of non-Euclidean geometry without delay,
quoted in Ming Li and Paul Vitanyi, An introduction to Kolmogorov Complexity and Its Applications, 1st ed., 1993, p. 83.

"[Y]ou do not [make a discovery] until a background knowledge is built up to a place where it's almost impossible not to see the new thing, and it often happens that the new step is done contemporaneously in two different places in the world, independently."

— a physicist Nobel laureate interviewed by Harriet Zuckerman, in Scientific Elite: Nobel Laureates in the United States, 1977, p. 204.

"[A] man can no more be completely original ... than a tree can grow out of air."

— George Bernard Shaw, preface to Major Barbara (1905).

I never had an idea in my life. My so-called inventions already existed in the environment – I took them out. I've created nothing. Nobody does. There's no such thing as an idea being brain-born; everything comes from the outside.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Priyamvada Natarajan notes that, while Le Verrier and Adams "shared credit for the discovery [of Neptune] until fairly recently ... historians of science [have] revealed that while Adams did perform some interesting calculations, his were not as precise or as accurate as Le Verrier's, and, moreover, he had not published his work, while Le Verrier had shared his predictions." Le Verrier "presented the calculated position of th[e] unseen planet [Neptune] to the French Academy of Sciences in Paris on August 31, 1846, barely two days before Adams mailed his own solution to the astronomer royal, George Airy, at the Greenwich Observatory so that his calculations could be checked. Neither Adams nor Le Verrier knew that the other had been researching Uranus's orbit." Natarajan also notes that, "Though Neptune wasn't properly identified until 1846, it had been observed much earlier.": by Galileo Galilei (1612, 1613); by Michel Lalande (8 and 10 May 1795), nephew and pupil of French astronomer Joseph-Jérôme Lalande; by Scottish astronomer John Lambert, while working at the Munich Observatory in 1845 and 1846; and by James Challis (4 and 12 August 1846).[37]


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