Monday, May 25, 2015

Scientifically speaking

A flash from the past can certainly help inform our thinking today in a most scientific way!

Mesmerized: how Ben Franklin solved a mystery that baffled all of France by Mara Rockliff tells of a time in 1776 when Ben Franklin traveled to France to petition the King for money to support the American Revolution.  While there, a Dr. Mesmer was creating a stir in society by hypnotizing people.  He convinced people that plain water could taste like strawberries or vinegar; he seemingly cured people of illnesses; and for a price he was willing to share his secrets. Some in society were less than enthralled with Dr. Mesmer’s ability and the King decided to have Ben Franklin assess these magical powers.

So using sound scientific reasoning, B.F. began his assessment:
1.     He observed Dr. Mesmer’s effect on different patients and compared them to his  own experience.   (B.F. was unaffected.)
2.    He hypothesized that patients were convincing themselves of these changes     and not by Dr. Mesmer’s invisible force.
3.    By blindfolding the patients, B.F. was able to test his hypothesis. Being unable   to see the doctor meant patients couldn't tell if the doctor was even in the room let alone waving his wand in an attempt to hypnotize them.
4.   The testing supported B.F.’s theory.  He told the King his conclusions and Dr. Mesmer left Paris.

This is the strength of this book. It takes a true historical event and shows how science and scientific thinking was able to solve a conundrum.

Additional information is provided that explains that the placebo effect is credited to Dr. Mesmer.  We also learn that in France at the time of Ben Franklin’s visit, Paris was agog with many new discoveries such as invisible gases (hydrogen and oxygen) and the lift-off of a hot air balloon.  The French were impressed with B.F.’s own discoveries and inventions, making him somewhat of a celebrity. A few of the details of the story were gently ‘massaged’ and the afterward credits other French scientists with assisting B.F.

I really enjoyed the illustrations, as well.  Lots of play with fonts and sizing, pages divided into panels, interesting perspectives, dynamic facial expressions, and boxed information to clearly outline the process of testing a theory.

I highly recommend this for elementary grades.

But a word of caution --don't stare at the end papers too long, otherwise you may find yourself becoming sleepy, very, very sleepy....


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