Drivers of scientific success; an analysis of terrestrial magnetism on the Discovery Antarctic expedition, 1901-04 (2013)
Type of ContentTheses / Dissertations
Thesis DisciplineAntarctic Studies
Degree NameDoctor of Philosophy
PublisherUniversity of Canterbury. Gateway Antarctica
AuthorsAtkin, Andrew Jamesshow all
The turn of the twentieth century was an era of intense exploratory and scientific activity on and around the Antarctic continent. A few campaigns specialised in either territorial discovery or scientific inquiry, but most combined exploration and science in a comfortable alliance that produced results in both arenas. In recent years the scientific achievements of the Discovery expedition (1901-04) have been the subject of renewed analysis, but it is never clear what criteria, if any, are being applied to support statements about scientific success. This research is founded on a case study focused on the magnetic science program of the Discovery expedition commencing with preparations, performance of magnetic observing at sea and ashore, post-expedition management of the products of research, and finally, arrangements for publication. The case study forms the basis for firstly, identifying the indicators of scientific success and secondly, an analysis of the relative contributions of the drivers promoting quality scientific outcomes during the era of Antarctic scientific exploration between 1898 and 1914. The principal elements contributing to superior outcomes are identified as the human elements of preparation, leadership, scientific practice, skill, knowledge development and finally post-expedition management of data or collections gathered during fieldwork. No single element guarantees scientific success; it is a product of a combination of factors, but failure in just one facet can undermine outcomes fatally. The effectiveness of the relationship between these factors determines the degree of success or failure of a program. Achieving the potential of a research program relies on elements coming together in a timely and synergistic manner in combination with a measure of luck. There was confusion between the magnetic work intended to provide improved charts for navigation purposes and the scientific research designed to help solve the causes of terrestrial magnetism and it’s effects. The magnetic work of the expedition was divided into three distinct operations. Firstly, observations were made at sea in the ship’s purpose built magnetic observatory and using a recently developed instrument for the determination of magnetic dip and force. The results were ultimately never published due to the inadequacy of the instrument and the difficulties of taking reliable observations at sea. Secondly, a fixed observatory was established at the base station in Antarctica where a different set of instruments recorded the magnetic elements almost continuously over the two-year stay of the expedition. There was sufficient data from those observations to form the core of the scientific reports on terrestrial magnetism, but large amounts of data were considered unreliable and either discarded, or included with cautionary notes. Thirdly, magnetic observations made on exploratory sledging journeys away from the ice station added evidence for theoretical determination of the location of the South Magnetic Pole and for mapping the lines of equal magnetic declination radiating from it. The conclusions from these journeys were brought into doubt by evidence from later expeditions. During fund raising and promotion of the expedition, Sir Clements Markham, President of the Royal Geographical Society stated firstly, that products of the magnetic research would include new magnetic charts of value to mariners and secondly, there would be significant leaps in knowledge informing magnetic theory. These were ambitious objectives and neither were realised, although the data collected did add to knowledge of the characteristic fluctuations of the magnetic field at high latitudes. Collaborative arrangements planned between the Discovery, the German Gauss expedition and various established land observatories never reached their potential. This was partly due to an error in the timing of synchronous observations, but mainly a result of collapse of the intended post-expedition data sharing arrangements related to rejection by the Germans of the unreliable data from Discovery and failure by the English to publish data in a mutually useful format. The thesis closes with analysis of how well the Discovery’s outcomes matched their potential and concludes that, with respect to magnetic science, institutional failures led to avoidable deficiencies in areas of recruitment, training, governance and leadership, procedures, instrumentation and post-expedition management of data and publication preparations.