Divergent histories of Bose-Einstein statistics and forgotten achievements of Władysław Natanson (1864–1937)

Studia Historiae Scientiarum recently published an extensive 137-page research article in English by Michał Kokowski in the “Science Beyond Borders” section entitled “Divergent histories of Bose-Einstein statistics and forgotten achievements of Władysław Natanson (1864–1937)”.

In this post on our blog, Michał Kokowski explains why he became interested in the topic and sketches the most important achievements of his research.


I chose this topic for the article because the achievements of Władysław Natanson (1864–1937) in the creation of Bose-Einstein statistics are still not well known.

In the article I present the results of my research on this subject.

In the introductory part of the article I point to the existence of divergent research perspectives used so far in the description of the history of Bose-Einstein statistics. I also present my own integrated approach, which eliminates the disadvantages of divergent perspectives. It consists in recognizing the existence of a hierarchy of validity of complementary research perspectives.

I later use the integrated approach to describe the achievements of Władysław Natanson (1864–1937) related to the creation of Bose-Einstein statistics. I present his achievements in the context of the discussions that, albeit relatively sporadically, took placeamong various groups of researchers: historians and philosophers of science, physicists and sociologists of scientific knowledge in the 20th and 21st century.

I reorganize this discussion and list all of Natanson’s publications on the subject. I also indicate the strategy of reliable citation of a bibliography by Natanson regarding the explanation of the distribution of black body radiation and related issues. I significantly expand the list of scientists who knew Natanson’s publications. I also correct many erroneous or simplified statements about Natanson and the importance of his publications and I explain the precursory character of his achievements.

In the course of the discussion, I recall already known terminological conventions: “Bose statistics” and “Bose-Einstein statistics”, as well as the recently introduced: “Planck-Bose statistics” (1984), “Natanson statistics” (1997, 2013), “Natanson-Bose-Einstein statistics” (2005) and “Planck-Natanson-Bose-Einstein statistics” (2011). I also introduce new terminological conventions: “Boltzmann-Planck-Natanson statistics” and “Boltzmann-Planck-Natanson-Bose-Einstein statistics”.

A by-product of my research on Natanson’s accomplishments is an important discovery that the American sociologist Robert K. Merton (1910–2003) – the author of the famous term ‘the Matthew effect” (1968) – chose this name using erroneous premises in the field of biblical exegesis, and therefore this effect (having very negative ethical connotations) should be called the name of its actual discoverer.

The article is accompanied by four additions. In the first one I present reflections on the methodology of history and the history of exact sciences, and in the second one – a commentary on the use of the terms: “Bose statistics”, “Bose-Einstein statistics”, “Einstein-Bose statistics” and “Planck-Bose statistics”. In the third  one, I disclose the existence of a very important letter from Max Planck to Władysław Natanson on 25 January 1913, and in the fourth I analyze fragments of two letters from Sommerfeld to Rubinowicz from 1 October 1919 and 1 November 1919.

I am refering to the full article:

Michał Kokowski, Divergent histories of Bose-Einstein statistics and forgotten achievements of Władysław Natanson (1864–1937)

see the article on the SHS website