McCaffery & Weisberg: DOI: 10.18536/jge.2017.

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John Snow and the Waterborne Spread of Cholera: A Case Study of Scientific Creativity

Kevin McCaffery and Robert Weisberg
Temple University

The present paper provides an analysis of the creative processes underlying scientific creativity at the highest level, through a historical case study of John Snow’s development of the waterborne theory of the spread of cholera, a seminal achievement in the field of epidemiology. Using Snow’s publications, the papers of his contemporaries, and biographical data, we provide an account of Snow’s rejection of the then-dominant theory—miasmic theory—and his development of an alternative. We examine the factors that played a role in Snow’s advance, focusing on the role of ordinary thought processes, such as deductive, inductive, and analogical reasoning processes; and retrieval of information from memory and its application to the situation at hand. Although Snow’s momentous theoretical advance might appear to an outside observer to be the result of “outside-the-box thinking,” it is better understood as the outcome of ordinary thought processes.

McCaffery, K. & Weisberg, R. (2017). John Snow and the waterborne spread of cholera: A case study of scientific creativity. Journal of Genius and Eminence, 2(1), 1-14. http://dx.doi.org/10.18536/jge.2017.