Joseph Priestley

Joseph Priestley was a British chemist who was responsible for inventing the process for carbonation and the production of laughing gas, and therefore is indirectly responsible for “David After Dentist” and every soda you’ve ever enjoyed. Oh, he also discovered oxygen in 1774, which we guess is kind of useful, if you’re one of those people who’s into breathing.

"This 'oxygen' doesn't get me high at all. Back to the laughing gas!"

When Priestley discovered oxygen, he didn’t actually call it oxygen; he called it “dephlogisticated air,” but that’s probably pretty common. You don’t let the doctor who delivers your baby name it just because he’s the first person to discover it. Priestly probably had a simple but perfectly scientific reason for naming oxygen something so profoundly stupid.
Actually, he only went out of his way to discover oxygen in the first place to prop up his belief in the phlogiston theory, which is based on the assumption that there are four elements: water, earth, fire and air. While it was once the most popular explanation for the natural universe, the phlogiston theory has since gained attention for being the most swiftly and utterly disproved theory ever taken seriously by people over the age of 5.
Unfortunately, the theory’s plummet from grace occurred right smack in the middle of Priestley’s promising, and then increasingly hilarious, scientific career. While Priestley used his discovery of oxygen to declare “Phlogiston for life, bitches!” the rest of science was using it to demonstrate the exact degree to which his pet theory was full of shit, which turned out to be substantial. It was as if he’d discovered stem cell research, and then used it to support his belief that male babies are more likely to be delivered by a gray stork.

Seeing their opportunity to rub Priestley’s face in his own  theory, science proved that matter combines with oxygen through a process called oxidation and reduction, which in turn unlocked the building blocks of the natural universe. Despite his peers repeatedly pointing out how completely crazy it made him look, Priestley stuck to his guns. As the rest of science raced forward to where we are today, Priestley told them, “You guys go ahead without me, I’m going to hang back. I’ve got a good feeling about this theory that seems more appropriate for World of Warcraft.” (Not an exact quote.)

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  1. Joseph Priestley « Hourly Book
    May 1, 2012 at 9:29 am
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