Those who have adopted these opinions, represent the atom of azote by the number 1.75. We consider the 5 compounds of azote and oxygen, as composed of 1 atom azote, united with 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5, atoms of oxygen.

1831, Thomas Thomson, A System of Chemistry of Inorganic Bodies, Volume 1, page 133

Azote is a historical term for nitrogen in English, and the current term for Nitrogen in several European languages. It comes from the Greek, meaning “without life”. I came across the quote above while reading the Wiktionary page for azote, probably as a result of reading about other gases, such as firedamp and blackdamp (fantastic names!), which you might find in mines, and that could kill you.

There’s something a bit odd about the quote. It was the first time for me, reading a formally written, scientific book, where I thought “hold on, this can’t be right”. I tended to take books (other than those about psychology or politics) as being true, even knowing the history of how scientific thought and theories developed. This was the first time I saw it: I know from high school chemistry that NO5 is not a real compound (reading the book further you can tell that they didn’t know about hydrogen).

The textbooks I read came with lessons that tested on their contents; the “right answer” was the one coming from the textbook. Everything was either obviously right (i.e. agreed with the textbook) or obviously wrong (e.g. an argument for why the earth was flat). There was no nuance, and all debates were in the realms of philosophy or politics where either side could be right.

Since then I’ve seen arguments for flat earthism where I don’t know what’s wrong with them directly, though I know something must be. Out of say 20 arguments, I might know what’s wrong with 10 or so immediately, and be able to figure out a few more. Doubtless they’re debunked in detail elsewhere, but I’m not scientifically literate enough to know whether the debunking is correct or not.

Before reading the azote quote, I “knew” that books could be wrong. But because all the examples I had were obviously wrong, I didn’t really “understand” that.