If John Michell was more well known, would he rank above Isaac Newton in the history of science?
I don't think so. Yes, Michell was a smart guy all right. He's the man who devised the torsion balance used by Henry Cavendish to determine the mass of the Earth. And he was way ahead of his time when it came to dark stars. See his paper here:
"Dear Sir, The method, which I mentioned to you when I was last in London, by which it might perhaps be possible to ind the distance, magnitude, and weight of some of the fixed stars, by means of the diminution of the velocity of their light, occurred to me soon after i wrote what is mentioned by Dr. Priestley in his History of optics, concerning the diminution of the velocity of light in consequence of the attraction of the sun; but the extreme difficulty, and perhaps impossibility, of procuring the other data necessary for this purpose appeared to be to be such objections against the scheme, when I first thought of it, that I gave it them no farther consideration. As some late observations, however, begin to give us a little more chance of procuring some at least of these date, I thought it would not be amiss, that astronomers should be apprized of the method, I propose (which, as far as I know, has not been suggested by any one else) left, for want of being aware of the use, which may be made of them, they should neglect to make the proper observations, when in their power; I shall therefore beg the favour of you to present the following paper on this subject to the Royal Society..."
I just love this bit:
“if any other luminous bodies should happen to revolve about them we might still perhaps from the motions of these revolving bodies infer the existence of the central ones with some degree of probability”.
That’s exactly what we’ve done to establish the existence of a supermassive black hole in the centre of our galaxy. But I think Newton was a true genius. I've done a lot of research into the history of physics. and I'm something of an Einstein fan. But I have to say I think Newton is number one. That's why I wrote a little physicsworld article called Mr Newton's classroom back in 2010. I've done a lot more reading since then, and I still think Newton is number one.