For a long time, the idea of an "alchemist" was to equate it to a charalatan. This is so in the Yeoman's Tale in Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, where the alchemist pretends to have special knowledge wherein reason is a poor substitute for true faith. Or so the morality of the tale would suggest.
But not so, says Dr. Lawrence Pricipe of Jons Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland. His intention is to bring to light the history of alchemy and alchemists, giving them proper credit for at least giving the scientific method a try when science was sometimes little better than folk tales and tradition.
According to the Economist:
The work of Dr Principe, though, also serves as a useful reminder to modern scientists that even the most cherished theories need to be treated with constant scepticism. This is because, as the alchemists found out, it can be all too easy to see in your results what you want to see, rather than what is actually there.
Alchemy’s roots lie in Hellenistic Egypt. It was compounded from a mixture of practical knowledge of things like metallurgy, pharmacy and glassmaking with the Greek practice of analysing and theorising about the world that is known as philosophy. These Hermetic ideas (Hermes was the legendary founder of alchemy) were picked up and developed by Arab scholars when Egypt fell to the armies of Islam in the seventh century, and then transmitted to Europe during the scholastic renaissance of the 12th century.
Keep reading more aboout that at the Economist article here.