The NYT covers a recent meeting of science historians about the role of alchemists in advancing various fields, particularly chemistry:
But in the revival of scholarship on the field, historians are finding reasons to give at least some alchemists their due. Even though they were secretive and self-deluded and their practices closer to magic than modern scientific methods, historians say, alchemists contributed to the emergence of modern chemistry as a science and an agent of commerce.
“Experimentalism was one of alchemy’s hallmarks,” said Lawrence M. Principe, a historian of science at Johns Hopkins University and a trained chemist. “You have to get your hands dirty, and in this way alchemists forged some early ideas about matter.”