Saturday, February 18, 2017

Churchill: friend of science

Did you know that Winston Churchill was quite interested in science and did his own bits of popular science writing in his day?   No, nor did I.

This Nature article, written because of the recent re-discovery of an essay he wrote "Are we alone in the Universe?" in 1939, is a great read.   Here are some extracts:
Winston Churchill is best known as a wartime leader, one of the most influential politicians of the twentieth century, a clear-eyed historian and an eloquent orator. He was also passionate about science and technology.

Aged 22, while stationed with the British Army in India in 1896, he read Darwin's On the Origin of Species and a primer on physics. In the 1920s and 1930s, he wrote popular-science essays on topics such as evolution and cells in newspapers and magazines. In a 1931 article in The Strand Magazine entitled 'Fifty Years Hence'1, he described fusion power: “If the hydrogen atoms in a pound of water could be prevailed upon to combine together and form helium, they would suffice to drive a thousand-horsepower engine for a whole year.” His writing was likely to have been informed by conversations with his friend and later adviser, the physicist Frederick Lindemann.

During the Second World War, Churchill supported the development of radar and Britain's nuclear programme. He met regularly with scientists such as Bernard Lovell, the father of radio astronomy. An exchange about the use of statistics to fight German U-boats captures his attitude. Air Chief Marshal Arthur 'Bomber' Harris complained, “Are we fighting this war with weapons or slide rules?” Churchill replied, “Let's try the slide rule.”2
 Once again, evidence that conservatism in the modern political world (especially in America) has undergone a worrying change.

1 comment:

Jason Soon said...

British conservatives have always been sounder (and less moralistic)than American conservatives. they are just a more empirical people