Posts Tagged ‘Charles Darwin’

So Kate and Will have chosen Westminster Abbey for their wedding on April 29, 2011. Among their wedding guests will be some of the greatest lights of British science who are buried in the Nave. The guest list includes Sir Isaac Newton, Ernest Rutherford, JJ Thompson, Lord Kelvin and Charles Darwin.

There could be some drama at the reception if Newton and Darwin get to arguing about religion and science. Newton was a devout biblical literalist who computed the age of the universe as being 6000 years by measuring the “begats” in Genesis. Darwin, on the other hand, gave us the scientific theory of evolution that is still upsetting people of Newton’s religious temperament today.

Sir Isaac Newton, 1689

Sir Isaac Newton, 1689

Since the bride and bridegroom majored in art history in college, they might be more interested in their guests in Poet’s Corner, where Tennyson, Dickens and Chaucer share a cozy nook with Rudyard Kipling and Laurence Olivier.

The Brontë sisters are only commemorated, not buried, in the Abbey, as are Lord Byron, Oscar Wilde, Shakespeare, Jane Austen, and Paul Dirac.

Dirac was well known for his verbal brevity. One apocryphal story learned by every physics graduate student at some time in their education has a student raising his hand during a lecture, complaining that he didn’t understand what Dirac had just said. Dirac replied with a brief, “Yes,” and moved one.

But what Dirac doesn’t contribute to the conversation will be more than made up by Oscar Wilde, who is likely to have guests in stitches with his wry social banter, even though he’s been out of circulation since he died 110 years ago.

Good job, Science is Vital

It’s normally hard to get scientists out of their labs for anything other than food or caffeine, but about 2,000 of them managed to make it to a demonstration outside the British Treasury today to protest the drastic cuts being made to the UK science budget in the name of deficit reduction.

Students of science around the world end up having to learn a lot of British names, like Isaac Newton, Charles Darwin anmd Stephen Hawking, just to name three. That’s because UK has produced far more than its fair share of the world’s cumulative scientific knowledge, even while spending less on science per capita than other modern countries.

A scientific community has to be grown and nurtured across many generations. You can’t just add money to smart people and grow one overnight.

And scientists are mobile — they travel very easily from countries that don’t want them to countries that do. The countries that do want them end up more prosperous than the countries that don’t.

Now I have to be honest — there are a lot of British physicists I would be happy to see more of in America. But my pleasure will come at the UK’s expense, and I think the government needs to reconsider this decision.

You can read more about this topic at the Science is Vital website.