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United Kingdom Science

Winston Churchill's Scientists 77

HughPickens.com writes Nicola Davis writes at The Guardian that a new exhibition at London's Science Museum tiitled Churchill's Scientists aims to explore how a climate that mingled necessity with ambition spurred British scientists to forge ahead in fields as diverse as drug-discovery and operational research, paving the way for a further flurry of postwar progress in disciplines from neurology to radio astronomy. Churchill "was very unusual in that he was a politician from a grand Victorian family who was also interested in new technology and science," says Andrew Nahum. "That was quite remarkable at the time." An avid reader of Charles Darwin and HG Wells, Churchill also wrote science-inspired articles himself and fostered an environment where the brightest scientists could build ground-breaking machines, such as the Bernard Lovell telescope, and make world-changing discoveries, in molecular genetics, radio astronomy, nuclear power, nerve and brain function and robotics. "During the war the question was never, 'How much will it cost?' It was, 'Can we do it and how soon can we have it?' This left a heritage of extreme ambition and a lot of talented people who were keen to see what it could provide." (More, below.)
According to Cambridge Historian Richard Toye, Churchill was a "closet science-fiction fan" who borrowed the lines for one of his most famous speeches from H. G. Wells — to depict the rise of Hitler's Germany. "It's a bit like Tony Blair borrowing phrases from Star Trek or Doctor Who," says Toye. A close friend of Wells, Churchill said that The Time Machine was "one of the books I would like to take with me to Purgatory". Wells and Churchill met in 1902 and several times thereafter, and kept in touch in person and by letter until Wells' death in 1946. "We need to remember that there was a time when Churchill was a radical liberal who believed these things," Toye adds. "Wells is often seen as a socialist, but he also saw himself as a liberal, and he saw Churchill as someone whose views were moving in the right direction."
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Winston Churchill's Scientists

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  • by rmdingler ( 1955220 ) on Sunday January 18, 2015 @09:52AM (#48844413) Journal
    Pro-science politicians, let alone those who value the scientific method on par with weekly polls, are seemingly still in short supply....

    unless you're talking about advances in military superiority.

    There's an interesting argument to be made for man's warrior nature being the impetus for much of his science and engineering development.

    • Re: (Score:1, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      This reminds me of that stupid capitalist argument that a baker does not bake for the love of his customers but because he needs money to survive.

      On the contrary, the best bakers love baking and need money to survive. It's just that capitalism (or Stalinism, or Nazism, since we're looking at mid-C20) pushes out those who are good at making bread in favour of those good at making money or war. There is no reason not to build a society based on people doing things they love, in which shirkers are ejected rath

      • by Crashmarik ( 635988 ) on Sunday January 18, 2015 @11:30AM (#48844877)

        Well then, what do you do with people who aren't good at what they love doing, or whose labor is not in demand ?

        What you are falling into is the classic mistake of the labor theory of value. It was wrong in Marx's day and it is still wrong today.

        • by PPH ( 736903 ) on Sunday January 18, 2015 @11:40AM (#48844939)

          Well then, what do you do with people who aren't good at what they love doing, or whose labor is not in demand?

          Management [wikipedia.org]

        • by sjames ( 1099 )

          That's a good question which capitalism has utterly failed to answer. Generally, for the first part, we push them into something they hate and so they do as little as possible (often for crappy pay) and in the latter, we pay them just enough to keep them from starving in the street but not enough to get an education in something that is in demand.

    • by NicBenjamin ( 2124018 ) on Sunday January 18, 2015 @10:51AM (#48844665)

      The problem with science spending in the current environment is that a) a lot of it has become politicized ( certain strain of budget-cutting Republican is very skeptical of anything that pro-AGW-scientist do), and b) we've been in fire government employees mode since Bush got termed out. Look at it this way: The IRS's is one of the last government departments that a rational person would cut because IRS Agents earn their keep by nailing tax cheats. Even if each agent is only finding $0.50 on the dollar, you have to cut $2 in IRS spending to equal a $1 cut anywhere else. And we're cutting the IRS. Congress is not in a invest-in-the-future mode, it is in a cut-government-spending-so-private-companies-can-magically-appear-and-invest-in-the-future-their-own-damn-selves mode.

      A scientist, who is probably so naive that they honestly think the founders sole objective in creating the Federal government was to protect freedom*, asking for money that could a) result in nothing more interesting then proving his line of research is a dead end, or b) revolutionize some obscure field Congressmen cannot spell properly, does not stand a fucking chance.

      *If your sole objective is freedom-protection you don't create a Federal government. The Founders were actually trying to do something very, very complex: create a government that restricted freedom enough it could effectively a) resist future British attempts to retake the colonies and b) destroy those goddamn Indians in Ohio once and for all, without c) granting it sufficient anti-freedom powers that it could seriously oppress the people.

      Note that their definition of freedom was wonky. If there'd been any chance the Federal government could end slavery, most of them would have considered that "serious oppression," so they specifically designed there Feds so that could only happen under the most dire of circumstances.

      • The IRS's is one of the last government departments that a rational person would cut because IRS Agents earn their keep by nailing tax cheats.

        Or you'd simplify the tax code, which would make it easier to spot them, and which would lead to less mistakes which means less fraud and less errors. Then you wouldn't need so many tax collectors.

        If your sole objective is freedom-protection you don't create a Federal government.

        Wait, what? If your goal is to give states freedom to oppress people, that's true. Otherwise, false.

        Founders were actually trying to do something very, very complex: create a government that restricted freedom enough

        The founders were trying to maintain a status quo in which they and their ilk would control society. They suceeded. They were wealthy, racially privileged land owners, just like in Athens. And guess what? Wealthy, racially privileged land owners still run the country, so mission accomplished.

        • Or you'd simplify the tax code, which would make it easier to spot them, and which would lead to less mistakes which means less fraud and less errors.

          Fewer mistakes do not lead to fewer fraud cases. Fraudsters know they are cheating. They're not making 'mistakes.'

          I'm not indisposed to simplifying the tax code, but let's not kid ourselves into thinking that this would somehow 'simplify' the ever-inventive schemes of tax fraudsters.

          • by sjames ( 1099 )

            The tax code is complex so the wealthiest can simultaneously pay less taxes than the value they derive and denigrate those who pay more taxes than they can afford and derive less value than they put in.

        • The IRS's is one of the last government departments that a rational person would cut because IRS Agents earn their keep by nailing tax cheats.

          Or you'd simplify the tax code, which would make it easier to spot them, and which would lead to less mistakes which means less fraud and less errors. Then you wouldn't need so many tax collectors.

          That's virtually impossible to do under our system. It's incredibly complex, with a whole panoply of veto points, and it's specifically designed so that the same individual can never have control of all of those veto points.

          Which means if you're taking a tax break away from somebody who uses it, they have a dozen or so places to stop you.

          OTOH, why is the Canadian prime Minister Prime Minister? Because he has the Confidence of Parliament. What does that mean we he tells the Chair of some damn finance subcomm

          • If your sole objective is freedom protection you're an anarchist, and instead of creating a new level of potential oppressors you abolish all levels of potential oppressors.

            That's a cute idea, but it's hopelessly naive. You can never eliminate all potential oppressors until you're the only one left alive. You've got to sleep sometime, and any one of us can maim or kill any other one of us because humans are fragile. If that's the future you want, you're going to find yourself in very little company one way or another.

            Freedom can't exist without vigilance, and again, you've got to sleep sometime. That's why you can't have a free market without laws which protect it and fair enf

    • He pretty much Gave the bomb to both the British and the Soviets.

      • by Tim99 ( 984437 )
        No, Fuchs did not pass on information to the British.

        You do know that the British worked on the Manhattan project and were working on an atomic bomb before the Americans?
        See Frisch–Peierls: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/... [wikipedia.org]–Peierls_memorandum
        The early work by the British and Canadians was one reason why the Manhattan project was successful in a relatively short timescale.

        • by Grog6 ( 85859 )

          I'll stand by what I said; we did Not share everything with the British, without Fuchs, tit would have taken them much longer.

          Soviets too.

          • by Tim99 ( 984437 )
            Sorry no. When Fuchs worked at Los Alamos on the Manhattan Project he was a British citizen (since 1942), although by that time he had been recruited (at least as a fellow traveller) by the Soviets; who were now allies. He was also a Quaker.

            At no point was Fuchs an American citizen. As he was, at the time, perhaps the leading theoretician on plutonium implosion; it seems more logical to argue that without Fuchs it would have taken the Americans much longer, particularly as all the devices, other than Litt

    • by readin ( 838620 )
      Churchill is a huge hero for both Republicans and conservatives.
    • by gl4ss ( 559668 )

      at least vernes scifi had speculative fiction parts in it.

      unlike fantasy crap like dr who where 'science' is exchangeable with 'magic' and used almost solely for making the lazy plots to work(goes mostly for star trek as well but at least that one has some future society ponderings in it making it somewhat relevant).

      maybe that's why science is so underrated now then? because people are equating pulling anything goes in any which order plot shit out and calling scientific? like, you could just as well say th

  • by Anonymous Coward
    I read that Churchills left arm was actually steam powered and included a wide array of weaponry. His support of scientists was not so much a matter of vision as a necessity for keeping his artifical heart in good operation. #rupertstruth
  • Most Secret War (Score:5, Interesting)

    by hughbar ( 579555 ) on Sunday January 18, 2015 @11:04AM (#48844733) Homepage
    Although I'm old enough to have seen Churchill's funeral, I wasn't really aware of this. There's a good clue in his quote 'give them what they want' for Bletchley Park. Anyway, a good read about science and intelligence [apart from Collosus etc.] in WW2 is: http://www.hive.co.uk/book/mos... [hive.co.uk]

    We're coming up to an election in UK and we don't seem to have anyone much that appreciates science amongst our politicians. It's a real problem since the actual world is now full of pure science and technology. Still, we have lawyers and people that understand ancient Greek, they are always -really- useful.
    • Isn't it interesting, Churchill was a fan of H.G. Wells, Churchill was fighting against Nazism, the interesting bit is that H.G. Wells was a socialist fascist, he was arguing for a Nazi version of socialism rather than the Marxist version. Marxist version of socialism is international socialism and Nazi version is purely national version, where one socialist nation becomes the de facto ruler. Nazis realised that Marxism was impossible to implement and that the only way that socialism could work for one pa

      • by sjames ( 1099 )

        So you're saying it is better to enslave the many in poor conditions for the benefit of the few rather than enslaving the few under posh conditions for the benefit of the many?

    • Although I'm old enough to have seen Churchill's funeral

      Doubleplus unyoung!

    • by Raisey-raison ( 850922 ) on Sunday January 18, 2015 @02:06PM (#48845771)
      There was an article in the economist [economist.com] about how statisticians also served in WW II. They were indispensable to making sure that Britain did not starve. Before WW II the country imported most of its food. They enabled it stay in the war undefeated until the entry of the USA.

      Among the instances of their success was their analysis of the distribution of German bombs falling on London each day. They concluded that the Germans were trying to destroy the docks but missing. They conducted quality-control in the manufacture of aircraft components, and the calculation of the distribution of stresses on aircraft in flight. The aimed to load planes up to the point that the wings were about to drop off. The research meant the RAF dropped more bombs, and brought more pilots safely home, than it would have otherwise.

      They used sequential methods for the first time in trials of medical treatments. Analyzing the results of a trial bit by bit, rather than all at once when it was finished, meant it could be stopped straight away if it became clear that the new treatment was so good that everyone should be getting it, or indeed useless or even dangerous. This simple-sounding idea, now standard in medical trials, requires great statistical sophistication—and saved many lives.

      But after the war, so much of this was not integrated into the British educational system. I remember taking a GCSE in math and having to do a project. We had to figure our how to calculate the area under a curve. I asked almost every adult I ran into if they could help me and give me some ideas. No-one had a clue and this included college educated people. It was so sad that no-one recognized this as as the primary question behind integration and half of calculus. British people had forgotten all that Newton and Leibniz (albeit that he was not a Brit) had accomplished.

      No-one told us that 60 miles up the road DNA's structure had been discovered at Cambridge by Watson and Crick on 1953. No-one talked about Allan Turing and his Turing Machine. No-one would teach me anything about electronics in high school despite my begging and interest beyond a basic physics class. No-one talked about James Clerk Maxwell and his relations in thermodynamics. No-one had a clue about statistics. No one screamed off the rooftops the central dogma of biology - we merely had to memorize the names of bones and muscles in the human body. The phrase 'normal distribution' was not used. People in the USA at least have a vague sense of what 23 and me is. In the UK so many people I know have no idea. They see genetics as so foreign - oh the irony. The math and science teachers were mean and the books not very helpful. I learned all about British STEM history but only when in the USA.

      There was a time when inventors, manufacturing, science, technology and innovation was celebrated in Britain. Now the only time you hear about science is when people are discussing global warming. They spend their energy in opposition to building anything new. There are parts of London where 1/3 of the buildings are listed and cannot be torn down and rebuilt. People oppose new high speed rail projects. They oppose new home building despite the data showing the UK being short of 1 million homes. They axiomatically oppose genetically modified crops disregarding that at least some of them are helping to alleviate malnutrition. Where has your sense of innovation gone, United Kingdom? You argue now about whether to be in the EU, whether Scotland should leave, and whether more spying will solve your Islamic extremist problem.

      Why not aim to spend 1% of GDP on R&D and build institutions like the NIH and NSF? Why not have almost all school children complete the equivalent of pre-caclulus, Calc I and Calc II, and intro to statistics by age 16? Why not set aside land to allow high end manufacturing using 3D pri
      • Why not have almost all school children complete the equivalent of pre-caclulus, Calc I and Calc II, and intro to statistics by age 16?

        Because calculus is a massively overrated part of mathematics. It is emphasised in the British education system because, when it was introduced, having accurate artillery tables was seen as important. It is emphasised in the US education system because, when it was introduced, being able to put a satellite into orbit with incredibly primitive computers (that might fail) was considered important.

        • I am intrigued by what you say. What would you say are the useful areas of mathematics that average and above average high school students should know beyond pre-calc. Are there other math subjects that you would rather college students (in STEM and econ) learn other than calculus? I know many benefit from a course in a probability and another in statistics. What else would you suggest?
          • Logic (at least up to first-order logic), set theory (some is covered, but not its connection to logic), game theory (essential to so many things, not covered at school at all), and graph theory (the basis for pretty much anything involving computers) would be at the top of my list. Anything where proofs dominate, rather than rote application of rules (we have machines for that now!) would be nice to see. Probability is already well covered in the UK, not sure about the USA. Statistics would be helpful t
        • Calculus is about how to work with things that are changing. People have problems with change, of all kinds.
          I believe that it is at least partly because they were never taught Calculus in school. There was a time when it was taught in highschool.

          I went to a 2-year technical school, where they had what was called Technical Math. Toward the end, the teacher was teaching "tricks and shortcuts" for working difficult problems. After a while, he told the class that some of the tricks were actually Calculus. The a

      • by hughbar ( 579555 )
        Thanks, great essay. I was lucky enough to do public school [that's a private fee-paying 'prep' school for those in the US, it has a very unhelpful name] and I got to write FORTRAN program in 1965. We ran it on a mainframe in a steel mill in a nearby town. That mill has, of course. closed now.

        Secondly I and a pretty-much-genius friend built OSTEC, Oundle School Transistorised Electronic Computer, something that was pretty much just a full adder and a bit of core-store [ferrite core, they still use it in
      • by Anonymous Coward

        Among the instances of their success was their analysis of the distribution of German bombs falling on London each day. They concluded that the Germans were trying to destroy the docks but missing.

        Somehow they failed to figure out that the British bombers were ALSO missing.

        All the theoretical statistics in the world couldn't change that: they needed somebody on the ground (or inside the enemy forces), or far better photo-recon than they would have for years to come.

        See Neillands book "The Bomber War: The Allied Air Offensive Against Nazi Germany" for a modern take on the subject.

        In reality, the British bomber war was in many respects a disaster (in terms of damaging targets of military value) until 1

    • by Teun ( 17872 )
      I too remember his funeral, the man was iconic.

      And working for a UK based company I see problems in the English culture that have caused the losers of WWII to now be the owner and manager of great British brands like Rolls Royce, Bentley and Mini auto mobiles.
      Others like Vauxhal and Ford are just manufacturing plants building largely German engineered cars. Mazda and Toyota took over other factories.

      The British (English!) problem is they are so cock-sure of their own products they can't believe you need

  • by Tokolosh ( 1256448 ) on Sunday January 18, 2015 @01:38PM (#48845613)

    The meaning of "liberal", or "radical liberal" is the opposite of what you think.

    • Indeed a classic pre ww1 Liberal is quite different to an "American" liberal - closer to the orangebook liberals who are a block in the current UK liberal party
  • TIL "Operations Research" is known as [informs.org] "Operational Research" in the U.K.
  • You can always count on Americans to do the right thing - after they've tried everything else.
    • You can always count on Americans to do the right thing - after they've tried everything else.

      What saves us, is that we try things rapidly enough that we get past the "everything else" before we run out of time and resources.
      "Test early and often."

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