Wednesday, August 15, 2007

The Royal Society

I'm not quite sure what to make of this Royal Society page:

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Update: I was about to look up the difference between authoritative and authoritarian when I remembered that William Thomson (Lord Kelvin), president of the Royal Society 1890-1895 argued for over forty years that the sun could not be more than 20 million years old.

The Wikipedia entry above notes a couple other embarrassments:

Like most scientists of his day, he is known for making some embarrassing mistakes in terms of predicting the future of technology.

In 1895, as president of the Royal Society, Kelvin is quoted as saying, "Heavier-than-air flying machines are impossible,"[32] proven false a mere eight years later with the flight of Orville and Wilbur Wright's Wright Flyer at Kitty Hawk in 1903. In 1897, he predicted that "Radio has no future;" [33] while the popularity of radio did not appear in his lifetime (it was not until the 1920s and 30s that it attained any degree of popularity), the statement was nevertheless proven false.

Now this was a guy who was much sharper than I am, so I'll give it a rest and leave you with one of his well reasoned arguments.

I won't be so forgiving of the Royal Society for their failure to make Kristian Birkeland a Fellow:

There was no doubt that Birkeland thought himself worthy of the highest accolades for his work in unravelling the complexities of solar-terrestrial relations and electromagnetic coupling through the solar wind.

He was, however, frustrated by the rejection from his peers in Britain and his subsequent failure to become a fellow of the Royal Society. He also aspired to a Nobel prize for his plasma technique for nitrogen fixation. Although he came close to winning, he was denied because of the political opposition organized by his partner in Norsk Hydro, who wanted to claim the prize for himself.

Lucy Jago at physicsworld