Ten examples of the ideas that people in public life should understandby Mark Henderson / June 20, 2012 / Leave a comment
Published in July 2012 issue of Prospect Magazine
General Relativity: a theory that posits the warping effect of gravity on space-time. In the imagined experiment, left, a signal beamed from a satellite bends round the sun
“A good many times I have been present at gatherings of people who, by the standards of the traditional culture, are thought highly educated and who have with considerable gusto been expressing their incredulity at the illiteracy of scientists,” said CP Snow in his celebrated “Two Cultures” lecture of 1959. “Once or twice I have been provoked and have asked the company how many of them could describe the Second Law of Thermodynamics. The response was cold: it was also negative. Yet I was asking something which is the scientific equivalent of: Have you read a work of Shakespeare’s?”
It is hard to believe that Snow would meet with much more comprehension were he to repeat his questions in today’s House of Commons. It is nevertheless interesting to consider a few ideas from contemporary science with which every politician and civil servant really ought to be comfortable.