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posted by martyb on Sunday January 18 2015, @09:24AM   Printer-friendly
from the good-fast-cheap dept.

Nicola Davis writes at The Guardian that a new exhibition at London’s Science Museum titled 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."

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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  • (Score: 2) by kaszz on Sunday January 18 2015, @09:39AM

    by kaszz (4211) on Sunday January 18 2015, @09:39AM (#135794) Journal

    Seems we need another politician that has the visions that Churchill had. Science makes societal progress possible. This also applies to other decision makers.

    • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Sunday January 18 2015, @10:30AM

      by Anonymous Coward on Sunday January 18 2015, @10:30AM (#135796)

      Vision is one thing, another is the unfeathered spending that a war economy provides.

      When a war is going, cold or hot, it becomes a question of how much resources can be thrown at a project rather than nickles and dimes accounting.

      • (Score: 2) by kaszz on Sunday January 18 2015, @10:36AM

        by kaszz (4211) on Sunday January 18 2015, @10:36AM (#135797) Journal

        Nickles and dimes accounting is probably the culprit. Administrated by equally infinite gray people.

      • (Score: 1) by khallow on Sunday January 18 2015, @01:54PM

        by khallow (3766) Subscriber Badge on Sunday January 18 2015, @01:54PM (#135819) Journal
        Outcome also matters. Countries at war which squander resources on unproductive research end up losing wars.
  • (Score: 2, Interesting) by Nuke on Sunday January 18 2015, @01:49PM

    by Nuke (3162) on Sunday January 18 2015, @01:49PM (#135818)
    Even so, Churchill could be dense about new technology. He listened too much to his chief scientific advisor, Professor Lindemann (later Viscount Cherwell) who kept getting things wrong.

    One example is the V2 rockets. Although intelligence had warned about German ballistic rocket missiles for a long time, Cherwell, and hence Churchill, refused to believe their possibility, Lindemann, who had seen reconnaissance photos showing the V2 having tail fins, concluded that they would need long launch ramps for take off (as the V1s had, but even longer) because such fins would be ineffective at low speed. Therefore as no such launch ramps had been spotted, the V2s were either a non-threat or simply dummy decoys. It did not occur to him that there were also internal fins within the rocket blast pipe that would function at the low speed of a vertical take-off. For a long time, Churchill believed Cherwell and would listen to no-one else.

    Cherwell also argued during the war against the effectiveness of radar and nearly managed to undermine British development of it. Churchill should have sacked him
  • (Score: 2) by mendax on Sunday January 18 2015, @07:11PM

    by mendax (2840) on Sunday January 18 2015, @07:11PM (#135852)

    This story reminded me of a funny episode of the X Minus One science fiction radio show from the mid-1950's that is based upon some of the kooky ideas British scientists and intelligence officers had that were leaked via double-agents to the Germans to get them to waste scientific resources trying to reverse-engineer projects that just won't work. Someone put the episode Project Trojan [] on YouTube. (Don't laugh too hard.)

    The entire series three-year run of the series can be found at the Internet Archive [].

    It's really quite a simple choice: Life, Death, or Los Angeles.