Promoters and popularisers
DOI link for Promoters and popularisers
Promoters and popularisers book
Few Prime Ministers or Presidents in the Anglo-Saxon world have had the qualiﬁcations or connections to be plausible leaders of the scientiﬁc community, and effective popularisers of science. In Britain and the USA, however, there were a few prominent scientists who played important political roles, thus directly or indirectly affecting the popular understanding of science. Lyon Playfair, promoting the Great Exhibition and Benjamin Franklin, and then Alexander Dallas Bache superintending the US Coast Survey, would be examples.1 The chemist Sir Henry Roscoe entered Parliament (representing Manchester), where he championed the metric system and the opening of museums on Sundays – but with limited success.2 Darwin’s friend and neighbour Sir John Lubbock (later Lord Avebury) was a prominent Member of Parliament, famous for promoting a public holiday in August, ‘St Lubbock’s Day’, and also an original, accessible and very successful writer on insects (he kept a tame wasp), and a powerful ﬁgure in scientiﬁc institutions.3 Hooker however deplored this wasting of talents in politics.4 Huxley and others sat on Royal and Parliamentary Commissions, advising governments; in the small intellectual and political world, informal contacts were important in getting scientiﬁc ideas and information through to legislators. The Athenaeum Club, with Davy and Faraday among its founders, was an important meeting place for intellectual members of the establishment. In France things were rather different. From Napoleon’s meritocratic Empire onwards through the nineteenth century, eminent men of science, including Laplace, Arago and Marcellin Berthelot, did occupy important places in government, having actual direction of affairs.5 Similarly in Russia, administrative posts were often more attractive than those in universities to men returning from study abroad.6 How far such people were lost to science, or were vital in promoting it, is an open question. If it is true that science is a game for the young,7 then for distinguished professors to be shunted into something else may be a very good thing all round; and middle-aged scientists, as well as directing laboratories and research schools and sitting on committees, could also be the best popularisers at a variety of levels.