Research Funding & Public Image

Alexander Berezin berezin at MCMAIL.CIS.MCMASTER.CA
Sat Jul 8 09:57:07 EST 1995


ERNEST RUTHERFORD AND POLITICAL CORRECTRNESS

Dear Wiliam:

Thank you for your comments to my posting (copied 
again below).

Of course, the original Rutherford quote (taken from
the anthology of quotes by famous scientists) was

"Any good theory should be explainable to a barmaid" 

He probably said/wrote it ca. 1920 - forgive a poor
old fellow who was apparently too busy discovering
atomic structure and due to this paranoic obession
did not develop enough insight to foresee the 
Coming Age of Political Correctness. 

Of course, in our original sending of our letter to
the journal we put it exactly as Rutherford did. It was
the EDITOR who changed it to a "barperson" (or rather
was OBLIDGED to change). I can't blame 
him or her (sic - !), as I (and all my colleagues)
recently got a memo requesting us to revise all our
course outlines to comply with a gender-neutral code.     
(Fortunately, in my outlines was nothing to change).

Cheers - Alex Berezin 

--------------------
On Fri, 7 Jul 1995, William Tivol wrote:

> Dear Alexander,
> 	You wrote: [stuff deleted]
> 
> > 
> > In order to win the support of the public
> > (and politicians) for the university-based
> > reasearch several measures are needed.
> > 
> > RESEARCHERS SHOULD INFORM PUBLIC
> > 
> > We propose the following remedy. All university
> > professors active in research should prepare an
> > executive summary of their work written in layman terms
> > (as the great physicist Ernst Rutherford once said "any 
> > good theory should be explainable to a barperson"). 
> > 
> 	One of our tasks here at the Health Department is to provide periodic
> reports of the highlights of our work for the commissioner.  These have to be
> in "barpersons'" terms, and the relevance of the work to public health must
> be emphasized.  (BTW, I doubt whether Rutherford was "politically correct"
> enough to use the gender-neutral term.)  The relevance to health or to what-
> ever socially beneficial area is appropriate is a key to making these sum-
> maries work.  Not only must MP's or legislators understand what we do, they
> must also see that it has value which is easily understood.  There is no need
> to be overly creative about this--studies of Lie groups really do have appli-
> cations which eventually lead to socially useful products (maybe 50 years
> down the line).  In spite of what some of us may think, politicians are not
> stupid; they can appreciate the whole of basic research, and since the ad-
> vent of biotechnology, they can see that sometimes abstract research topics
> lead to practical applications in a short time.
> 				Yours,
> 				Bill Tivol
> 




More information about the Bioforum mailing list