May 1st, 2009

manning: uberbitch

Herschel & Planck

Last night I attended a lecture at the Royal Aeronautical Society (RAeS), not to be confused with the RAS (Royal Astronomical Society) about the forthcoming launch of two new European space telescopes, Herschel and Planck. The lecture was given by a programme director at the European Space Agency (ESA) and former Imperial professor.

Herschel's mirror outstrips Hubble's by almost a full meter in diameter and will be able to probe even further into deep space. Planck will map the entire sky for the Cosmic Microwave Background (CMB) at higher resolution than has been previously achieved. But that's not what I'm going to talk about. No, what I'm going to do here is have a bit of a rant about the manner in which the lecture was delivered. The speaker made a number of statements and jokes which, if I didn't have a well-developed sense of cynicism about the self-righteousness of senior scientists, would have caused me to walk out of the lecture. I present here a choice selection of them.

  1. Sir William Herschel, despite being born in Germany, should be considered British because of the unification of the crowns under George II.
    That's...an interesting perspective. Certainly he became a British citizen, but he was born German. Suppose that I become a British citizen during my lifetime. I may be an atypical American. I may even be an American with ambiguous feelings about nationalism. But I will still consider myself American. Besides, if we're going to use history in a selective manner to determine national identity, we could just as glibly claim that British people are actually all French or German.

  2. The French can't build plumbing that works, so they're getting the Poles in to do it.
    Please save the trite racist jokes for the BNP rally. They do not belong in science lectures, particularly science lectures that are aimed at a general audience.

  3. The slide which presented the joint missions ESA has with other space agencies omitted Cassini.
    Cassini is the highest profile outer planetary mission of the current decade. Given the speaker's failure to mention NASA, or indeed anything American, without being pejorative, however, I shouldn't be too surprised. see below.

  4. Americans believe they can run space missions that are Cheaper, Better and Faster, instead of understanding that they can only ever have two out of the three.
    Oh, how foolish to aspire to an ideal. Because everyone knows you only achieve things when you don't try.