When Should Politicians Be Irrational?

There is an amusing story about politics in 1897 Indiana.  It seems that there was a member of the legislature who did not fancy the number Pi.  Evidently he was told by an acquaintance that it was not necessary.  He could not understand why anyone in their right mind would have a number that was not the ratio of two integers.  That is, an irrational number. 

So he proceeded to try to put some legislation in writing to 'fix Pi' and make things 'easy' for students and carpenters.  It was not even controversial and moved along nicely with little or no debate.  Luckily a Purdue University professor caught wind of it and talked some sense into the legislature and state senate. They got lazy and did not push it further.

This idea of not liking irrational numbers is not a new thing.  After all the great Pythagoras, reportedly killed a follower who would not shut up about the irrational number, the square root of 2.

The story of Galileo and his struggle with the Church is well known.  Science vs. The Church.... Science vs. The King.... it's an old story.  Kings sometimes call for science to help them in wars.

The tug of war of science and mathematics with political leaders is an ancient thing.  Usually the military does not share the skepticism of law makers, but sometimes this is not even true.  Hitler's Nazi Party tossed out all the Jewish Scientists. The German military machine was interested in tanks and fighters.  The Nazi Party rejected the new physics of Einstein.  To them it was Jewish Science and not Aryan.

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13/01/2009 04:11 PM

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Churchill had a close associate Professor Lindemann as his chief science advisor during WWII and he was never far from the great man, when he planned some of his more daring ventures.

FDR took heed of a letter from Einstein warning about the possible use of his famous formula E = MC^2. What if he had ignored it forever?  Hitler did not see the atom coming even with the powerful physics base that was left in Germany despite losing some man of the great ones.

Moving to the present, there has been a minor war between the Bush administration and science for the last 8 years.  It appears that President Bush just let science meander because it was not popular with his conservative base, which is highly conservative.  He has no 'feel' for it.

Isn't it strange that there is not a famous person with a Science Portfolio or in the US, a cabinet position that is as important as a finance minister?

Certain areas of research have been underfunded or ignored.  Bush has not taken the whole subject seriously.  It appears that he has no interest in science other than as part of his 'No Child Left Behind" program.

If you lead a country, you have to be curious about everything.  That should be a prerequisite of going into big time politics.  When the world class Perimeter Institute opened in Waterloo Ontario, 8,500 people showed up for 250 seats ... now that's a queue.  The PM was Mr. Martin.  He should have come.  It was a big deal and a wonderful thing for Canada.  He came in the week before, but he should have been there for the opening.


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