Ben Franklin on Real Science

(As interpreted by John Armor)

As most of you know, the international recognition of me as a scientist began with the day that I captured lightning with a kite. Had I done that experiment the way the popular myth says, I probably would have been electrocuted -- an early end to an ordinary career.

You probably recall that my formal education ended when I was fourteen. After that, I bought and read every worthwhile book I could find. I died in 1790, and one aspect of the Other Side that I can share with you is that we get to read and see whatever interests us about the continuing fate of this nation we created.

You are in the middle of national consideration of laws that would involve more than a trillion dollars of public and private spending for purposes based, or claiming to be based, on scientific weather considerations. Now, I know the word trillion, but I never had occasion to use it. I recall that the greatest warship Congress approved in my day, the USF Constitution (known as "Old Ironsides") now sits at harbor in Boston. She cost about $60,000 to build and equip. That gives you an idea of how far the value of the dollar has declined.

Before you commit to spending a trillion dollars or more on any program, perhaps you should begin with the science offered to support it. Consider my experiment with a kite in a thunderstorm in Philadelphia in 1752. I did not get lightning to strike my kite and come down the wet string to a key tied directly to it. There was a thin wire functioning as an antenna on the kite. Insulated silk held the key away from me. At the bottom was a Leyden jar.

What's that, you say? That was a glass jar with an insulated top and a metal bar with a small knob outside and a large one inside. When exposed to electricity, it would store that. The Leyden jar is the grandfather of the millions of batteries you use at home, in offices, in your cars and pockets. You really have done marvelous things with this electricity business, haven't you?

I was not the only scientist to speculate that lightning might be composed of electricity. I was just the first to develop a nonlethal experiment to test that theory. The experiment succeeded, but the science did not stop there. I wrote up my experiment, telling exactly what I did, how I did it, and what results I got.

Ultimately, that description was translated into many languages, and my experiment was reproduced, with the same results, in most nations of the world with academic or scientific communities. This is an essential point of science if the purpose is to advance the knowledge of mankind. It must be released to the world: all the methods and all the data.

As I understand it, some climate scientists in your time have been caught red-handed destroying inconvenient data and plotting to discredit critics and journals that disagree with them. Meanwhile, the government is moving toward taxing virtually all productive activity to stop what they call "global warming." Such hubris! At this rate, I would not be surprised if the national government ordered all chimneys capped and all homes to be given tax-subsidized candle snuffers. Before that happens, you should at least get to look at the raw data.

No matter what degrees a "scientist" has, or what exalted position he holds (and recall that I held no degrees and no scientific positions) he is no more than a politician if he does not report all aspects of his work, both methods and data, to all other scientists who request them. The point is to establish the truth, not to sell a slogan.

It is even worse when scientists engage in forging their data or lying to the scientific community. Such people are frauds -- and there have been many scientific frauds in the centuries since I was born. Lastly, science is not determined by majority vote. Most scientists believed that the Earth was flat and mariners who sailed too far fall off, but then Columbus set out to sail around the world. (Yes, going around the world to Asia was Columbus's intent when he set sail in 1492.)

A majority of scientists believed that the sun revolved around the Earth, but then Galileo invented the telescope, observed the solar system, and concluded that the Earth revolved around the sun. (Contrary to popular myth, it was university professors, not the Catholic Church, who led the effort to silence Galileo. Their positions were threatened by this upstart with his new theory.)

Understanding how honest science occurs can protect you from frauds. It's not as complicated as rocket science. It can be as simple as a man flying a kite in a Philadelphia rainstorm.

John Armor appears and speaks as Ben Franklin. To see how he would present Franklin discussing science, go to YouTube.com and search for "Franklin Comes to Franklin." Contact the author at John_Armor@aya.yale.edu.
(As interpreted by John Armor)

As most of you know, the international recognition of me as a scientist began with the day that I captured lightning with a kite. Had I done that experiment the way the popular myth says, I probably would have been electrocuted -- an early end to an ordinary career.

You probably recall that my formal education ended when I was fourteen. After that, I bought and read every worthwhile book I could find. I died in 1790, and one aspect of the Other Side that I can share with you is that we get to read and see whatever interests us about the continuing fate of this nation we created.

You are in the middle of national consideration of laws that would involve more than a trillion dollars of public and private spending for purposes based, or claiming to be based, on scientific weather considerations. Now, I know the word trillion, but I never had occasion to use it. I recall that the greatest warship Congress approved in my day, the USF Constitution (known as "Old Ironsides") now sits at harbor in Boston. She cost about $60,000 to build and equip. That gives you an idea of how far the value of the dollar has declined.

Before you commit to spending a trillion dollars or more on any program, perhaps you should begin with the science offered to support it. Consider my experiment with a kite in a thunderstorm in Philadelphia in 1752. I did not get lightning to strike my kite and come down the wet string to a key tied directly to it. There was a thin wire functioning as an antenna on the kite. Insulated silk held the key away from me. At the bottom was a Leyden jar.

What's that, you say? That was a glass jar with an insulated top and a metal bar with a small knob outside and a large one inside. When exposed to electricity, it would store that. The Leyden jar is the grandfather of the millions of batteries you use at home, in offices, in your cars and pockets. You really have done marvelous things with this electricity business, haven't you?

I was not the only scientist to speculate that lightning might be composed of electricity. I was just the first to develop a nonlethal experiment to test that theory. The experiment succeeded, but the science did not stop there. I wrote up my experiment, telling exactly what I did, how I did it, and what results I got.

Ultimately, that description was translated into many languages, and my experiment was reproduced, with the same results, in most nations of the world with academic or scientific communities. This is an essential point of science if the purpose is to advance the knowledge of mankind. It must be released to the world: all the methods and all the data.

As I understand it, some climate scientists in your time have been caught red-handed destroying inconvenient data and plotting to discredit critics and journals that disagree with them. Meanwhile, the government is moving toward taxing virtually all productive activity to stop what they call "global warming." Such hubris! At this rate, I would not be surprised if the national government ordered all chimneys capped and all homes to be given tax-subsidized candle snuffers. Before that happens, you should at least get to look at the raw data.

No matter what degrees a "scientist" has, or what exalted position he holds (and recall that I held no degrees and no scientific positions) he is no more than a politician if he does not report all aspects of his work, both methods and data, to all other scientists who request them. The point is to establish the truth, not to sell a slogan.

It is even worse when scientists engage in forging their data or lying to the scientific community. Such people are frauds -- and there have been many scientific frauds in the centuries since I was born. Lastly, science is not determined by majority vote. Most scientists believed that the Earth was flat and mariners who sailed too far fall off, but then Columbus set out to sail around the world. (Yes, going around the world to Asia was Columbus's intent when he set sail in 1492.)

A majority of scientists believed that the sun revolved around the Earth, but then Galileo invented the telescope, observed the solar system, and concluded that the Earth revolved around the sun. (Contrary to popular myth, it was university professors, not the Catholic Church, who led the effort to silence Galileo. Their positions were threatened by this upstart with his new theory.)

Understanding how honest science occurs can protect you from frauds. It's not as complicated as rocket science. It can be as simple as a man flying a kite in a Philadelphia rainstorm.

John Armor appears and speaks as Ben Franklin. To see how he would present Franklin discussing science, go to YouTube.com and search for "Franklin Comes to Franklin." Contact the author at John_Armor@aya.yale.edu.