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Ngrams and World Peace January 26, 2011

Posted by Will Thomas in Uncategorized.
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As I think most historians will know by now, the Ngram viewer from Google Laboratories can become a compulsive pastime.  Nobody thinks it’s really all that healthy.  The data sets are not totally reliable, the numbers are meaningless, and alternative usages of words easily undermine the point one would like to make by charting the prevalence of those words in Google’s massive scanned-in library across dates of publication.  Still, it’s obvious there’s something in it, which is what gives it its appeal.  Let’s say you didn’t simply want to show how immune to vulgar enthusiasms you are by shifting immediately into academic-wet-blanket mode, or by lampooning your own compulsion by saying it’s all just good fun.  Let’s say you actually wanted to think constructively about this tool (as Dan Cohen of GMU does).  What modest uses might you make of the Ngram viewer?  Illustration of points you already know something about is a good one:

"air police" vs. "international control of atomic energy" (smoothing = 1)

A nice specific phrase search is “air police” and “international control of atomic energy”.  I choose these phrases because I am a fan of Waqar Zaidi’s recent PhD thesis, which was written here at Imperial College CHOSTM.  Zaidi argues for the central, successive place of two technologies, airplanes and atomic weapons, in the policing strategies imagined by internationalist thinkers.  He claims that although there was overriding resistance to the idea of a world air police, far from being pie-in-the-sky, the plan was taken very seriously in wide circles.  In his 1946 “iron curtain” speech, Winston Churchill devoted several lines to a fairly well-developed call for the new United Nations to be armed with just such a force: (more…)

Primer: The Tizard Committee November 12, 2008

Posted by Will Thomas in British Science-Society Critiques.
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Henry Tizard as Rector of Imperial College (click to go to the Official Portraits of the Imperial College Rectors)

Henry Tizard as Rector of Imperial College (click for the Official Portraits of Imperial College Rectors)

The Committee for the Scientific Survey of Air Defence (CSSAD, a.k.a. the “Tizard Committee”) was instituted by the British Air Ministry in late 1934 to consider new technologies that the Royal Air Force might use to defend its territory against attack by bombers.  The committee was initially comprised of its chair, scientist and longstanding government research administrator and Imperial College rector Sir Henry Tizard, the Air Ministry’s Director of Scientific Research Harry Wimperis, academic experimental physicist Patrick Blackett, Nobel Prize-winning physiologist A. V. Hill (who had been the head of a World War I research group responsible for improving anti-aircraft gunnery), and Wimperis’ assistant A. P. Rowe, who served as secretary.  Oxford physicist Frederick Lindemann was added soon thereafter on the insistence of his close friend Winston Churchill, who was at that time a backbench Conservative MP.

The formation of this committee was not unusual, as government R&D work was frequently informed by standing and ad hoc advisory bodies.  Henry Tizard was already chair of the high-level Aeronautical Research Committee, of which Blackett was also a member.  Lindemann’s addition was engineered by Churchill as a part of his vocal campaign (more…)