Why every politician should study at least some science

Guest post: A personal view by physicist Phil Hopkins

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy’s “Ark Fleet Ship B” came to mind, last Monday. This was the ship given to all the people who were deemed to be useless, for them to leave Golgafrincham and go and populate another planet.

If we get around to building ours, I’ve found the Captain.

He’s standing as the local candidate for a major political party; a Twinkle-Toed, Blithering Buffoon claiming association with the Blavatnik School of Government.

No doubt highly educated at that establishment, he was giving a talk to tell us that he has found the solution to the UK’s Energy Security problem. After dismissing solar power, and nuclear power, and bypassing wind energy, he revealed that the solution is simply

to harness energy from the vehicles driving on Britain’s motorways.

It was at that point that I wondered if my science degrees had possibly elevated me to a rarefied and higher intellectual plane that endowed me with unusual foresight, but I solemnly realised that these degrees must also come with a Burden of Responsibility to interrupt people like him.

I couldn’t in all good conscience just sit there and be party to such techno-twaddle: or worse – suffer the embarrassment I was acutely feeling, that history might find out that I was there and had done nothing for the common good.

So, when my wits had recovered from his astonishing absurdity, I had to rebuke him:

This sounds like an April Fool. This can’t work. I’m a physicist. Conservation of Energy; the energy has to come from somewhere.

But, smoothly handling my unexpected interruption, he replied:

And this is why we need people like you.

(I’ll leave to the imagination what further thoughts went through my mind at this point.)

Assuming there is some Magic to make this work, drivers will find that as soon as they reach the motorway; their expertly engineered cars have now changed from an efficient, say, 50 miles per gallon to an astonishing 50 Yards per gallon as they suddenly find themselves struggling to power other people’s pointless online gaming and YouTube habits – exactly the sort of people who would easily qualify for the Passenger (First Class) Manifest for Ship B.

Maybe I shouldn’t be so negative; of course we could make this work. It only needs Filling Stations for people to pull their overheating cars into and refill their exhausted tanks again every half a mile, until in total disbelief, the shocked drivers finally escape from the motorway at, no doubt, the very next junction that salvation brings into view, and vowing never to go back.

Even better than this, if you drive an electric car, you can charge up your car again with some of the free energy that was harnessed from you earlier when you were going along the previous stretch. (Is it necessary to suggest to our political candidate that, perhaps, this might not work either?)

The last straw of hope has just snapped, and I dream of the paradise that would have been Adams’ Golgafrincham.

(Notes: The only small, silver lining I’ve found to this true story is that I’ve never come across a more appropriate application for the word “blithering”. I’m sure the political candidate has good intentions, and I hold nothing against him, but I do think that the Blavatnik School of Government should have done a much better job if they want a credible reputation, perhaps insisting upon at least one science qualification at selection, or adding compulsory science modules to their syllabus.)




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