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    Re: Maskelyne: Astronomer Royal
    From: Wolfgang Köberer
    Date: 2020 Mar 25, 09:53 -0700

    Dear all,

    although Frank is distancing himself a bit from the falsifying narrative of Dava Sobel, he still is belittling Maskelyne as a „bureaucrat“ who was narrow-minded and looking for fame for himself.

    As for narrow-mindedness: none other than Newton ( a person not especially known for being unable to think beyond his nose) had judged that watches/clocks would not be able to help with the solution to the longitude problem.

    Apart from that Maskelyne was a civil servant (it may be a special American angle to view these as “buraucrats”) who had to see to fulfilling the needs of the state/country. It was fine to supply an explorer with a single timekeeper but at the time (1765) the British navy had 266 ships. There was simply no better way than to provide them with a mathematical solution/tables after the basic problem – calculating the exact position of the moon in advance – had been solved by Tobias Mayer in Göttingen. That was a low cost solution that could be put in place very soon. Just compare that to the production of chronometers which was a cottage industry even in the late 19th century (I recommend reading the relevant chapters of Betts’ “Chronometers at Greenwich" – expensive but worth it). So it is no surprise – and certainly not due to Maskelyne’s “bureaucratic” stance that they were only a standard issue in the British navy in the 1840s (N.A.M. Rodgers, The command of the Ocean, p. 382).

    So the “Manhattan Project” fantasy at the end of Frank’s post is – like all such fantasies - lacking insight into the real conditions and restraints at the time.

    Best

    Wolfgang

       
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