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    Maskelyne: Messenger and Message
    From: Frank Reed CT
    Date: 2004 Jul 20, 22:39 EDT
    A comment on Maskelyne:
    "Nevil Maskelyne: he was a bit pompous. The fact he was a reverend, of course, doesn't come into it because all scientific people who wanted to get on in science had to take holy orders at that time, so we can forget that one. But, he was pompous, a bit of a prig, I think, probably. 
    ...every penny that [Maskelyne] spent for about forty years is, in fact, recorded."

    You might think this would be the opinion of someone like Dava Sobel who saw Maskelyne as a villain in the Longitude affair, but these are the words of Derek Howse, his biographer and certainly not someone who would paint Maskelyne as a villain (quoted from that old "Nova" episode).

    I had the thought today that the treatment of lunars and Maskelyne is an example of the corollary to the famous adage "don't shoot the messenger" (or don't hang the messenger in the case of the parable from Clowdisley Shovell's shipwreck). The corollary would be "don't shoot the message". Many people have been turned off by lunars and ignore their historical importance precisely because they have heard that Msakelyne was "pompous, a bit of a prig". They "shoot the message" (navigating by lunars) because the messenger was obnoxious.

    Myself, it has never bothered me one bit that Maskelyne might have been a jerk. The messenger is unimportant except to the extent that his or her personality distorts the message. I suppose the classic example of this is the great Isaac Newton himself, by all accounts a paranoid and vindictive individual with few redeeming personal traits. Imagine how screwed up science would have been if people had dumped the message of "Newtonian physics" because Newton was such an unpleasant character.

    Frank R
    [ ] Mystic, Connecticut
    [X] Chicago, Illinois



       
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