Science and the Public Good: George Biddell Airy (1801–92) and the Concept of a Scientific Civil Servant

  • Allan Chapman


Over the last three centuries, successive British governments have found it necessary to seek scientific and technical advice for the welfare of the nation. The first, and longest-standing, acknowledgement of this fact came in 1675, when Charles II founded the Royal Observatory, Greenwich, through which it was hoped that an astronomical solution to the longitude at sea might be found, to bring major advantages to the civil and military naval forces of England.1 Scientific advice remained essentially military in character for the next 150 years, and while bodies such as the Royal Observatory, Board of Longitude and Ordnance Survey initiated independent ‘philosophical’ contributions, the formal advice which they rendered to the Crown still aimed at success in war.


Civil Servant Royal Greenwich Observatory Ordnance Survey Royal Observatory Royal Astronomical Society 
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© Nicolaas A. Rupke 1988

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  • Allan Chapman

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