Could the www inspire rehabilitation?

Wollensky says This mud just sticks

21 September 2000

As I was saying last June, non-stick cookware has become a well recognised cliche among technophobes. It is tossed into debate, and aside, as allegedly ‘the only’ generally perceptible beneficial spin-off received by humanity from space research. By extension, non-stick cookware has infiltrated the phobic vocabulary for catchphrase condemnation of science, engineering and r & d at large.

So should we seek a catchphrase to confound the phobes? Could one be inspired by the world wide web? Amazingly, the www has already been with us for over a decade. But how many of its users know that it was conceived by Tim Berners-Lee at CERN, Europe’s internationally sponsored centre for particle physics research? Or that his boss, Mike Sendall, who died last year, should be given credit for letting the idea blossom? On the cover of Berners-Lee’s proposal in 1989 Sendall wrote, ‘Vague but exciting’, and gave the inventor his head. Berners-Lee is still developing the web. Meanwhile the wide world is scarcely managing to realise its existing potential despite the explosion of activity since its debut on the internet. (The latter’s development had been relatively undramatic since its almost unnoticed birth in American academe some two decades earlier.) Might a tiny gleam of tolerance be reflected on the nuclear energy business if people remembered that the www is spin-off from CERN, an establishment whose name as originally bestowed was Conseil Européen pour la Recherche Nucléaire? I fear not. Experience suggests the contrary. The ‘nuclear’ in ‘nuclear magnetic resonance imaging’ was abandoned by clinicians because it might frighten patients. And nobody would want to risk frightening anyone away from the web just to help scrape some of the mud off nuclear.

Mark these thoughts

The territory between inanity and profundity is not strictly delineated. The borders (if any) can be particularly vague in such fields as management and economics but may be as indefinite in other areas too. Just for fun, I have been collecting observations that are not easy to place in the zone of uncertainty. You may like to have a go yourself at locating ten of them.

Facts are stupid things.

President Ronald Reagan, USA, 1988 We have not inherited the earth from our fathers; we are borrowing it from our children.

Lester R. Brown, Worldwatch Institute, USA, 1981 Any predictions about the future tend to tell you more about the present.

Professor Julian Jones, Heriot-Watt University, UK, 1999 There’s not one company in a hundred today that would say ‘we want to give every employee the same potential share of voice in corporate strategy and direction as the head of research and development or the head of business development’. But I predict that within five years there won’t be a successful company left that doesn’t say that.

Professor Gary Hamel, Harvard and London Business School, 1999 At last, the future is here! Dr Thomas Barlow, Oxford University, UK, 1999 After all, what does a politician have but credibility? Vice-President Spiro Agnew, USA, 1969-73 I guess I should warn you, if I turn out to be particularly clear, you’ve probably misunderstood what I’ve said.

Alan Greenspan, chairman US Federal Reserve Board, 1988 Chief Information Officers are often too tecnically orientated, says Mr [Eric] Leon [the head of the energy and chemicals group at IBM], and ignore the knowledge side of information tech- nology, which “is now like electricity. You don’t need to know how it’s made in order to use it”.

Report in Financial Times, UK, 23 September 1999 Our nuclear power stations are as safe as they can possibly be, and are getting safer all the time.

Sir Hugh Rossi, Member of Parliament, UK, 1986 A nuclear power plant is infinitely safer than eating, because 300 people choke to death on food every year.

Governor Dixie Lee Ray, Washington State, USA, 1977

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