People of Science with Brian Cox – Bill Bryson on Benjamin Franklin

Bill: This is People of Science. Take one. Brian: Bill Bryson, so I suppose everybody knows of you,
thinks of you, as an Author but what’s your connection with the Royal Society? Bill: Well, a few years ago I was invited to be an Honorary Fellow and I have to say, it was probably the biggest
compliment ever paid to me. Brian: Well you’ve chosen Benjamin Franklin FRS which perhaps many people don’t know, Fellow of the Royal Society. Bill: One of the things you’re not taught much
about Franklin when you’re growing up in America is about his scientific interests, but he was a fellow
of the Royal Society some twenty years before he became famous for all the other things
that he became famous for in terms of the American Revolution. Brian: I suppose most people associate Franklin’s
science with lightning but there’s plenty of other stuff,
there’s quite a long list actually isn’t there? Bill: I mean he was quintessentially American in the
sense of being very interested in practical applications and so he invented quite a lot of useful things;
bifocals most famously. But also the lightning rod which probably
was his most valuable gift to posterity because I mean, thanks to the lightning rod an awful
lot of wonderful buildings, old cathedrals and steeples everywhere have been saved. Brian: When you list Franklin and you try and describe him I mean here he’s described as a leading Author, Printer, Political Theorist,
Politician, Freemason, Postmaster Scientist, Inventor, Civic Activist, Statesman and Diplomat. Bill: Yeah. It was the perfect time to be Benjamin
Franklin, or anyone like him because I mean it was, you know, the age of enlightenment. It was one of the last periods in which people could be into everything. He was able to lead an incredibly diverse and active life in lots and lots and lots of different fields in a way that I don’t think anyone could do now. Brian: Now we have some manuscripts of his to look at. It always strikes me, this beautiful writing. It’s absolutely compelling actually isn’t it. I sort of want to read it now because
it’s very precisely, exactly what he did with how much…the jars that he used as batteries,
presumably and how he did it. Bill: I think one of the problems that we get is that the scientists don’t always seem like people, like human beings with desires and petty grievances and frailties. And you just think of them like these giant brains who
were churning out knowledge somehow and I think seeing these things, it’s like time travel;
you’re taken right there to that person. Brian: Did he spend much time in England? Brian: Franklin spent a lot of time in England,
I mean, one of the things he spent most time doing was representing some of the colonies and really during the fifteen or twenty years
running up to the American Revolution he was sort of the voice of America in Britain. And a very interesting sideline about Franklin was that after America triumphed in the War of Independence and was setting up a government
they didn’t know what to call the new national leader and Franklin is said to have suggested the name ‘President’ because that was the title of the head of the Royal Society in London. So it’s entirely possible that the chief of state of
the United States is called ‘President’ because of the Royal Society. Brian: And scientifically, I suppose he’s most
famous for his work on lightning electricity and the famous kite experiment. Bill: For a time he was probably the foremost
authority in the world on electricity. Before him electricity was seen almost as a kind of parlour game you know, that you could rub a glass rod with a cloth and use it to pick up bits of fluff. So people played with electricity
and they knew that it was an interesting phenomenon but they didn’t really understand it. Franklin’s contribution was to realise that
it was a fundamental force of nature like gravity and that it was really important. So in that way his contribution to world’s knowledge was profound.


  1. 陶善達

    February 12, 2018 at 9:44 am

    The subtitle delayed around 8 seconds.

  2. siddharth pathak

    February 12, 2018 at 9:47 am


  3. Wladislav

    February 15, 2018 at 12:27 am

    Visual glitch at 1:02.

  4. Paul Adams

    February 20, 2018 at 7:57 am

    Wish they'd make America smart again.

  5. Nicholas Ennos

    February 27, 2018 at 8:15 am

    Brian Cox is an illuminati tranny. Google Miss Brian Cox transvestigation.

  6. broomsterm

    December 13, 2018 at 7:14 am

    What the hell, Bill? Wherefore art thou lately? Get your ass back in the States before you turn into a damned Englishman! The fuck?

Leave a Reply