Perhaps Michael Gove deserves a spell with the dunce’s cap after an ill-advised scientific reference. Calling for more rigour in GCSE and A-level exams, the education secretary held forth on the science curriculum in a recent interview with The Times:

“What [students] need is a rooting in the basic scientific principles, Newton’s laws of thermodynamics and Boyle’s law.”

As students of physics will tell you, however, Isaac Newton’s laws relate to motion and gravity. The laws of thermodynamics, relating to the transfer of heat, were initially developed by Lord Kelvin more than 100 years after Newton had snuffed it.

Complaining that history is not taught in chronological order, Gove goes on to use the example of his daughter:

“My daughter does toys through the ages, then she does the Vikings, then the Greeks; and she gets confused.”

Perhaps that after-school tuition from her father could account for the confusion.

Hat-tip: Daan Kang

  1. People have to learn that sort of thing any way. Its dishonest to imply that those topics aren’t taught when they most definitely are.

  2. It isn’t implying they aren’t taught at all – in any way shape or form, it blatantly describes that the people who run the education system in our country haven’t got a clue what they are talking about!

    Thermodynamics, mechanics, Boyle’s law, gravity etc ARE all taught – but it would probably help society if the people who taught them knew who discovered them. Otherwise we’ll have people being taught that creationism is real, and that Al Gore invented the internet rather than the scientists at CERN…….oh wait, that’s already happened!!!!

  3. Well-remembered, Gove. A good a-level physics student should be able to tell you how closely Newton’s laws of motion and thermodynamics are related, via kinetic theory. Apart from that, Newton’s law of cooling relates the rate of heat loss from an object to the temperature difference between it and it’s surroundings. I can’t stand journalists.

  4. @Futile: Newton’s laws of motion may well be related to thermodynamics. But Gove is still wrong.

    Perhaps you can “remember” which laws of thermodynamics are Newton’s?

  5. Douglas Hainline says:

    A Level physics includes all of the physical laws mentioned above, but few students take A Level physics.

    GCSE science does not cover the laws of thermodynamics, or the gas laws, and deals with Newton’s laws of motion only in the most superficial way. So if Mr Gove’s point is that the huge majority of our students are not exposed to the basic laws of physics, he is correct, even if he reveals that he is among those whose knowledge of them is inadequate. More importantly, they don’t really get any exposure to the scientific method via which these laws were discovered/formulated.

    It might be desirable for citizens of a modern state to understand these laws, but it is arguable that adding them to the GCSE syllabus would actually achieve that result.

    It’s probably the case that only a minority of students have the intelligence and ability to really appreciate these laws. Should a fifteen year old who is destined to be a hair dresser or delivery van driver really be spending time wrestling with ideas which will inevitably be presented as something to be learned by rote? By that age, shouldn’t they be in apprenticeships, or at least learning something practical, like how to say “Would you like fries with that?” in Mandarin?

  6. You’re missing the point Laurence. I’d like jounalists’ comments on science to be treated with as much caution as any politician’s. There’s no point asking me for some spurious link between Newton and the usual statements of “the laws of thermodynamics”. Anybody who really wants to learn can pick up up a book and find out for themselves.

  7. So Newton’s Law of Cooling isn’t a law of thermodynamics?

    He didn’t just do Newton’s Laws of Motion you know. Well, obviously you don’t know.

  8. David Cameron says:

    Remind me again on Monday to get rid of this of this pipsqueak.
    He is not fit for purpose

  9. Futile gets half marks from me.
    Clever to suggest the link between kinetics and thermodynamics, although it’s not a link that Newton ever made, even in his (famously inaccurate) law of cooling.
    But Futile is evidently dim about proper use of the apostrophe – “its” or “it’s”?
    And as for “Anybody who really wants to learn can pick up up a book and find out for THEMSELVES” Oh dear – it seems Futile needs some learning himselves….

  10. Doctor Mick says:

    To be fair, the Greeks are still rampaging and pillaging long AFTER the Vikings stopped all that mallarkey. So perhaps the chronology is correct after all.

  11. It's not that bad says:

    I fink no’one cares about the apostrophe and ting innit? I’m with futile. Yor (no apostrophe or spelling) jumping on the bandwagon when you make fun of Gove just because he’s higher up the food chain than you. As a researcher, I get pretty fed up with journalists too. Futile’s trying to point out that there’s a deeper level behind the rote laws, as written in the text books, and journalists of course miss the point very often. Just as you wouldn’t go to a politician for scientific fact, why trust a journalist?

  12. Newton’s law of cooling is a law of thermodynamics. It’s not one of “the Laws of Thermodynamics” though. The point I was trying to get across is that Gove dun sed a wrong thing haha, but you don’t have to see it that way, unless you just want to mock Gove like one of your Mockers from Mock the Week. And “engineer”, all of these classical “laws” need some adjustment in the face of modern physics. I don’t understand why “engineer” doesn’t agree with finding out things for yourself from books. No marks.

  13. @Matt: CERN did not invent the internet, they invented the World Wide Web, the Internet was spun out of DARPAnet created by the US military. Two completely different things.

    Any of my Year 7 ICT students will be able to tell you that.

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