Right of Reply: David Bodanis

A science writer replies to our choice of Benjamin Franklin as the Briton of the Millennium
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The Independent Culture
BENJAMIN FRANKLIN'S experiments with kites and electricity are impressive, and we wouldn't be able to listen to old CDs of ABBA without them, but I wouldn't vote him the Briton of the Millennium on that count. If he hadn't done those experiments someone else would have. As a scientist, he was replaceable.

Shakespeare would seem a better bet, as Radio Four's Today listeners suggested. It's true that language evolves, and already his words are fading from clarity, becoming ever more blurred to all but the most trained. But many of the insights underlying that language can survive the losses of translation into whatever language is likely to be dominant 1,000 years from now; be it Malay or Xhosa or Windows. The translator will become a rescuing spaceship, plucking King Lear and Othello away from the world of decaying English.

Come to think of that, I would give Franklin a good vote, but not for his electricity research. Instead, think of the way his political skills resemble the spaceship rescuing Shakespeare.

A small fragment of British cultural DNA had been pinched off, and carried to the new locale of North America. The resultant nation was different from its British parent, that is true. But because Benjamin Franklin ensured a moderate birth - being a good Pennsylvanian, he was preaching the Third Way two centuries ago - the new country kept much of that British source within it.

So who gets my vote for the most important Briton of the years to come? She'll be the one who helps a significant fragment of Britain leapfrog across the vicissitudes of the future, and survive, at least partially intact, when the start of the Fourth millennium is upon us.

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