Geoffrey West UNCUT

October 18, 2012

Physicist Geoffrey West is trying to uncover the fundamental, physical principles that shape cities. In this UNCUT interview with Steve Paulson, he talks about how cities are - and are not - like organisms



Mr. West did a great disservice to two of history's great scientist inventors by unthinkingly repeating what most Americans are taught in public school about the Wright Brothers, which is that they were mere tinkerers. This is an unfortunate myth created to make them seem more like regular guys to school kids. In fact, they pursued the invention of the airplane with scientific rigor and mathematical modeling. But Mr. West went further with his assertion that “anyone could invent the airplane.” How absurd. Highly educated and well funded engineers and physicists had all failed before the Wrights conducted their careful empirical and theoretical experiments in which they not only derived the first accurate lift-drag parameter values, but invented the same 3-axis control system still used today, including by 747s, and mathematically derived the optimal and predictable propeller. But Mr. West went even further. He said that a truly great achievement of science is exemplified by the 747, which in reality is an extrapolation of the Wright Brothers’ fundament principles and which required thousands of people with 20th century educations to implement. Would Mr. West have invented the airplane in the late 19th century/early 20th century, without another 100 years of physics and engineering handed to him on a silver platter of textbooks and journal articles? I doubt it. Mr. West, your statements were uninformed, arrogant and misleading to your listeners. I hope you are more careful with your own work.