Invoking Feynman

A few days ago it was announced Professor Martyn Poliakoff is to receive a knighthood.

We posted a video about it - and the resulting positive comments and warm congratulations have been extraordinary.

I know Martyn has been overwhelmed by it.

But, as to be expected, some people have been critical of the honours system.

Some of these often seem to centre on the system's (slightly misunderstood) link to monarchy.

Fair enough - everyone is entitled to their opinion. And I hasten to add even the "honour critics" have been very kind to Martyn.

I've been reading YouTube comments long enough to have anticipated such comments. And it is the nature of feedback that negativity lodges in the mind more easily

But of particular interest to me is the invocation of Richard Feynman.

I love Feynman as much as the next science nerd - his books, lectures and recorded interviews enthral me.

In one interview he famously said he did not like honours. People latch onto this comment and raise it often.

It certainly plays to Feynman's maverick reputation.

In fact, not long ago, I used the quote myself at the end of video in an anti-honour context!

However there is something many people seem to overlook.

Feynman accepted the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1965 (he was not obliged to take it). 

And - when he took receipt of the golden medal - Feynman made a typically colourful and interesting banquet speech. I recommend reading the whole thing

In it, he points out that honours can bring joy and inspiration to other people - maybe even complete strangers.

If you don't have time to read it, at least let me share Feynman's closing remarks.

"And so, you Swedish people, with your honors, and your trumpets, and your king - forgive me. For I understand at last - such things provide entrance to the heart. Used by a wise and peaceful people they can generate good feeling, even love, among men, even in lands far beyond your own. For that lesson, I thank you."