Merry Newtonmas

Sir Isaac Newton was born on December 25, 1642.  Sworn as a justice of the peace, while Master and Warden of the Mint, Sir Isaac Newton circulated in disguise among criminals to pursue counterfeiters. 
 
The English crown turned to him to save the Royal Mint. Even when they were not corrupt – which they usually were – the Mint officials were unable to solve the basic problem of creating and maintaining a system of money that worked. A stern Protestant, deeply religious, and moralistic in the extreme, Newton cleared out the criminal element and gave England a reliable monetary system.
 
Newton and the Counterfeiter: The Unknown Detective Career of the World’s Greatest Scientist by Thomas Levenson (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2009) is intended for a general readership, yet rests on an extraordinary foundation of careful scholarship.  Thomas Levenson teaches science journalism at MIT.  He has been granted several awards for his PBS documentaries. Levenson delivers to print the videographer’s impact of sight and sound.  You walk down the alleys and into the pubs where Isaac Newton investigated crimes against the Mint of which he served as warden and later master.
 
A History of Newtonmas

The origins of Newtonmas are murky at best. Michael E. Marotta, a technical writer in Austin, Texas, has sent Newtonmas cards for 30 years and remembers a radio commentary he gave in 1982 that highlighted the parallels between Newton and Jesus.

Zebrowski thought she invented Newtonmas, but was delighted to learn she had co-revelers when the Skeptics Society sent her a catalogue of “Newtonmas gifts” — books like The Believing Brain, How to Debate a Creationist and Why People Believe Weird Things.

“I just made it up back in the 1990s as a joke, just to promote items we were selling,” said Michael Shermer, executive director of the Skeptics Society, which aims to debunk supernatural and pseudoscientific claims. “Everybody was giving me a hard time for calling our party a Christmas party so I said, ‘Alright, I am calling it Newtonmas.'”

Matt Blum, who wrote about Newtonmas in a 2007 post on Wired magazine’s GeekDad blog, says his high school physics teacher marked Newton’s birthday with experiments and “physics carols.”

A 1892 issue of Nature magazine bestows the carol credit on some Victorian-era English scientists.

“At Christmas 1890, or Newtonmas 248, for the first time,” the Nature article reads, “the members of the Newtonkai, or Newton Association, met in the Physical Laboratory of the Imperial University, to hear each other talk, to distribute appropriate gifts, and to lengthen out the small hours with laughter and good cheer. The Society has no President: a portrait of the august Sir Isaac Newton presides over the scene.”

Newtonmas picked up momentum — in keeping with Newton’s Second Law of Motion, of course — in 2007, when the evolutionary biologist and prominent atheist Richard Dawkins championed it in a British magazine.

USA Today from December 16, 2011 here

 

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