Science & Education

, Volume 10, Issue 1–2, pp 119–135 | Cite as

Methodology and Politics in Science: The Fate of Huygens' 1673 Proposal of the Seconds Pendulum as an International Standard of Length and Some Educational Suggestions

  • Michael R. Matthews


This paper is part of a larger work on the history, philosophy and utilisation of pendulum motion studies (Matthews 2000). The paper deals with the fate of Christiaan Huygens 1673 proposal to use the length of a seconds pendulum (effectively one metre) as a universal, natural and objective standard of length. This is something which, if it had been adopted, would have been of inestimable scientific, commercial and cultural benefit. Why it was not originally adopted in the late seventeenth century, and why it was again rejected in the late eighteenth century (1795) when the Revolutionary Assembly in France adopted the metric system with the metre being defined as one ten-millionth of the quarter meridan distance – raise interesting questions about the methodology and politics of science. Given that pendulum motion is a standard component of all science courses throughout the world, and given that most science education reforms, including the US National Science Education Standards and recent Australian state reforms, require that something of the ‘big picture’ of science be conveyed to students (the relationship of science to culture, commerce, history and philosophy) – it is suggested that these educational goals can be advanced by teaching about the fate of Huygens' proposal.


Science Education Eighteenth Century Seventeenth Century Education Standard Education Reform 
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Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 2001

Authors and Affiliations

  • Michael R. Matthews
    • 1
  1. 1.School of EducationUniversity of New South WalesSydneyAustralia; E-mail

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