Talk:William Thomson, 1st Baron Kelvin

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Former good article nominee William Thomson, 1st Baron Kelvin was a good articles nominee, but did not meet the good article criteria at the time. There are suggestions below for improving the article. Once these issues have been addressed, the article can be renominated. Editors may also seek a reassessment of the decision if they believe there was a mistake.
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August 26, 2006 Peer review Reviewed
September 25, 2006 Good article nominee Not listed
Current status: Former good article nominee
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Heavier-than-air flight[edit]

The paragraph in question: "In 1895, as president of the Royal Society, Kelvin is quoted as saying, "Heavier-than-air flying machines are impossible,"[33] proven false a mere eight years later with the flight of Orville and Wilbur Wright's Wright Flyer at Kitty Hawk in 1903."

The source given seems highly dubious to me; does a throwaway reference in the abstract of a biochemistry article ("We conclude that the GPCR modelling field is riddled with ‘common knowledge’ similar to Lord Kelvin’s remark") really constitute a reliable source for something like this?Deadlyhair (talk) 02:47, 17 April 2008 (UTC)

Wrong year of marriage[edit]

I cite: "He married Margaret Gardner in 1817 and, of their children, four boys and two girls survived infancy."

Lord Kelvin wasn't even born in 1817. It would be nice to know how many children they had, but maybe that's asking too much. —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 22:39, 13 March 2008 (UTC)

The word "He" refers to William's father James Thomson. I have now revised this paragraph and replaced several ambiguous pronouns. Dirac66 (talk) 13:55, 7 July 2008 (UTC)

Thermodynamics missing[edit]

His contributions to thermodynamics are missing.

The observation under "luddite" in this discussion needs to be addressed. He does not seem to be against progress ... quite the contrary. However he does reflect the scientific complacence that was setting into nineteenth century Physics due to crowning successes of Newton, Hamilton, Maxwell ... and most importatly the science of Thermodynamics to which Thompson was himself a pioneering contributor.

His remark was more like "All the laws of Physics are now known. It only remains to make more precise measurements". He was of course in for a rude shock if he lived into the next century beyond the first decade.

Considering his zealous support for practial and applicable nature of science his condescending remark "In science there is Physics. All otehr is stamp collection". Of course the nature of Botany and Zoology in his time perhaps reflcted that.

Thus some of his strong opinions need to cast in the context of his times ...

His more sanguine remark seems to be "We have the sober scientific certainty that the heavens and earth shall 'wax old as doth a garment" Refer the link at zapatopi

--Yajnikiitb 2 July 2005 05:59 (UTC)

English ...?[edit]

He was "petted by older students"? I wonder if that's some local dialect that could be translated into something like standard English? Michael Hardy 01:46 Feb 16, 2003 (UTC)

As per the Wikipedia naming conventions, the page ought to be at William Thomson, 1st Baron Kelvin. Several individuals know Sir William as Lord Kelvin, so I cannot submit the objection that the title of a commoner is much more well-known than that of a peer in the case of Lord Kelvin. -- Lord Emsworth 15:40, Jan 4, 2004 (UTC)

It's very confusing now. He is referred to by 3 different names with no explanation of Baron vs. Lord. Doesn't everyone know him as Lord Kelvin?Bhny 18:35, 15 September 2005 (UTC)


Much of this text originally came from the book Heroes of the Telegraph by John Munro, available at Project Gutenberg: [1]. Lupo 14:16, 12 Aug 2004 (UTC)

a luddite?[edit]

When I watched the comedy movie "Around the world in eighty days" by Jackie Chan, the Lord Kelvin portraited in the movie was against scientific advances. He made comments like "Whatever scientific discovery needed by mankind was already found". Then the movie director's commentary said that this character was based on the real person and his ridiculous comments and views. The movie purposely ridiculed him for what he was. Though it is POV to judge on his personality and belief, it would be neutral to quote some of his views here in this article. Kowloonese 23:39, Dec 29, 2004 (UTC)

Well, certainly a Jackie Chan movie is an authoratative source of unassailable integrity, so that's good enough for me. Also, don't forget the information on Charlie Chaplin that can be gleaned from "Shanghai Knights". --Doradus 18:33, May 12, 2005 (UTC)

Tide predicting machine[edit]

We have a picture of an alleged tide predicting machine with no mention in the article body itself. --Doradus 18:14, May 12, 2005 (UTC)

Kelvin produced an analytical solution for the long-period tides. It is one of the most lengthy and difficult bits of maths he did. It should be included in the article, but I dont have time. Involves separation of vars and triple substitutions in a power series solution (see in Lamb's book). The derivation shows the importance of Earth's beta, and hence the fundamental error in Laplace's f-plane. However, Kelvin did not see this. He remarked that material flows were everywhere along lines of pressure. This pre-dates Rossby's findings by 70yrs, but Kelvin did not see geostrophy as the normal state of planetary flows. — Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 11:14, 8 September 2012 (UTC)

The picture is now (since 2009) linked to the article Tide-predicting machine which explains the history in detail including Kelvin's contribution. You might want to add some of the above points to that article. Dirac66 (talk) 17:02, 8 September 2012 (UTC)


Would not he be considered Scottish, rather than Irish? Anglius
This bothers me too. We have here an Irish Glaswegian! It think that Irish-Scottish is probably right. Cutler 23:50, July 24, 2005 (UTC)
Just because he lived in Scotland? That's very tenuous at best, he was born in Northern Ireland to Northern Irish parents, therefore Northern Irish and no Scottish in him. —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 15:24, 25 December 2007 (UTC)
"Northern Ireland" did not exist when he was born, and was created many years after his death. Donn300
Since writing that yesterday I read that William Thompson "in a speech of 1883, said he spoke as an Irishman on the Irish Question." in p67 of Donn300
I thank you, Mr. Cutler, for having written that. --Anglius 17:43, 25 July 2005 (UTC)
He is what is called an "Ulster Scot." Hamilton 19:52, 9 October 2007
I notice that the opening line of the article describes him as Irish and links to the article on the Republic of Ireland. Presumably that needs to be changed? VJDocherty (talk) 12:04, 22 May 2008 (UTC)
It should really link to United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland with his nationality as Irish to determine his place of birth. At the time of his birth (and indeed death) Ireland was entirely occupied by Great Britain, however people who were born in Ireland would be called Irish. I'll change the article so it better reflects this. Incidentally I have no idea what he's doing listed in a lot of Scottish categories as he was not a Scot.IrishPete (talk) 12:00, 29 June 2008 (UTC)
Correction to last comment 'At the time of his birth (and indeed death) Ireland was part of the union that was the United Kingdom (in full, back then: "The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland") '
Since writing that yesterday I read that William Thompson "in a speech of 1883, said he spoke as an Irishman on the Irish Question." in p67 of Donn300
As an aside, he was born 23 1/2 years after Ireland was made a part of the U.K. against the wishes of Ireland's people, after the small apartheid Irish Parliament (drawn only from the Anglican Ascendency class) was bribed and more. Donn300

It's clear he was born in Belfast, but books that I've checked refer to him usually as British or English. If we're going to refer to him as Irish, I'd like to at least see a source that does so. Dicklyon (talk) 20:11, 17 December 2008 (UTC)

William Thompson "in a speech of 1883, said he spoke as an Irishman on the Irish Question." in p67
of Donn300
I can't imagine anyone would regard him as English... as said above, he would be considered historically as an Ulster-Scot (his ancestors having made the short journey from the Scottish lowlands to Ireland in 1641). He was born in Belfast to Irish-born parents, and subsequently taken to Scotland as a result of his father's appointment to Glasgow -- seems Irish to me, but I will dig up a reference if needed. Irish-born, would be a way around it, I suppose. Khcf6971 (talk) 21:44, 17 December 2008 (UTC)
Kelvin would be certainly be surprised to hear people calling him English, or Scottish. But there is a long of history of
England/Britain claiming Irish writers, scientists and sports people as theirs. For some reason they never claim the losers. :-)
William Thompson "in a speech of 1883, said he spoke as an Irishman on the Irish Question.", see p67 of Donn300
To assist your imagination, consult books [2] [3]. Dicklyon (talk) 00:37, 18 December 2008 (UTC)
"his ancestors having made the short journey from the Scottish lowlands to Ireland in 1641" - you mean nearly 200 years before he was born? There is a lot more ancestry in him that was Northern Irish than came in a boat 200 years before he was born.'Ulster Scot' is entirely inaccurate and I am deleting it as a result. —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 19:16, 29 December 2008 (UTC)
But that's when a large chunk of the Ulster Scots population arrived, as a part of the 'plantation'... Ulster Scots is a recognised minority today in NI (even included in the GF agreement), and was a strong identinty when Thomson was born. His 'macro' nationality is Irish (British-rule) and his heritage is Ulster Scot Khcf6971 (talk) 12:52, 30 December 2008 (UTC)
These searches will probably work better if you spell Thomson correctly, with no p. Dirac66 (talk) 00:53, 18 December 2008 (UTC)
Actually, no, they work worse. That does certainly cast a lot of doubt on the sources I found that way! I do find a few saying British with the correct spelling. I also don't find any calling him Irish. This one says his mother was Scottish and his father an Ulster Scot. So how does one summarize? Dicklyon (talk) 03:40, 18 December 2008 (UTC)
I'd stick with what is there now - the Irish-Born British (Ulster Scot), but for completeness, several 'Irish Physicist' references (of varying quality) here Khcf6971 (talk) 08:51, 23 December 2008 (UTC)

Your "Irish-born British (Ulster Scot)" is long but probably more accurate than any one-word version. The Wiki guideline WP:ETHNIC is not very helpful but at least defines the problem as "It is a fact of human nature that discussions become heated over issues which mount a challenge (real or imagined) to the identity that individuals have constructed for themselves." Dirac66 (talk) 04:23, 18 December 2008 (UTC)

'Irish-Born' implies that there is a contradiction between being both Irish and British, Kelvin would have regarded himself as being both - just as there is no conflict between being Scottish and British. —Preceding unsigned comment added by Belfastconfetti (talkcontribs) 19:59, 8 September 2009 (UTC)

OK, but putting only 'British' doesn't cover that - no part of Ireland is in Great Britain - if he regarded himself as both, then we should to? Khcf6971 (talk) 21:35, 8 September 2009 (UTC)

Extra content[edit]

I found this text hidden in a comment at the end of the article! Bizarre!

I feel that as much of the technical detail as possible sould go to transatlantic telegraph cable (an article needing attention) while trying to keep Thomson as self-contained as possible.

< !-- More detail which belongs elsewhere It was known that the conductor should be of copper, possessing a high conductivity for the electric current, and that its insulating jacket of gutta-percha should offer a great resistance to the leakage of the current. Moreover, experience had shown that the protecting sheath or armour of the core should be light and flexible as well as strong, in order to resist external violence and allow it to be lifted for repair. There was another consideration, however, which at this time was rather a puzzle. As early as 1823, Francis Ronalds had observed that electric signals were retarded in passing through an insulated wire or core laid under ground, and the same effect was noticeable on cores immersed in water, and particularly on the lengthy cable between England and the Hague. Faraday showed that it was caused by induction between the electricity in the wire and the earth or water surrounding it. A core, in fact, is an attenuated Leyden jar; the wire of the core, its insulating jacket, and the soil or water around it stand respectively for the inner tinfoil, the glass, and the outer tinfoil of the jar. -->

Cutler 07:38, July 27, 2005 (UTC)

Moved content to Submarine communications cable or deleted as duplicated. Cutler 15:56, July 27, 2005 (UTC)

"Fears were realized" confusing paragraph[edit]

I was confused by this paragraph, mainly by the first sentence because it stated earlier that Thomson did experiments to find better ways of doing things for the cable went head-to-head with Whitehouse before on it. Why would his "fears be realized" when a comparative study showed that his experiments actually were better than Whitehouse's?

"Thomson's fears were realised and Whitehouse's apparatus proved insufficiently sensitive and had to be replaced by Thomson's mirror galvanometer. Whitehouse continued to maintain that it was his equipment that was providing the service and started to engage in desperate measures to remedy some of the problems. He only succeded in fatally damaging the cable by applying 2,000 V. When the cable failed completely Whitehouse was dismissed, though Thomson objected and was reprimanded by the board for his interference. Thomson subsequently regretted that he had acquiesced too readily to many of Whitehouse's proposals and had not challenged him with sufficient energy"

President of Royal Society box[edit]

The President of the Royal Society box is confusing. Why are there two boxes each for preceded and succeeded, and what do "New Creation" and "Extinct" mean? This should be fixed or at least made a little more self-explanatory.--ragesoss 16:20, 8 January 2006 (UTC)

Now I see that it refers to his title of Baron, created for him and not passed down. But for people who happen upon this article without being familiar with the nobility boxes, it will seem like it is part of the royal society box (unlike Lister, where the boxes are separate).--ragesoss 16:23, 8 January 2006 (UTC)

Did I miss something?????[edit]

Didnt he invent the electrostatic generator? Why wasn't mentioned Or did i miss something (which is possible).

Some references may need double-checking[edit]

I just reformatted the references to the new cite.php style and repaired some broken links and ambiguities in the process. Specifically, the reference names "KT11" and "S5" had been used twice for different references, there were references named "KT7", "KT8", "KT9" and "Bu" at the bottom that weren't used in the body of the article, and there were links in the body of the article to the nonexistent references "bu1", "wt6", "wt7" and "wt8". I believe I've corrected all of these, but since I'm not familiar with these references could someone double-check me? Now that cite.php is in use it should hopefully prevent this sort of problem in the future since incorrect labelling and linking is a lot harder to do by accident with it. Bryan 01:18, 1 May 2006 (UTC)

Doozy of a claim in Geology section[edit]

"Though Thomson continued to defend his estimates, privately he admitted that they were most probably wrong." It would be nice to have a citation for this. I haven't seen this claimed anywhere else. As far as I understand the history Kelvin's objections to evolution, based on estimates on the earth' s age, were a serious problem for Darwin and company. --Sam nead 05:11, 11 June 2006 (UTC)

Burchfield, J. D. 1975. Lord Kelvin and the age of the earth. Science History Publ., New York. 260 pp is apparently a reference for this; Age of the Earth has a nice story about Rutherford giving a lecture with Kelvin in the audience where he realised he was about to contradict Kelvin.

Apepper 15:33, 27 April 2007 (UTC)

Knot theory/atomic theory[edit]

Why isn't there any information here about how he was responsible for the start of Knot theory (a branch of mathematics)? He proposed that particles could also be waves if they were large knots in aether.

I agree, I don't know if I am the person to compose it, but a mention of his contributions to knot theory would be nice. In "Knots. Mathematics with a Twist" Alexei Sossinksy devotes a substantial portion to describing Kelvin's efforts to both categorize knots and his attempts to use them as a model of the atom. --RedIsaac (talk) 02:55, 26 September 2009 (UTC)

Auto Peer Review[edit]

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Lord Kelvin's dictum[edit]

Lord Kelvin's dictum, If you cannot measure, then your knowledge is meagre and unsatisfactory is an oft-quoted but abbreviated summary of, "I often say that when you can measure what you are speaking about, and express it in numbers, you know something about it; but when you cannot express it in numbers, your knowledge is of a meagre and unsatisfactory kind; it may be the beginning of knowledge, but you have scarcely, in your thoughts, advanced to the stage of Science, whatever the matter may be." DFH 16:28, 21 September 2006 (UTC)

GA Fails[edit]

I am failing this one instead of giving the hold I had expected because of one major issue:

  • DEATH. Biographies, whether scholarly tomes or online open-content encyclopedias, usually give some information about how the subject shuffled off this mortal coil. But this article just sort of peters out around 1900, leaving the last seven years accounted for. I cannot even begin to consider this comprehensive without it.

And the other issues:

  • Unsourced sections On the other end of the biography, the family section has no footnotes whatsoever, despite the kind of specific facts that are sourced in other sections. Some other paragraphs also need sources, or more sources.
I am tagging the article before that section. Daniel Case 20:33, 26 September 2006 (UTC)
  • Huh?' What the hell is this sentence:"To understand the technical issues in which Thomson became involved, see Submarine communications cable: Bandwidth problems" doing smack dab in the middle of that paragraph under the transatlantic cable? We just don't do things that way. Find a way to write the link into the article without being self-referential.
  • Wife and family The first Mrs. Thomson shows up in the story only so she can die in 1870 and clear the way for the second. I'd like to know more about both of them, and any children they had. He had to have a life outside of work, after all. If you can have a section on his religious beliefs, you can have a section on his personal life if the source is there.

That said, the article is otherwise comprehensive and well-written, not always easy for a physicist bio. Keep up the good work. Daniel Case 03:15, 26 September 2006 (UTC)

Nothing about panspermia?[edit]

I think that it would be interesting to mention. Thomson, William (Lord Kelvin) - David Darling's encyclopedia --Extremophile 06:55, 18 December 2006 (UTC)

Did he say: Radio has no future? and "Heavier-than-air flight is impossible"[edit]

I saw in the page Failed predictions that Kelvin in 1897 said "Radio has no future" (citation needed). Is it true? What is the source of this sentence? Thank you. [Hamlet 4th apr 2007]

There are lots of references to the quotation on the web; around 133,000 hits on google. I can't find the origin of the quote - he also apparently said that "X-rays will prove to be a hoax". Apepper 18:27, 28 April 2007 (UTC)

Also where is the source for "heavier-than-air flight is impossible"? Would he really have been unaware that heavier than air flight was a well established fact in 1895? What he did say was that it was impractical and had no commercial future. (Letter to Baden Powell 1896 and interview with Newark Advocate 1902) Robin Herbert61.88.244.4 (talk) 02:31, 10 April 2008 (UTC)

The quote for heavier-than-air flight would be worth correcting, except that these sources are virtually unfindable. Does anyone have a *verifiable* source for a more accurate version of this quote. Dirac66 (talk) 22:49, 11 November 2008 (UTC)

Via MacTutor on Kelvin, I was linked to this site with quotes, having several of them sourced. -- Crowsnest (talk) 00:45, 12 November 2008 (UTC)

Very good! The Zapatopi site is more detailed than any I have seen for the Kelvin quotes. The Aeronautics section documents Robin Herbert's comment above - Zapatopi searched for "heavier-than-air flight is impossible" and found nothing, but does give links to the letter to Baden Powell (of the Boy Scouts??) and the Newark Advocate interview. The article should be modified to give correct quotes with these links. I will try to do this soon (unless you want to do it first or someone else does).

As for radio however, Zapatopi quotes "Radio has no future" with no source, and then gives several very positive quotes about Marconi's "wireless telegraphy". So I think "Radio has no future" should just be deleted from the article. Dirac66 (talk) 01:45, 12 November 2008 (UTC) Revised Dirac66 (talk) 01:48, 12 November 2008 (UTC)

All done. I have replaced the heavier-than-air quote by correct quotes about aviation from the letter to Baden Powell and the Newark Advocate interview. And I have deleted "Radio has no future" as not reliably sourced. Note that in the Newark Advocate interview, Kelvin was negative about aeroplanes, but he was very enthusiastic about radio. Dirac66 (talk) 00:49, 17 November 2008 (UTC)

Listing for re-assessment[edit]

I'm listing this article for re-assessment. --Setanta 02:18, 1 November 2007 (UTC)

Good article reassessment is not the appropriate place to carry on this discussion. The article is not on the GA list, and was last reviewed as a Good Article Nominee over 1 year ago, when it failed. The discussion has been archived. --Jayron32|talk|contribs 03:03, 1 November 2007 (UTC)
Can you please clarify your advice? As far as I was aware, Wikipedia:Good article reassessment is the place one submits articles for reassessment for GA status. At least - that makes logical sense to me.

I disagree with the article's status. I can't follow the logic in what you have said. However, a member of the GA team has given me the information I need to know, and I will act on that now. Cheers. --Setanta 05:06, 1 November 2007 (UTC)

Life Peerage[edit]

The reason that Lord Kelvin's title was not passed on is the he was a life peer rather than an hereditary peer. Had he been hereditary, my uncle would have been Lord Kelvin and my mother would have been 'The Honourable'.

Missing also, his work on engineering and managing the first ever transatlantic cable. Whereas previous attempts tried to do it with a heavy cable (which kept breaking) he went with a lightweight cable (I touched a sample of it at my Aunts house in). Edinburgh).

In order to make a success in the laying of the transatlantic cable he also invented Thomson's Galvenometer. —Preceding unsigned comment added by Craig c 2008 (talkcontribs) 01:03, 11 July 2008 (UTC)

No it was a hereditary peerage. Life peerages didn't exist before 1958 (bar the judiciary). The title died with Kelvin because he had no living son. Timrollpickering (talk) 13:10, 10 December 2009 (UTC)

References in: Pronouncements later proven to be false[edit]

Although the citations in this section of the article may be correct, to me the used references do not seem to be very reliable. In my opinion, more reliable references than blog's and wiki's are needed. -- Crowsnest (talk) 17:08, 1 September 2008 (UTC)

I agree with Crowsnest. The three websites given are each just a collection of false predictions and comments supposedly made by various famous people including Kelvin. Some of the quotes on the websites are clearly urban legends, and some I have seen attributed to several different people. What is needed are references to primary sources such as biographies of Kelvin or articles about Kelvin. Dirac66 (talk) 19:57, 1 September 2008 (UTC)

Lord Kelvin?[edit]

Since he's often referred to just as Lord Kelvin, shouldn't this be mentioned at least once in the summary? It's above the portrait of him, but nowhere in the intro paragraph. -- (talk) 01:43, 3 October 2008 (UTC)

I have now added "Lord" to the intro, briefly on the first line and also in the fourth sentence with an explanation. Dirac66 (talk) 02:08, 3 October 2008 (UTC)

X-Ray Pronouncement[edit]

In the "pronouncements proven false" section, the reference for "X-rays are a hoax" says c. 1900, when the article says 1900. However, Lord Kelvin's hand was X-ray imaged in 1895 (to see the image, see the Royal Society, This seems like a contradiction since it says he claimed they were a hoax after his hand was imaged - although, with a good source that explains his reasoning, I could believe that this would be the case. Awickert (talk) 06:31, 8 November 2008 (UTC)

To be picky, the image of Kelvin's hand is dated May 6/96 and the text below confirms that it was taken on 6 May 1896. But I agree with your point and your decision to remove this statement from the article. The primary source you have found is clearly more reliable than the list of supposed quotes from various famous people which contained the "c.1900" date. Dirac66 (talk) 19:03, 8 November 2008 (UTC)

Shoot - that's what happens when you edit late at night and can't read! I didn't remove the statement, but I'm glad someone did, and would be happy to see it return if another primary source surfaces. Awickert (talk) 02:38, 9 November 2008 (UTC)

Is anybody aware of a reliable biography (or other reliable sources) where this and the other statements can be verified? Of course the statement about the X-rays can still be true, with Kelvin even thinking X-rays a hoax after letting his hand being X-rayed, but it is not verifiable. P.S. I removed the statement. -- Crowsnest (talk) 09:47, 9 November 2008 (UTC)
I found on a random webpage ( this quote, "It is famously said that Lord Kelvin dismissed the phenomenon as an elaborate hoax. This appears to be true, but it was in a letter written before Kelvin had seen Röntgen's experimental notes, because of illness. Once Kelvin saw the experimental notes and the evidence, he became a firm supporter of Röntgen and his X-rays. ". If so, that means it was before this. I searched more, and found a book, A History of X-rays and Radium, by Richard Francis Mould, through which he extrapolates on this through primary sources. It seems that Kelvin did initially think that they were a hoax, but that this view was not entirely borne out in the letter. Awickert (talk) 17:07, 9 November 2008 (UTC)

Good research. I think the opinion on X-rays can now be replaced, with a few corrections: 1. Your two new sources should be given, rather than the previous less reliable source 2. The wording on the everything2 website ("dismissed the phenomenenon is an elaborate hoax") appears to be more careful than the simple statement "X-rays are a hoax" which I would avoid - unless it is quoted that way by Mould (which I have not seen). 3. The date should be 1896 or late 1895. I suggest "c.1896" 4. Other details can be quoted from these 2 sources. Dirac66 (talk) 18:04, 9 November 2008 (UTC)

OK - did it, with the book as a source. Awickert (talk) 20:53, 9 November 2008 (UTC)

Very good. You also inspired me to find and insert better sources for the "nothing new in physics" quote. Dirac66 (talk) 23:40, 9 November 2008 (UTC)

Great! Awickert (talk) 01:14, 10 November 2008 (UTC)

Historical accuracy[edit]

We should strive to maintain accuracy on birthplaces. Allmir Ademi was not born in Kosovo strictly speaking, nor many other people in Category:People from Priština. Applying modern states to the birthplaces of historical figures is foolhardy. O Fenian (talk) 01:34, 1 March 2009 (UTC)

  • Yes, agreed. Apologies for my first revert, I read his birthdate as 1924. Belfast was clearly in Ireland at that point. Question is, do we really need any of the country qualifiers in the infobox when they're referenced in the text? Black Kite 01:42, 1 March 2009 (UTC)
  • Not really. And if they are all removed, it will hopefully stop people changing them to inaccurate terms. O Fenian (talk) 01:50, 1 March 2009 (UTC)
  • Therefore - done. Black Kite 01:54, 1 March 2009 (UTC)
Great. Comment: all places mentioned are within the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, so no need for further specifications. -- Crowsnest (talk) 01:55, 1 March 2009 (UTC)

Yes, I agree with Belfast unqualified. Or rather [[Belfast]] - anyone who wants the entire history of Belfast is welcome to click on the link, while the rest of us can read about Kelvin.

This entire edit war reminds me of Einstein's 1922 quote (in Wikiquote): "If my theory of relativity is proven successful, Germany will claim me as a German and France will declare that I am a citizen of the world. Should my theory prove untrue, France will say that I am a German and Germany will declare that I am a Jew." Since the second law of thermodynamics has proven true, everyone seems to want Kelvin! Dirac66 (talk) 02:01, 1 March 2009 (UTC)

New file File:Baron Kelvin with his brother and sister by Agnes Gardner King.jpg[edit]

Recently the file File:Baron Kelvin with his brother and sister by Agnes Gardner King.jpg (right) was uploaded and it appears to be relevant to this article and not currently used by it. If you're interested and think it would be a useful addition, please feel free to include it. Dcoetzee 00:16, 11 April 2009 (UTC)

Which of the two brothers in the photo is Baron Kelvin? Dirac66 (talk) 00:25, 11 April 2009 (UTC)
That's a reasonable question. :-) According to NPG, he's the one on the left. Dcoetzee 01:00, 11 April 2009 (UTC)
OK, thanks. The NPG site also reminded me that brother James was a successful engineer, contrary to an unsourced statement in the article (which I have now removed) about failed apprenticeships.
Next question - where to put the photo? The beginning which deals with his family is already cluttered with William's picture and the table of contents. Perhaps near section 2.2 Scientist to engineer, if only because it is in the middle of a long unillustrated stretch. What do you think? Dirac66 (talk) 02:33, 11 April 2009 (UTC)
P.S. Actually this photo would be interesting in both this article and the article on James. Dirac66 (talk) 02:35, 11 April 2009 (UTC)


It is absurd to speculate on whether an historical figure would have adhered to a modern belief. It is even more absurd for wp to quote (purportedly) an author's speculations on the subject. What H.I. Sharlin thinks about Thomson's potential as a Christian fundamentalist is utterly irrelelevant, which must be exactly why it shows up in the article. Good show wp! Strike another blow for pc-ism by carefully dividing your historical figures into the "good" and "bad" piles via modern revisionism. —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 06:35, 6 July 2009 (UTC)

Age of the Earth[edit]

The text says "Lord Kelvin, ultimately settled on an estimate that the Earth was 20–400 million years old" This seemed too large a range for such a precision scientist such as Lord kelvin. I think that it was a typographic error. I looked it up my book and found something different. My source says his estimate was 20-40 million years old. so I changed the text. My Source is :

The Earth's Dynamic systems, 5th edition By W. Kenneth Hamblin Macmillan Publishig Co NY copyright 1989 ISBN 0-02-349381-X

Rozzychan (talk) 18:19, 16 May 2010 (UTC) -

The same result (20 to 40 Myr) is also given in: Burchfield, Joe D. (1990), Lord Kelvin and the age of the earth, University of Chicago Press, p. 43, ISBN 0226080439  (which already was present as a reference in the article). -- Crowsnest (talk) 22:48, 16 May 2010 (UTC)
I checked the edit history. Previous to 29 Oct 2009, the article said 20-40 Myr using Burchfield as source. On 29 Oct 2009 it was changed to 20-400 Myr by a numbered editor without changing the reference in the article, which we would normally consider unsourced and unjustified. However in this case the numbered editor did provide a source in the edit summary (it should have been in the article itself, but never mind) as follows:
"His estimate of the age of the earth was 20-400 million years (not 20-40), with a prediction of 98 MY. Cf. page 250 of K. K. Tung's Topics in Mathematical Modeling"
Perhaps we should check out K. K. Tung's book before coming to a definite conclusion. Dirac66 (talk) 01:01, 17 May 2010 (UTC)
Burchfield (see above) also mentioned on the same page the 400 Myr estimate, but that was made earlier by Kelvin. But as the article says: "In 1897 Thomson, now Lord Kelvin, ultimately settled on an estimate that the Earth was 20–40 million years old", i.e. he made this estimate in 1897 and it was the final published one he made. About his estimates, in view of our present knowledge and the history of science, see e.g. [4]. -- Crowsnest (talk) 04:51, 17 May 2010 (UTC)
The same (20-40 Myr) is mentioned in Dalrymple, G. Brent (1994), The Age of the Earth, Stanford University Press, p. 43, ISBN 0804723311 , also providing the relevant quote from the 1897 presentation by Lord Kelvin (where he says it is a refinement of his earlier upper limit of 400 Myr). -- Crowsnest (talk) 05:05, 17 May 2010 (UTC)

I have now checked Tung’s book, which does refer to the initial 1864 estimate and explain its reasoning. I think that both estimates are historically important and should be mentioned.

The initial 1864 estimate of 20-400 Myr started a scientific debate on the subject as discussed in Age of the Earth#Early calculations. The wide limits are due to Kelvin’s uncertainty about the melting temperature of rock, to which he equated the earth’s interior temperature.

The final 1897 estimate is also important as his final word on the subject, so it should be retained too. Since 20-40 and 20-400 appear confusingly similar, we can add the phrase “reduced his upper limit by a factor of ten” to make clear that there is no misprint. Dirac66 (talk) 00:18, 24 May 2010 (UTC)

some more honours.[edit]

There's a school and street named after him in New Westminster BC. 49.210484, -122.93078 (talk) 13:37, 14 December 2010 (UTC)


Shouldn't we mention his religion? Faro0485 (talk) 13:10, 14 August 2011 (UTC) I thought I'd go ahead and add his religious stance into that box, but it's already there when I click on the edit page, but it's not showing on the article. Might as well make a section on his religious stance. Faro0485 (talk) 13:15, 14 August 2011 (UTC)

I agree that we should. The reason it does not show in the infobox is that religion is not one of the parameters recognized by Template: Infobox scientist. Some information is given at the beginning of the section Age of the Earth: Geology and theology, which seems to be the part of his work which was most closely related to his religious stance. Perhaps you could just add to that information and include your source. Dirac66 (talk) 16:38, 15 August 2011 (UTC)


In Kelvin's post-nomials he is listed as 'PRS' and 'PRSE' - are these correct post-nomials? I've only ever seen living presidents of these (and other) learned societies referred to by their accepted post-nomial designation within that society, which is usually Fellow (e.g. FRS, FRSE). Suggest these be investigated. — Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 16:09, 4 April 2012 (UTC)

Article name[edit]

I think that there's a good argument for moving this article to William Thomson, Lord Kelvin or even just Lord Kelvin. The rationale for this change would be that:

  1. The subject of this article is overwhelming known as "Lord Kelvin". Per WP:UCN, I think it's important that the name by which Kelvin is almost always known be in the article title.
  2. This would cause no ambiguity because William Thomson is the only Lord Kelvin ever to have existed.
  3. Such a deviation from the standard for British peers is both explicitly permitted by the guidelines and also used for similar figures known primarily as "Lord this-or-that": e.g. Alfred, Lord Tennyson and Lord Byron."

Does this seem like a reasonable proposition? Charlie A. (talk) 20:30, 16 July 2012 (UTC)

Actually you have made two propositions separated by the words or even.
I agree with changing 1st Baron to Lord and naming the article William Thomson, Lord Kelvin, because he is generally described as Lord rather than Baron or 1st Baron.
But I disagree with just Lord Kelvin as an article name, because he was known as Thomson for most of his career and only became Kelvin at age 68. Many textbooks refer for example to the Joule-Thomson effect, so Thomson should be easy to find in Wikipedia. Tennyson and Byron are different cases as they had these surnames from birth. Dirac66 (talk) 21:04, 16 July 2012 (UTC)
You make a very good point about Tennyson and Byron having their names from birth, whereas Thomson being known as Thomson for the majority of his career. I forgot I suggested just Lord Kelvin --it was something of an afterthought. Charlie A. (talk) 21:47, 16 July 2012 (UTC)


His scientific accomplishments notwithstanding, the article remains silent about the source of Kelvin's great wealth.--dunnhaupt (talk) 15:38, 28 April 2013 (UTC)

Lower limit[edit]

This bit, from the intro, is bothering me:

"Lord Kelvin is widely known for determining the correct value of absolute zero as approximately -273.15 Celsius. A lower limit to temperature was known prior to Lord Kelvin, as shown in "Reflections on the Motive Power of Heat", published by Sadi Carnot in French in 1824, the year of Lord Kelvin's birth. "Reflections" used -267 as the absolute zero temperature. Absolute temperatures are stated in units of kelvin in his honour."

-267ºC is a higher limit to temperature, not a lower one. -267ºC is greater than -273.15ºC. --El Pollo Diablo (Talk) 12:20, 14 October 2013 (UTC)

The meaning is that there exists a lower limit to all physically possible values of temperature, which we now of course call absolute zero. Carnot's value was an estimate of the value this lower limit, meaning that Carnot considered that all physically possible temperatures are higher than approximately -267, the exact value being unknown at the time. Carnot did not propose -267 as an upper bound to the value of absolute zero. That would imply that Carnot had somehow proved by 1824 that the true value must be lower, which was not the case. Dirac66 (talk) 13:46, 14 October 2013 (UTC)

Kelvin's Law for sizing conductors in electrical transmission lines[edit]

Two of our articles, Overhead power line and Electric power transmission mention "Kelvin's Law" which states that "the optimum size of conductor for a line is found when the cost of the energy wasted in the conductor is equal to the annual interest paid on that portion of the line construction cost due to the size of the conductors." The former pipe-links here (Kelvin's Law) while the latter redlinks to Kelvin's law for conductor size. I don't think that this subject would support an article on its own, but should instead be included in this article. There are several references for modern interpretation of Kelvin's Law (such as Donald G. Fink and H. Wayne Beaty, Standard Handbook for Electrical Engineers, Eleventh Edition, McGraw-Hill, New York, 1978, ISBN 0-07-020974-X, Chapter 14 Overhead Power Transmission), but what historical resources are there? Did Kelvin develop this law while working on the Niagara Falls power station design? How was it originally stated? -- ToE 23:30, 9 February 2014 (UTC)

Thomson was Ulster SCOTTISH[edit]

Thomson had no Irish blood in him and was the descendant of Scottish immigrants to Ulster -- hence the Scottish surnames of his parents, Gardner and Thomson. I have altered his nationality as Irish to British as that was his nationality. I have also removed him from the category of Irish Presbyterian not just because genetically that amounts to an oxymoron, but because this detail is superfluous to his inclusion in the category of 'Elders of the Church of Scotland. — Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 19:13, 28 May 2014 (UTC)


Should this article have a {{distinguish}} hatnote pointing to J J Thompson? Both gentlemen were distinguished physicists with very similar surnames - see Hendrik Lorentz and Ludvig Lorenz for another example of this usage of the hatnote. Tevildo (talk) 17:15, 31 July 2014 (UTC)

I, personally, would find that very useful, especially as they had overlapping careers, and both got degrees and mathematics prizes from Cambridge. I think it is a special case where hatnotes would be more value than clutter. --Hroðulf (or Hrothulf) (Talk) 20:39, 31 July 2014 (UTC)
General guidelines and common sense say no. Per WP:NAMB the reason given to disambiguate names is if it is the same name (e.g. Matt Smith (comics) and Matt Smith (illustrator)). Every "Thompson" in Wikipedia is "distinguished" (notable) and there is no reason to assume a substantial portion of the readership would mistake these two Thompsons especially since one is not generally know by the name "Thompson", not to mention all the other physicists named "Thompson"[5][6][7][8] who we would also have to add to the hat. The "Lorentz" example looks to be a misuse of the hat to me. Fountains of Bryn Mawr (talk) 20:56, 31 July 2014 (UTC)
(Apologies for the misspelling). I should point out that WP:NAMB is a disambiguation guideline, and the {{distinguish}} hatnote is not a disambiguation template, but is to help our readers quickly locate the correct article. Tevildo (talk) 19:45, 1 August 2014 (UTC)
First of all they were both Thomson, not Thompson. The other physicist's correct name was J. J. Thomson. The first names are different, but they were both physicists with overlapping careers, and I have met students that have confused the two. So I favor a hatnote in this case, with the correct spelling of Thomson. Dirac66 (talk) 21:06, 31 July 2014 (UTC)
And as for Lorentz and Lorenz, that hatnote is justified by the fact that they both independently proposed the same equation, now known as the Lorentz-Lorenz equation! So those two tend to get confused even though their spelling does differ. Dirac66 (talk) 21:10, 31 July 2014 (UTC)
"Thomson" (sorry for the typo) gives us George Paget Thomson, James Thomson (engineer) plus all the other physicists named "Thompson"[9][10][11][12] (readers are not going to make the distinction). The Lorenz hat is not justified in that it list three, not one. Is there any sources saying J J and Kelvin are "confused" in any way? Fountains of Bryn Mawr (talk) 22:10, 31 July 2014 (UTC)
I can't think of a source, but I have confused them ever since high school, as have some of Dirac66's students. All it needs is for readers to do a web search for 'thomson physics', 'thomson cambridge' or 'thomson electricity' for the outcome to be unpredictable, or the reader to be confused, which could be helped with a prominent link to the correct article. Is that enough to reach a consensus? (By the way, there is no link to William Thomson at Thomson but we should probably put one there.) --Hroðulf (or Hrothulf) (Talk) 09:18, 3 August 2014 (UTC)
I have now added a link to William Thomson at Thomson. Dirac66 (talk) 11:56, 3 August 2014 (UTC)


How could Lord Kelvin possibly have been Irish when Irish citizenship only came into existence in 1935, and then only in the part of Ireland that Kelvin didn't come from? And despite the option to chose that exists for people in Northern Ireland (where Kelvin came from), Kelvin did not hail from the community that would choose to be Irish. Kelvin was British through and through spending most of his adult years in Scotland and England. — Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 23:48, 30 November 2014 (UTC)

He got his peerage for opposing Irish home rule and he was buried at Westminster Abbey, near to Isaac Newton. He was British. (talk) 16:39, 1 December 2014 (UTC)

Oxygen cycle[edit]

In his calculation, Kelvin assumed that photosynthesis was the only source of free oxygen; he did not know all of the components of the oxygen cycle. He could not even have known all of the sources of photosynthesis: for example the cyanobacterium Prochlorococcus—which accounts for more than half of marine photosynthesis—was not discovered until 1986.

These two sentences suggest that there are other major sources of free oxygen besides photosynthesis. In the cited oxygen article, the positive oxygen flux listed in a chart is overwhelmingly photosynthesis. What gives? (talk) 13:56, 15 March 2015 (UTC)