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It’s not rocket science

October 13, 2012

This popular expression, which I often use myself, is actually based on a false premise. As Bryan Appleyard remarks in his book, The Brain is Wider than the Sky, ‘ “It’s not rocket science” is often said to suggest that something is very simple. The point being that rocket science is seen as very difficult. In fact, it isn’t.’

Appleyard quotes the aerospace engineer Burt Rutan: ‘A rocket… is a bomb with a hole in one end.’

The science is not hard to understand: the rocket blasts downwards and travels upwards. It’s Newton’s Third Law of Motion in action. What is difficult is rocket engineering: working out the best shape and design for the rocket and the size the fuel tank needs to be. But ‘It’s not rocket engineering’ doesn’t have the same ring to it.

Perhaps we need a new expression for this idea? I’ve always liked Basil Fawlty’s ‘It’s not a proposition from Wittgenstein.’ 

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