61 Nobel Laureates can't be wrong

By Daniel Holz | September 25, 2008 8:04 pm

Sixty one Nobel Laureates have just released an open letter endorsing Barack Obama for president of the United States. As far as I know, this is far and away the largest number of prize-winners to ever endorse a presidential candidate. It’s a sign of just how bad things have gotten in this country.

Of course, there has been plenty of evidence for the decline of the scientific enterprise in the US (science funding issues, The Gathering Storm, the politicization of science). Eight years of Bush have not been kind to science. And given the challenges we are facing (e.g., how to sustain well over 6 billion people without destroying our planet), this is not the time to short-change the scientific enterprise. Sadly, there is much evidence that McCain will carry on the Republican trend. Picking a running-mate that believes the Earth is 3000 years old, and that humans have nothing to do with global warming, does not inspire confidence. The McCain campaign has finally responded to the questions from Science Debate 2008, and the answers are mostly platitudes, without substance or firm commitments. Obama, on the other hand, gives science its due. His campaign has released an extremely detailed plan to rescue science. Both Nature and Physics Today have done fairly thorough comparisons, as has a certain somebody’s better half.

When 61 Nobel Laureates express such dismay at the current state of affairs, and such uniform and clear conviction that Obama is the best candidate, perhaps it’s time to take notice?

Update: All three of the 2008 American Nobelists in science have now endorsed Obama. And a few other Nobel Laureates have added their names to the letter, including New Mexico’s very own Murray Gell-Mann.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Politics, Science and Politics
  • Brian

    Unfortunately, I’m not sure the endorsement of respected scientists will help Obama at all.

    And doesn’t Palin think the world is 6000 years old, not 3000. ‘Cause 3000 would just be crazy. ;)

  • Will

    You know who I would rather have as president than Obama, McCain, or any superposition of the two?

    Anybody on that list.

  • Krist

    A lot of Nobel Laureates endorsed Kerry and he lost.

    Obama might be better for science. But he is not better for the economy, foreign policy affairs like dealing with Russia, China etc., and standing up for the working class.

  • Joshua

    Incorrect. 61 Nobel Laureates can be wrong. It would be a logical fallacy (argument from authority) to claim otherwise.

    And you purport to be a man of science and reason…

  • Janus

    Ah, but do those laureates know that Obama is the Islamic supremacists’ candidate of choice?

    Joshua,

    Don’t be a pedant.

  • Jar Jar Binks

    That’s like the University of Chicago endorsing you!

  • Jeb

    Mahmoud Ahmadinejad also supports Obama. I don’t know how old Ahmadinejad thinks the earth is, but I know that he wants civilization to return to the 7th century.

  • Anonymous

    Ooh! Ooh! I want in on the baseless fearmongering too! Let’s see, who’s left…? Oh, I know: Karl Marx supports Obama! Take THAT, you elitist Nobel laureates!

  • jpd

    Krist, your ideas fascinate me. i would like to subscribe to your email newsletter.

  • tacitus

    Cue Republican arguments that we need more McCain-style deregulation to make the markets work because having market that’s already much more deregulated than just about any other democracy on the planet (you know, the ones where the financial system isn’t about to collapse) just isn’t enough.

    Welcome to bizzaro-world.

  • Eugene

    By my calculations, the letter is signed by 22 of 44, or exactly 50%, of still living U.S. citizen Nobel Laureates in Physics. Some notable names missing are Murray Gell-Mann, Kenneth Wilson, Steven Weinberg. It appears that Nobel Laureates in Physics are split between McCain and Obama in exactly the same proportion as the general population.

  • ts

    I almost wish that McCain gets elected by Americans this time. In addition to its sheer entertainment value, that’ll be an unambiguous sign that the rest of the world should no longer maintain any sort of confidence in this country as a leader. Happily willing to give up my green card soon…

  • sigh

    @Eugene: It appears that way if you assume that the ones who didn’t sign are supporting McCain. Has there been a corresponding open letter endorsing McCain signed by the other 22?

  • http://meraba.wordpress.com/ zeynel

    The word “physics” does not appear in Obama’s “detailed plan to rescue science.” Maybe he doesn’t consider physics to be science?

  • Eugene

    Can you offer a different explanation why they didn’t sign the letter? The person(s) who organized this open letter would have contacted every one of them. A few may have been retired, unreachable, sick, etc., but many missing laureates are professors in top universities, and they can’t be hard to find.

    If we just look at the laureates from the last 10 years. 13 laureates, 6 signatures. Missing:
    2006:
    John Mather – UC Berkeley
    George Smoot – University of Maryland
    2005:
    Roy Glauber – Harvard
    2004:
    David Politzer – Caltech
    2001:
    Eric Cornell – University of Colorado
    Carl Wieman – University of British Columbia
    1998:
    Robert Laughlin – Stanford

    Most likely no actual signing took place, they could have authorized the use of their names over the phone or via email. If they didn’t, either they are undecided or they support McCain.

  • http://www.johnmccain.com/ActionCenter/BlogInteract/BlogInteract.aspx thomas

    hey look, the mccain trolls are out in force. Wonder how many more posts they need to make for that free mccain-palin coffee mug…

  • tacitus

    Not necessarily. I am sure some, possibly most, who don’t sign simply prefer to keep their preference private. No everyone wants to make a public statement about their political preference.

  • Elliot

    It would be interesting to see McCain’s transcript from the Naval Academy and see what kind of grades he got in math and science. He was 5th from the bottom of his class and might not have made it without the fact that his father was an Admiral.

    I have never seen McCain even speak in a quantitative fashion about anything. Maybe instead of debates we should have a math, science, and geography quiz and see if John has figured out that Spain is not in the western hemisphere yet.

    e.

  • sigh

    False Dilemma (aka Either/Or Fallacy or Black and White Fallacy)

  • http://scienceblogs.com/gnxp razib

    Nobel Laureates can’t be wrong

    right, explains why james watson is on the list int he PDF :-)

  • http://www.nutcase.org H.M. Amir al-Mumenin al-Mutawakkil ‘Ala Allah Rab ul-Alamin Imam Yahya bin al-Mansur Bi’llah Muhammad Hamidaddin, Imam and Commander of the Faithful, and King of the Yemen.

    Many nobelists can’t distinguish their heads from their ass even when speaking about other branches of physics — eg Laughlin on black holes, or Philip Anderson on just about anything outside condensed matter. Why should we trust them when they talk about politics? Would you trust Wilczek to give you advice about hair styles, for instance?

  • http://backreaction.blogspot.com/ B

    I haven’t followed this whole debate but just looked at Obama’s factsheet. Starts with saying “Investments in science and technology foster economic growth”. Buzzword “economic growth”. Does anybody really think you’ll ever manage to change what’s going wrong in your country as long as you preach the mandatory primary goal is “economic growth” and indoctrinate people into believing economic growth equals a better life? There is a broken link in this chain of arguments, can you find it? Can we please leave out the detour via ‘economic growth’ and just tell people what science is all about? Understanding the world we live in and shaping our future? Coz I’m really sick of people who think theoretical physics is useless because hey, we don’t “produce” anything, so how do we contribute to “economic growth”? I’m really sick of people asking “what has a theoretical physics done for me lately?” I’m really sick of people who think they are somehow more worthy than me because they don’t write papers but talk people into buying things they don’t need, believing this improves our lives because as the argument goes it “fosters economic growth”. I’m really sick of feeling the need to apologize working in fundamental research with saying it can eventually lead to some applications, products, can be sold, economic growth. Because honestly, that was not why I wanted to become a scientist and I really don’t want to justify my existence with “fostering economic growth”.

  • http://wbmh.blogspot.com wolfgang

    >> Sixty one Nobel Laureates have just released an open letter endorsing Barack Obama for president of the United States.

    This is great news for the McCain-Palin ticket. The US voters will teach those Swedes a lesson!

  • Daniel de França MTd2

    @Eugene

    Why not thinking that they don’t like both candidates or simply do not want to get involved in this kind of politics?

  • john doe

    Maybe some of them would prefer the constitution to be adjusted so that they could vote for Vladimir Putin instead.

  • Krist

    OK so 61 laureates endorsed Obama. How many did not endorse Obama?

    Obama has had a lot more time,money,momentum to run this campaign. He had better win this. If he doesn’t many democrats like Dean, Pelosi, Donna Brazile and other supers should throw themselves on the sword. Because we will be screwed by McCain.

  • jim

    Conspiracy theory?: votes do not matter anymore – election is rigged

  • Paul

    I’ve noticed that when faced with facts that do not support their worldview, those who angrily strike back in an overly aggressive way are actually hiding their true aversion.

    I’m sorry that you are afraid… I’m sorry for you, your children and I’m sorry for mine.

    I’m voting for someone who believes in humanity, someone who will benefit me and the world, not just Americans.

    Fear is not what made America successful, quite the opposite.

  • CWhite

    Every time the discussion turns to human-caused global warming, the same thought runs through my mind.

    Don’t misunderstand, I have no doubt the science is correct, and humans are a major cause.

    But, I’m also not sure it really matters whether or not humans are the cause. The fact that global warming is occurring is enough reason to do something about it, isn’t it? Even if humans were not causing warming should we not take action to change it?

    I suppose there could be an argument for non-interference of a natural cycle of warming. Some could believe that God/Nature should not be counteracted. Not that we’ve let that change our approach to say …. mountaintop removal in coal mining.

    The argument for reducing our carbon footprint seems mandated whether or not we are the cause. It’s the only realistic response to global warming regardless of cause.

    I repeat, yes, I do believe humans are the major cause of warming, just that that belief is not necessary to arrive at the conclusion we need to change our ways to mitigate the problem.

  • http://uslhc.us/blogs/?author=9 Seth Zenz

    Hi B,

    We don’t only have to “justify our existence” as scientists, we also have to explain to ordinary people why they should pay for it. I have no problem with saying that fundamental science ultimately creates technologies that make peoples’ lives better. It’s not why I do science, but it is true.

    Seth

  • http://civicsgeeks.blogspot.com Zach

    Interesting argument from authority.

    Why do you assume scientists know something about politics?

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  • Sean

    This blog rocks when the posts are related to science and anti creationism! However, it definitely does not rock when the posts are related to politics. If keeping as many young earthers out of government as possible is your one and only goal then Obama is the best choice. However, I think there are many equally or more compelling issues and as with most things, the choices are not as black and white (no pun intended) as many on both sides would make them out to be. Stop being so radical and realize that in the realm of politics, there are valid arguments from both sides of the isle. The world is shades of grey. Bush is not Hitler and Obama is not a savior. Try to be a little more impartial and fair. Give some fair analysis and rational argument for or against a policy but don’t be so one dimensional. BTW, I know and argue with many Creationists. I believe they are profoundly wrong on that issue but many are very intelligent and have what I consider to be valid points of view and expertise in many other areas. If you are wondering, I consider myself to be a social liberal. However, I am conservative on many other issues and have found that as I age, fact as well as right and wrong has become a domain of opinion and probabilities. Keep in mind that everyone is equally convinced of their point of view and most people genuinely want the best for their country and family.

  • Michael Bacon

    ” . . . I know and argue with many Creationists. I believe they are profoundly wrong on that issue but many are very intelligent and have what I consider to be valid points of view and expertise in many other areas.”

    Sean,

    This may be true for you, but I do not know a single “Creationist” or young earther who I would initially trust (without a whole lot more) to correctly analyze anything of great complexity. Anyone who is so profoundly wrong about such fundamental things supported by overwhelming evidence simply is not a rational thinker.

  • ralph

    “61 Nobel Laureates can’t be wrong”

    Why is that? For example, why does a physicist necessarily have a more correct opinion on things outside his area of expertise than anyone else?

    That said, the current best candidates for president remain Homer Simpson and Mickey Mouse.

  • Sili

    Mahmoud Ahmadinejad also supports Obama. I don’t know how old Ahmadinejad thinks the earth is, but I know that he wants civilization to return to the 7th century.
    Jeb on Sep 25th, 2008 at 9:40 pm

    Funny. I musta missed those nuclear reäctors in the Qu’ran.

    And frankly, after the “Bomb-bomb-bomb. Bomb-bomb Iran” performance why in the name of GUT would Ahmadinejad want J. Sydney III in charge of anything?

  • Haelfix

    I wonder where the economists are on this. Four years ago a plurality endorsed Bush over Kerry, but times change and I don’t think many of them are happy with the deficit spending, or McCain’s relative confusion about the state of the economy..

  • sigh

    @ralph: Did you read the letter? First off, they’re not all physicists. But more to the point, the letter focuses on science and technology in the US — something I think that 61 Nobel laureates in scientific fields are pretty qualified to give an opinion about.

  • Sean

    “Anyone who is so profoundly wrong about such fundamental things supported by overwhelming evidence simply is not a rational thinker.”

    I am an electrical engineer living in an “engineering city”. I happen to know more than one engineer that is extremely gifted in their field. It seems many people have the ability to compartmentalize and approach some issues more openly than others. This has to be taken into account when judging people. Time and again I’ve seen people who are extremely gifted and talented in one area of expertise be completely ignorant and even borderline idiotic in another. I’ve also seen that devotees to one political party or another find it easy to see the good in their own party while filtering the bad and vice-versa. We are all programmed by our unique surroundings, upbringing, and biochemical factors. No human being is fully rational and beyond emotional influence. That is as much an illusion as free will itself in my opinion.

  • Sean

    Sorry, I didn’t quite make my point in the last post. I meant to mention that I know more than one engineer gifted in their field that is beholden to creationism of one form or another…

  • Michael Bacon

    “No human being is fully rational and beyond emotional influence.”

    Sean,

    Of course, this is correct. And, I tried in my post to indicate that I wouldn’t rule out taking seriously a “creationist” or “young-earther,” but only if there was quite a bit more to base it on.

    For example, if a creationist or early earther is an accomplished engineer and has demonstrated this ability, I would conclude that in the field of engineering they had overcome what is an otherwise irrational way of approaching the world and achieved a limited degree of rationality. Not limited in the sense of being a limited engineer, but certainly limited to engineering (unless of course there was data that would support thinking of them as less than limited in other areas).

    I certainly would need much more to believe that anyone ” . . . beholden to creationism of one form or another . . .” has much to offer more generally. But that’s just me. :)

  • John Knight

    Maybe it’s just me.

    What I want from a president is different from what I want in a mechanic, a doctor, an engineer, or a science professor. For that matter, what I want in a research scientist is different from what I want in university professor. But I digress.

    I would rather have a president who…

    …knows why the Peace of Nicias was a bad idea than who knows if a manned mission to Mars is a good idea.

    …favors federalism than one who favors punctuated equilibrium models.

    …appreciates the Quantity Theory of Money than one who appreciates String Theory.

    …has read Adam Smith than one who has read Charles Darwin.

    …understands why the Surge worked than one who understands how Natural Selection works.

    …opposes socialism than one who opposes Platonism.

    …likes chess than one who likes dinosaur exhibits.

    …grasps the implications of the substitution effect than one who grasps the implications of the Doppler effect.

    …is committed to fighting terrorists than one who is committed to fighting young-earth creationists.

    …has studied the ideas of George Patton than one who has studied the ideas of Albert Einstein.

    …comprehends why the New Deal failed than comprehends why cold fusion failed.

    It would be nice to have a president who gets it all, but in the real world, we have to make choices. And right now, NSA funding is much more important than NSF funding.

    Not that NSF recipients would have much incentive to say so.

  • Count Iblis

    Actually, Palin has become such a disaster for McCain that he has no chance to win the elections anymore.
    Conseratives are beginning to realize this. Conservative columnist Kathleen Parker says Palin should step down:

    If BS were currency, Palin could bail out Wall Street herself

    :)

  • Sean

    John Knight,

    I couldn’t agree with your previous post more…

  • Sili

    hwut

    The New Deal failed? The Surge worked?

    Would you kindly inform the physicists present how you’ve managed to cross over from some hitherto unobserved branck of the wavefunction? Please?

    Given that McCain finished bottom of his class, I’d lurve to hear him expound on Nicias.

    I think I know which candidate I’d bet on to have read Smith.

    And personally, I wouldn’t want a US president who fights socialism. We like it just fine over on this side of the pond. Plz not to be dropping nooks on us kthxbai.

  • Pepito

    61 Nobel Laureates and all their august minds can muster is support for…Obama?

    It’s a sorry state of things when the election in the most powerful country in the world comes down to choosing between Coke and Pepsi. I don’t need 61 Nobel Prize winners to tell me I should drink Pepsi, do I?

  • http://whenindoubtdo.blogspot.com/ Eugene

    Interestingly, Charles Townes is on the list. Good for him.

  • Eugene

    ^^^
    different Eugene

  • http://www.SETI.Net James Brown

    Why is it that those sixty one Nobel Laureates can write a letter like that and NOT MENTION that they are Nobel Laureates in the letter? Just a few good words and a long list of peoples names with dates attached.

    Could it be that they think their names are household words?

  • C.A. Schultz

    Should someone’s political oppinnion be respected based solely on winning the Noble Piize. I don’t think so. I know many scientist who can’t think their way through practical matters of life on a daily basis, and remember even the scietist who brought us the “frontal lobotomy” was awarded this honor.

  • anon

    mmmmm, Noble Pies

  • David

    I can’t help but feel that this is as superficial as “One hundred authors against Einstein”, which also had the support of Nobel Laureates.

  • Demesure

    In 2004, 48 nobel laureates supported Kerry. Now, 61 support Obama.
    Obama will sure have 13 more votes than… Kerry. Great !

  • Elliot

    John,

    your attempt at subtlety here falls flat. Why don’t you explain to the folks that the reason violence is down in Iraq is that we have paid off the insurgents not to attack instead of defeating them. I wonder if the Iraqi government with 79 billion surplus wouldn’t mind picking up the tab.

    And I would really like some empirical evidence about the failure of the new deal.
    Please include a description of how the growth of the national debt under Reagan and Bush II doesn’t really matter because we will grow out of it due to lower taxes.

    And to your point.

    I would rather have a president who

    didn’t 10 days ago say the economy was strong then a week later suggest that the debate be called off due to the economic crisis.

    e.

  • http://url.ie/oth?775102915 bulgarian solicitor

    Nobel? Whatever. Al Gore made a movie about how the earth is melting, and he beat a woman who helped save over 2,500 people during the holocaust. Just goes to show Obama s elitism – the elits support him.

  • Bruce Young

    “Obama might be better for science. But he is not better for the economy, foreign policy affairs like dealing with Russia, China etc., **and standing up for the working class.**”

    Wow. That someone actually believes that McCain is the candidate who will stand up for the working class is so absurd it is laughable. Read the papers, please, *all the papers*, rather than repeat the crap the campaigns feed you.

  • Sean

    It’s funny to me how as we get down to the final election, the candidates begin to basically agree on everything. Obama back tracks on an outright withdrawal from Iraq as McCain starts playing class warfare with “the working class”. It just saddens me that 61 NL’s buy into one party so strongly and don’t appear to have any independent streak of free thought when it comes to political matters…

    BTW, it’s my understanding that Einstein couldn’t fill out a tax form. Why should his or any other scientist be given more weight than anyone else in things political?

  • Sean

    When it comes down to social policy, society just has to determine how it wants to function and make the choice. Do we want socialism? We can operate with a collectivist mentality and provide for those who are in need. This is a very empathetic and noble path but it has been demonstrated that if something is being given freely, the number of those in need will continue to grow without bound. I don’t see how it can be argued that this will/does not lead to a population unable to fend for itself with a small overburdened group of providers. The ultimate destination of this path is mediocrity and bankruptcy. Some say this is what destroyed the economy and culture of Rome, as well as the Empires of Western Europe.

    The opposite end of this spectrum is the idea that providing for those in need is not a function of government. Classical liberals and modern libertarians feel that the government should be limited to protecting the country from foreign invasion and providing a set of equally applied laws that prevent individuals from infringing on the rights of others. This is an outlook strong on self reliance and it’s supporters argue that it breeds more capable individuals as well as stronger families and communities by necessity. This is the road that arguably led to the dominance of Western Culture.

    It seems to me that cultures go through a cycle of streamlined minimalist government, independence, growth, and strength that leads to great success. Then, inevitably, guilt and greed play roles leading to bloated governments, a lazy populace, and inevitable decline. The U.S. is currently overextended militarily and (as is evidenced with the closeness of recent elections) split between a libertarian and socialist mentality. Socialism is inevitable as is our decline. I feel fortunate to have been able to live in the U.S. at the peak of our power and influence. The outlook for the children of our children is far less certain. McCain would only, maybe, stave off the inevitable for a few years. I’m just enjoying the show and have decided not to worry so much about it.
    :-)

  • Costanza

    I noticed that there are no economists on the list. And I would vote for Homer Simpson…looks like we could do worse.

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/cosmicvariance/sean/ Sean

    Economists (not just Nobel Laureates) favor Obama by wide margins.

  • Count Iblis

    #42 John Knight:

    …grasps the implications of the substitution effect than one who grasps the implications of the Doppler effect.

    What about

    …is able to explain what the bailout deal is all about than one who knows how to hunt moose?

  • Jack

    Well, it just goes to show that even 61 Nobel Prize winners can be wrong :)

    Obama talks a lot about change, which is good I suppose, since he can’t run on his extensive record of accomplishment ;)

    Now, before anyone starts accusing me of being a fundie like Palin, I assure you I’m not. I do however feel that physicists and economists aren’t political scientists and are speaking outside their field of expertise when making blatantly political endorsements.

  • Wisconsin Mike

    To B at comment #22:

    I am glad that you are able to find employment in your chosen field, and that you believe there is utility (of a non-economic sort, if I understand your comment) in what you do. I feel no compunction to ask you to justify your chosen field of science or your participation therein. You owe me neither an explanation nor a justification for either.

    However, if you expect me (as a poor substitute for the general public) to financially support your chosen field, or your work therein, whether willingly through a donation, or by compulsion via taxes, then you had better understand that I am going to ask “What’s in it for me?” And I make no apology for doing so. If you think it’s beneath you to have to explain why I should give you some of my money, that’s fine with me. Just don’t expect to get financial support from me without it.

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/cosmicvariance/daniel daniel

    Eugene #11: Nobel laureates in general keep their political opinions to themselves. The fact that such a large fraction of living American Nobel Laureates in science have chosen to endorse a candidate is unprecedented, and certainly worth remarking on. Those that haven’t signed are doing so out of privacy issues. Taking that as an implicit endorsement of McCain is, I believe, insupportable. If the remaining Laureates sign a letter explicitly endorsing McCain, then you’ve got an argument. Don’t hold your breath. And I don’t want to hear that the Laureates are worried about peer pressure and political correctness, and are afraid to take such a (scientifically) unpopular stand. Nobel Laureates do not, in general, lack for self confidence.

    Many commenters question the appropriateness of scientists voicing political opinions. The Nobel Laureates argue that science plays a crucial role in many of the most pressing questions of the day. (This is not controversial; witness the unusually bipartisan, Bush-signed, America COMPETES act.) And, needless to say, Nobel Laureates do have valid opinions about science. This extends to whether they feel a certain candidate has an appreciation or understanding of science, or has reasonable scientific policies. One can argue that science is irrelevant to our nation, and therefore their opinions can be ignored. But few people make this argument. Therefore, it seems to me that having top scientists go out of their way to make their opinions and concerns known is something worth remarking upon.

  • Sean

    #60, don’t tell me who supports Obama or any other politician. I really don’t care. Tell me WHY I should support Obama or any other politician based on good sound arguments.

  • Sean

    I have found that liberals and conservatives both have good arguments for their platforms. It’s just that they differ on fundamental premises and desired outcome. As an example, liberals see gun violence and think “we need to outlaw handguns”. It’s logical to think simply that removing guns form the streets will stop gun violence. I know many smart educated people that buy into this argument and I have little doubt that they were probably brought up in homes that had no firearms.

    Conservatives would argue that outlawing guns will only keep them out of the hands of law abiding citizens and that individuals should have the right to defend themselves from the outlaws. This is an equally valid argument and most people with this position probably grew up with guns in the home or at least being exposed to firearms on occasion.

    How much does upbringing, our social experience when we are young, color our view on the gun control issue? It is obvious that urban citizens with little positive gun association are more apt to take the liberal point of view and that rural folk with routine exposure to guns with little negative association are more apt to take a conservative point of view. Both points of view have valid arguments, but it comes down to a preference based on personal comfort levels.

    What other political choice comes down to personal comfort level? Urban folk, accustom to the taxes and services associated with city living, prefer larger social programs. Rural folk, who are used to low taxes and few government provided services, prefer a less intrusive government. A growing population and increased urbanization is the reason I feel liberalism/socialism is inevitable. Unfortunately, the result of socialism too is probably inevitable: mediocrity and bankruptcy.

    BTW, where were all of those top economists before our current financial crisis? I don’t think anyone is a real “expert” on the economy any more than there is an “expert” on weather prediction. We can make very short term predictions but there are just too many variables and interconnections that no one fully understands.

    I’ll stop rambling now….. ;-)

  • Lawrence B. Crowell

    There are a couple of reasons I can think of for voting for Obama, which have little to do with Obama himself. One is that during the Bush administration, and frankly before, the Executive branch has accumulated enormous power. Congress in 2006 went to the Democrats, and yet the Pelosi House appears close to being as impotent as the Senate Caligula appointed his horse to. By breaking a potential monopoly of GOP executive power we might prevent or at least forstall this nation’s march towards totalitarianism under neo-imperial Executive.

    The other reason, if you are at all interested in science, is that Palin will be a few vital signs away from the Oval office. She is a 6-day 6000 year old Earther, and indicated her belief that dinosaurs co-existed with humans:

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2008/09/28/palin-claimed-dinosaurs-a_n_130012.html

    This casts clear doubt upon her grasp on science and the nature of the world.

    Without going into partisan issues of the two parties, the choice might come down to whether you want another set of lunatics setting up shop in the Whitehouse. After eight years of Bushian lunatics I’d prefer to be done with this sort of rubbish.

    Lawrence B. Crowell

  • Sean

    “By breaking a potential monopoly of GOP executive power we might prevent or at least forestall this nation’s march towards totalitarianism under neo-imperial Executive.”

    You can’t be serious???

    There is currently a stalemate between Liberals and Conservatives which is, in my opinion, a strong argument for electing McCain president. The last thing I want is a Democratic Executive coupled with a Democratic super majority in Congress. That is a real threat of too much power in the hands of one party as opposed to the paranoid fear of Bush declaring himself Emperor.

    I really have to laugh sometime at the hypocritical liberal demonizing of Conservatives and Bush in particular. LOL!

  • Sean

    I have to admit that I’m not very happy with Palin being a YEC. In fact, the influence of the Christian Right is my biggest problem with the Republican Party. I completely disagree with their stance on homosexuality, legislating personal morality, and pushing for state recognition of Christianity. Of course, liberals are equally beholden to some pretty wacky groups themselves such as the extreme pro abortion crowd and extreme environmentalists. In addition, they tout civil liberties yet have no problem with gun control or racial quotas. In many ways, I am more in line with libertarians and I even appreciate the libertarian idea of complete non-intervention. However, it was the intervention during and since WWII that has led to our prominence in the world and current high standard of living.

    Anyway, back to Palin. As far as I know she kept her word about not pushing the Creationist agenda as state governor and I don’t see Republicans regaining control of Congress this time around or anytime soon. They will be lucky not to loose more control in Congress. Besides, Obama is associated with that crazy church in Chicago. I wonder what they think about the evolution/creationist debate?

    Are there any decent politicians? I don’t think so…… Where did all the Classical Liberals and intelligent Libertarians run off to???

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  • Lawrence B. Crowell

    I am not sure what is meant by extreme environmentalism. It is worth noting that fifteen million sheets of office paper amount to five minutes of
    paper use in the US and 106,000 aluminum cans thirty seconds of can consumption. The world uses 80 million barrels of oil a day, of which 21 million are used in the US. A barrel of oil is about 1/10 of a ton, which gives an idea of the mass of petroleum we use. America uses 1/4 of the world’s oil production, yet has less than 4% of the world’s reserves. McCain wants us to solve our economic problems with “drill-drill-drill!” Anybody who thinks this will work or that this sort trajectory we are on can be maintained is either delusional or ignorant.

    Again I am not sure what is meant by extreme environmentalism, but when soil surveys were first taken in Illinois the soil depth was an average 36 inches. It is now less than a foot. Sounds as if we have a problem with using up soil and erosion. If concern over that is extreme environmentalism then count me amongst the extremists.

    If world temperatures climb another 1-deg C, which could happen in the next few decades, then it will lead to a runaway melt of permafrost melts and the evaporation of ocean methane hydrates. This may release 10 times the amount of greenhouse gases we can possibly produce with fossil fuels. Is it alarmist to at least ponder that this should be avoided? Conservatives have only just gotten around to acknowledging this issue.

    When it comes to real world thinking conservatives and Republicans have been for long off in some sort of fantasy land. Reagan prattered on about winning nuclear wars and surviving them by digging holes. I doubt things will change with libertarians — they are too lost in Ayn Rand’s Galt’s gulch to be of any use. Sorry, but this stuff needs to be tossed out, just as we got rid of dysfunctional aristocracies a few centuries before. If we are lucky the conservative age is over, and maybe for good.

    Lawrence B. Crowell

  • John Knight

    Sean, in re #42: Obviously, one of has made a mistake. We can’t agree, can we? I assume the error is yours. Again.

  • Sean

    Lawrence,

    If you are against responsible drilling in Alaska as well as offshore IN ADDITION to development of technologies that may enable other renewable energy sources, then you are an environmental extremist. If you continually preach doom and gloom like a Southern Baptist preacher, then you are an environmental extremist. If you were for the idiotic push for using corn/ethanol as a source of fuel, then you are corn farmer or an environmental extremist. Even more extreme are the anti-hunting/anti-meat eating crowd that are tied to the fringe portion of the environmental movement. Do I need to continue?

    I’m for responsible development and legislation to keep the air, water, and land clean. I think we need to be good conservationist and ensure we don’t over fish or over deplete other non-renewable resources. I’m all for recycling aluminum. Believe me, when aluminum is so scarce that it is unfordable, incentives to recycle will develop. I’ve not heard of a true tree crisis related to paper usage (trees are renewable), though I believe hardwood furniture may be an issue connected to cutting of rain forests. My point is, there are responsible environmentalist and conservationists, then there are environmental extremists that have a whole lists of statistics to let you know that the sky is falling despite the fact it is not immediately or obviously evident…

  • Sean

    If the performance of Republicans and Democrats in Congress today does not convince you of their complete incompetence, then there is no help for you. ;-)

    Peolosi is just plain ignorant and I would argue stupid. McCain and Obama, as well as Republicans in Congress, are doing everything they can to woo or avoid the wrath of the general population who can’t get past a few CEO’s making out even if it means destroying our economy! As hard as it is to believe, Bush is the only politician I have seen acting responsibly during the financial market fiasco. Maybe it’s because he’s the only one who doesn’t have anything to lose…

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/cosmicvariance/sean/ Sean

    Sean, could you please distinguish yourself with a last initial or some such thing, so as not to be confused with one of the blog authors? Especially since our opinions are, how should one put it, different.

  • Sean_M

    “Sean, could you please distinguish yourself with a last initial or some such thing, so as not to be confused with one of the blog authors? Especially since our opinions are, how should one put it, different.”
    :-)
    Sorry, I didn’t mean to cause confusion.

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/cosmicvariance/daniel daniel

    And this whole time I thought it was our very own Sean. What with the economy tanking, desperate times call for desperate measures?

  • Lawrence B. Crowell

    The total oil in ANWR can at best provide about 8 months of US demand for oil. The idea that drilling in Alaska will do much to change the energy equation is fantasy. The picture for off-shore drilling is not much better. Drilling for oil has in time involved ever smaller synclines and more sophisticated techniques to image them (tomagraphy) and directional drilling. There are some indications of about 100B barrels of oil off the north Alaskan continental shelf, which is about 7% of the total global reserve. Ironically this has potentially become available because of polar melting. So the problem of global warming opens the door to doing more of the same.

    “Insanity is doing the same thing over again expecting a different outcome,” Albert Einstein (paraphrased somewhat)

    It is often lost on people that the reason we recycle aluminum is not to save aluminum! Pick up a handful of subsoil anywhere in the world and often about 5-10% of the stuff by atomic weight is aluminum. The stuff is almost everywhere. Bauxite of course is the ore source because it has an unusually high concentration of aluminum, but it could be substituted. What is really being saved by recycling is the energy required in the high temperature electrolysis required to get the aluminum ingot.

    On balance everyone needs to ask whether in the course of this planet’s natural history there has ever existed an animal of our size and dietary requirements which numbered 6.8 billion at one time. Any creature will have an impact on their environment, and in large numbers that impact can be damaging. Then heep onto that a fairly large multipicative factor because of our resource demands. Is there a problem here? IF we consume the planet’s resources at a rate far faster than they can be regenerated in an open thermodynamic system, then does the situation begin to approximate a closed thermodynamic system? If so, what does the second law of thermodynamics tell us about the final state of closed systems? They reach equilibrium at maximum entropy — right? In biology the general rule is that equilibrium = death.

    What happens to a locust swarm that exponentially expands its population and consumption of the food environment? The grain runs out — right? What happens to the locusts? They die. Are we that much different? Maybe we are a whole lot more complex and sophisticated about how we do this, and the scale is far larger, but we might be just as collectively blind as locusts about their impending fate. Certainly the jack asses we American’s keep reeling into office appear blind — which by extension, if we are to believe the Preamble about “We the People,” must mean that by and large humans (or at least Americans who inhabit the nation which runs the world) are just about as blind.

    Finally, does anyone give serious consideration to the idea that economic or political ideology and related persiflage can always work around the constraints imposed by the physical or nature world? Does the theory of Adam Smith’s “invisible hand” ultimately trump thermodynamics as if it is some Maxwell demon? Anyone who thinks so is really just as deluded about the nature of the world as someone who argues for a strict 6-day creation of the world 6000 years ago.

    Lawrence B. Crowell

  • Sean

    Lawrence, I think you are an environmental extremist… :-P

    It appears that you have two major concerns:
    1. We are going to run out of “resources”.
    2. Using up some of these resources has the unintended affect of warming the planet which may result in further environmental changes that could be detrimental to humanity.

    I believe your first concern is unfounded. There is no technical indication that we will not be able to exploit more difficult to obtain resources if we want to. There is enough oil shale, nuclear, and natural gas to last through another century or many more centuries depending on who is making the predictions. Besides, I do believe we are on the verge of enabling more renewable resources such as wind and solar through more efficient conversion and storage technologies. If, however, we do begin to run out of resources we will not have to choose to use less. That choice will be made for us and we will reluctantly adjust. As with locusts, our population will shrink to pre-swarm numbers. We will transform from locusts to humble grasshopper if we must.

    Your second concern is a complicated one. There are many questions including: How much global warming will/can take place if we continue business as usual? How and to what degree will humanity be able to stop/reverse global warming? How will global warming affect humanity (beneficial/detrimental)? Is it more cost effective to try and curb global warming or to adapt to it? The answers to these and other questions are tough and if you claim to have the answers, I think you are lying.

    I personally believe we should be more worried about curbing over fishing than curbing CO2 emissions. I believe we should be more concerned about preserving wetlands and preventing urban runoff into the sea. We should be writing tickets to the sorry SOB’s that throw litter out of the car window! At the same time, we should be using ALL of our resources as efficiently and responsibly as possible while finding and developing new ones. The global warming scare will work itself out as more data comes in.

  • teadrinker

    Since when did a bunch of smart guys having an opinion ever influence the herd of sheep known as the American public?

    If McCain-Palin win, I won’t be totally surprised.

    But I will start packing for Canada before the borders are permanently closed off, or the place is annexed as part of the New American Empire.

  • Sean

    teadrinker,

    There are smart guys with opinions ranging from totalitarian to libertarian and everything in between. Politics is not hard science and should not be treated as such. Well intentioned policies are fraught with unintended consequences and political opinion is often related to deep seated emotions and beliefs that result from social programming and personal experience. To be so sure the opposing party is a heard of sheep while the followers of your own are the enlightened is just pretentious.

    I often hear liberals threaten to move to Canada but haven’t heard of many actual takers. I’m sure there are some good things about Canada but no system of government is perfect. I have traveled the world from the Far East, Middle East, to Europe and still believe the U.S. is one of the best places to live!

  • Sean_M

    Ooops, sorry! I just realized I’ve been posting under Sean again…
    :-/

  • Lawrence B. Crowell

    Sean_M:

    It appears that with your discussion on global warming that you have bought the whole GOP approach to it, which is now silliness about the cost of working on it being worse than the problem. These issues of resource depletion and environmental collapse are not going to be handled in any rational market adjustment scheme. It will no more happen than free market ideology has proven very workable with the investment or derivative markets, where now the once proud free marketeers and Wall streeters are scurrying behind the skirts of Washington DC.

    I suspect the question to my mind is which of the two movies “On the Beach” or “Soylent Green” will turn out to be the most accurate depiction of how our species is shitcanned off this planet.

    Interesting, while writing this Jimi Hendrix doing “Along the Watchtower” came on the radio.

    Lawrence B. Crowell

  • Sean_M

    Come on Lawrence, is it really silly to ask what the extent of a problem is and what is the most cost effective way to handle it???

    As far as resource depletion, I think a combination of market forces and good policy work could definitely handle the problem. The market has a better past record than Congress (corn based ethanol) in that area.

    What is your solution to these potential problems? How is Obama going to save us all from imminent destruction?

    BTW, I don’t claim to understand the recent financial market fiasco enough to place any real blame if blame is even warranted? Time will tell if it was the result of some government regulation or lack thereof, an inevitable market correction, media/public hysteria, or some other force in the realm of economics. I do think alleviating the current energy crisis by whatever means necessary will go a long way in helping our economy and our economic confidence. It does seem to me that confidence is a strong force in the economy and I know cheap plentiful energy can’t hurt either!

  • Lawrence B. Crowell

    It is interesting you keep bringing up corn ethanol. BTW 10 years ago I had arguments with environmentalist friends over bio-energy. I did some calculations to show how the bio-energy planetary system could never be put to the task of powering our technology. Secondly, it was not Congress who thought up corn based ethanol. Congress only legislated for this after considerable lobbying done on behalf of Cargill, ADM and others who made $billions from it.

    As for environmental issues, the problem is extremely dire. The main uncertainty is the time frame involved. In general it would be irresponsible for the crew of a spaceship to start pulling out systems and components in order to fashion entertainment systems. I think anyone would agree. If I were on that ship I would try to kick their asses to make them stop. I might not know how long before the spaceship would have some critical failure, but eventually that will happen. This is Earth writ small. We face much the same problem with tearing up the life support system on our “spaceship.”

    Lawrence B. Crowell

  • Count Iblis

    The problem with the conservatives is that they want to decide for themselves what the alarming issues should be. Global Warming cannot be an alarming issue for conservatives, because the measures that we would need to tackle that issue contradicts their ideology.

    If the conservatives feel strongly about some issue, like attacking Iraq, they’ll invent a story to make it seem to be an alarming issue, like e.g. WMDs and the prospect of a mushroom cloud over New York.

  • Sean_M

    Lawrence, I guess I’m just not convinced the situation on spaceship earth is that dire…

    Count Iblis, it appears to me that each party is expert at creating the illusion of imminent disaster where there is none. Maybe I’m just jaded and maybe it will blind me from seeing true disaster staring me in the face. I’m just a real skeptic when it comes to long term predictions of complex systems like weather, climate, economics, and society.

  • Lawrence B. Crowell

    When it comes to the planetary biosphere there are just two things to keep in mind. The first is that the rate we are tearing it down is simply faster than natural open systems can regenerate things. The second is just the second law of thermodynamics: dS/dt >= 0. The obvious problem is that we do not know what maximum entropy is and when we will reach it. Yet it is bound to happen sooner or later. When that happens Homo sapiens will share the same status as T-rex and the dodo bird.

    Lawrence B. Crowell

  • Sean_M

    Lawrence, I think I mentioned before that I am for conservation (ie making sure we dont’ tear things down at a rate faster than they can be regenerated). A specific example where we need to do some work is the area of overfishing.

    As far as the second law of thermodynamics is concerned, you must be aware of the fact that there are vast untapped energy resources still available to us in the form of raw sunlight, nuclear fuels, and even the lowly fossil fuel. Again, if we are unable to gain additional energy, the system will adjust (population and technology decrease).

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  • Daniel

    If Palin gets elected along with John Mccain… ati-science will be taught in our US schools. My job as a scientist will last for a while, but we will slowly be ostracized from academia because of the rise in teaching whatever comes to your mind. Call it “intuition” or “instinct” – most of these impulsive reactions are not grounded in reality and do not seek truth. They are impulsive, and thought by misguided minds, which provide the illusion that it is ok anyway, because if someone can think of things, then it is clear that it is correct. Wlecome to the post-modern world folks… we are consumed with stupidity… it is all around us… watch the movie “Idiocracy.”

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  • mathematician

    I have ZERO confidence that science will improve in America with Obama being president. Obama’s education platform is nearly identical to that of McCain’s, except Obama is determined that keeping kids in failing schools is worth it as long as kids don’t have to be subjected to the horror of daily prayers going on in private schools. That, and he wants more money for the epic failure that is no Child left behind.

    And I still don’t see any discussion on either side about getting more American students into math, physics, engineering programs. More than likely with both candidates we will continue the proud tradition of being the world leader in entomology, ecology, and evolutionary biology – and continue being the laughing stock when it comes to sciences that actually matter.

  • clazy

    Actually, 61 Nobel scientists are wrong. The letter says: “During the administration of George W. Bush, vital parts of our country’s scientific enterprise have been damaged by stagnant or declining federal support.” I suppose it’s arguable that “parts” have been damaged, but the letter doesn’t offer any specifics that would allow me to determine how “vital” they are, and the fact is, R&D funding has increased massively over the entirety of the Bush administration. The last few years have been lean, but in the first several, the numbers doubled on both the civilian and defense side. You can see the figures for yourself here and here. The whining of these guys is embarrassing.

  • clazy

    Looks like I messed up the first link. Go here: http://www.nsf.gov/statistics/nsf07303/pdf/tab38.pdf

  • George Smiley

    Eugene @ 11: Gell-Mann is now a signatory, and the overall list is now up to 65 Nobel Laureates, with 50 living U.S. Laureates not having signed. At least one of these is unable to sign (or abstain) due to health issues, and there is not a comparable letter signed by McCain supporters.

  • George Smiley

    Eugene @ 11: I should be more explicit. You don’t know the quantum efficiency of Nobel endorsement. That is, you don’t know the rate at which Obama-supporting Nobel laureates are willing to sign an endorsement letter. Perhaps the quantum efficiency is only 56%, and they all support Obama…

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  • http://quantummechanicsdemystified.blogspot.com/ David McMahon

    For the record, I already did “absentee voting” and voted for Obama. That being said, I couldn’t care less what “Nobel Laureates” endorse. Nobel prize winners are just ordinary people like I am, and because they happen to be successful at some obscure scientific calculation or measurement, that doesn’t mean their judgment in political or life affairs has any relevance or carries any more weight than say, Sarah Palin. Scientists need to get over their arrogance.

  • http://picasaweb.google.com/combopak/PhysicistsForObama#5260612642253420450 JS

    if you happen to be a physicist and support Obama:

    http://picasaweb.google.com/combopak/PhysicistsForObama#5260612642253420450

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