By Sean Carroll | October 31, 2008 12:18 pm

I’m sure our blog audience includes a wide swath of undecided voters, a/k/a “Joe the Reader of Blogs.” (Okay, perhaps not.) So, to help along the decision-making process, here are some endorsements from respected sources.

If you are a reader of sciencey blogs, you have undoubtedly heard that Seed has endorsed Barack Obama. This is consistent with newspapers across the country, who have gone for Obama at the rate of 234 to 105 — a healthy difference with 2004, when Kerry squeaked by Bush, 213 to 205. The Economist has endorsed Obama; we’ve already mentioned the Financial Times. Even prominent conservative Stephen Colbert, not wanting to feel left out, has endorsed Obama. When McCain’s “supporters” offer up helpful testimony like this, who is to blame him?

Most interesting to me is that Nature has endorsed Obama for President. (Thanks to Alex Witze.) It’s interesting because Nature has been around a long time as one of the world’s premier scientific journals, and has never before endorsed a candidate for the U.S. Presidency. And their reasons sound pretty similar to mine:

But science is bound by, and committed to, a set of normative values — values that have application to political questions. Placing a disinterested view of the world as it is ahead of our views of how it should be; recognizing that ideas should be tested in as systematic a way as possible; appreciating that there are experts whose views and criticisms need to be taken seriously: these are all attributes of good science that can be usefully applied when making decisions about the world of which science is but a part. Writ larger, the core values of science are those of open debate within a free society that have come down to us from the Enlightenment in many forms, not the least of which is the constitution of the United States.

On a range of topics, science included, Obama has surrounded himself with a wider and more able cadre of advisers than McCain. This is not a panacea. Some of the policies Obama supports — continued subsidies for corn ethanol, for example — seem misguided. The advice of experts is all the more valuable when it is diverse: ‘groupthink’ is a problem in any job. Obama seems to understands this. He tends to seek a range of opinions and analyses to ensure that his own opinion, when reached, has been well considered and exposed to alternatives. He also exhibits pragmatism — for example in his proposals for health-care reform — that suggests a keen sense for the tests reality can bring to bear on policy.

Obama is very far away from being an infallible political savior, and if he wins I’m sure there will be times when he does the wrong thing. But, to reiterate something I said at American Airspace, he thinks like an academic in the best sense of the word. He listens, and considers what he hears critically and analytically, and then comes to a conclusion and deals with the consequences. Even if I don’t always agree with the conclusions, it will be an unambiguous blessing to at long last have a President with that cast of mind.

We can close with some words from the guy who invented quarks.

  • Costanza

    I am ALWAYS suspicious of consensus views: they are as often wrong (cf cholera epidemics in London during the mid 19th century) as they are right (historically speaking) and once formed, the “consensus” tends to make it difficult to repudiate it. But that is a question for another time. What I really wanted to do was correct the record. Stephen Colbert did endorse Obama, but stated that he will vote for McCain in the next breath.

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

    What record is that correcting?

  • Pingback: O apoio da ciência a Barack Obama « Ars Physica()

  • http://blueollie.wordpress.com ollie

    Of course, there is Francis Collins. :)

    PS: about Colbert, when he talked about not voting for Obama, “The Word” said that “he isn’t registered”. 😉

  • Pingback: Scientists, Science Magazines and Science Bloggers for Obama. « blueollie()

  • Sili

    Remarkably broad shoulders. Not too great a speaker, though.

    Sadly, I fear that this endorsement is likely to turn a number of people away – I only hope that it will not be a significant number.

  • mbecker

    Not sure sure someone who thinks like an academic is necessarily insures a good result.

    We need someone who will try to be forward looking; stick to their convictions; and lead. Sometimes being very analytic can be counter to these goals…on the one hand x is true, but in certain circumstances “not x” may be true…

    I am not a manager…but have come to see that effective management is an art, not entirely analytical and very different from “simply being smart”…

    I will vote for the more analytically candidate, but sometimes he does seem a bit theoretical and less than decisive…[off topic: i suspect he will be more conservative (maybe moderate is a better word)than most people believe…i do think he is too smart to mindlessly follow the rhetoric of boiler plate liberalism]

  • Lawrence B. Crowell

    mbecker on Oct 31st, 2008 at 5:09 pm Not sure sure someone who thinks like an academic is necessarily insures a good result.

    It really is almost a no-brainer. If nothing else ponder the Supreme Court, and that Scalia (the founding laws of the nation are from God) will have a court packed to his liking. We can’t go ever further to the right, for if we do it will at some point become fascism.

    Lawrence B. Crowell

  • http://www.kirshark.blogspot.com Kirsa

    Sili on Oct 31st, 2008 at 3:36 pm:

    Remarkably broad shoulders. Not too great a speaker, though.

    Sadly, I fear that this endorsement is likely to turn a number of people away – I only hope that it will not be a significant number.

    I can’t imagine that the people who would be turned away from a candidate purely by Nature endorsing that candidate would be very likely to vote for Obama in the first place…or that if such a small thing were enough to change their mind, that it would change over and over on a daily basis depending on which way the wind blew.

    On another note, Colbert’s conservatism is really “conservatism,” that is, a very timely satire of modern t.v. politics.

  • http://collateraltales.blogspot.com/ Jay

    No seriously people, Science has never been better! At least according to Mr. Marburger over at physicsworld.org, who thinks that everything’s been just groovy.

    Most of my favorite gems are right in this paragraph:

    Issues like embryonic stem-cell research and responses to climate change, among others, are contentious for many reasons, but most of these have little to do with science. They comprise a small fraction of the total US science activity, and they do not reflect the deepest or even the most serious challenges in the overall R&D enterprise such as funding imbalances, lagging interest in technical careers and the impact of increased homeland-security measures on the conduct of science.


  • spyder

    I have to ask: Are we to believe that there are people who really don’t “get” what the Colbert Report is all about?????

    He has been raging for the the last two weeks, sometimes almost too subtle, but still brilliant in using parody and satire as a political scalpel to deconstruct the idiocy of the McCain/Palin nightmare.

  • Beacon

    This is probably the first time Sean has expressed any real doubts ever about Obama as president. Wow that only took a year and a half!
    I never once heard a peep out of Sean (except the frequent hillary bashing) about POLICIES- Hillary had a better plan on the economy, health care, education etc. You know like Krugman said.
    It’s like suddenly we are supposed to vote based on issues. Not a single person voted on Obama based on issues over Hillary. Most people now are not even voting on issues. Issues are absolutely 100% periphery. Obama’s campaign is about one thing Obama.

    Obama is no intellectual. Obama is no messiah and he will assure a republican comeback in a BIG way. Mark my words. Obama SOUNDS like an intellectual but he is FAR from it. He will say and do anything to win. it is as simple as that. and he only cares about one thing- his career. expect him to file papers 143 days after becoming president to become president of the world.

  • http://blueollie.wordpress.com ollie

    Not a single person voted on Obama based on issues over Hillary.

    False. One of the reasons I preferred BHO to HRC is the way he approaches a tough issue; BHO understands that people won’t buy into a program unless they have had a hand in creating it.

    Don’t get me wrong; had HRC won the D nomination I would have tried my best to help her win the general.

    You are right about BHO not being a “messiah” and yes, of course I have doubts about him! I don’t believe in blind faith in anyone and/or anything.

    But he is an intellectual; just read his books (which he wrote himself; he employed no ghostwriter). Also, you don’t get hired by the University of Chicago to teach law if you aren’t an intellectual.

  • A Student

    I think most people have a naive grasp of how an administration is organized. You should never vote for the candidate based on their statements, you should always vote on your understanding of how they will select their appointees.

  • tacitus

    Beacon is probably one of those sad PUMA remnants who are voting for McCain in the hope that Hillary Clinton will run again in 2012. Not even Hillary Clinton would wish another four years of Republican rule on the country at this point, and especially not just so she can be president one day.

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

    3 Quarks Daily notes that college newspapers are endorsing Obama 63 to 1.

  • Fred Silverstein

    I would certainly agree with a point made above that academic expertise is not, in itself, a good qualification for the presidency. What sends chills up my spine, however, is not the lack of such expertise in the usual candidates, but the lack of respect for the ability to be a deep thinker (or even a thinker!) by the American public. The (well, one time) popularity of W, and the current popularity of Sarah Palin are conspicuous cases in point. These people don’t even try to pretend to be deep thinkers. They take some pride in that, and it really looks like they get some worship for that.

    We spend a lot of time worrying over the quality of education in America, at least for us in that the next generation can value and respect, if not actually do, science. I’m not sure we spend enough time worrying over the anti-intellectualism that is rampant in this country. There is a large contingent of voters in this nation who value smiles and lipstick instead of ideas. How did our system of education lead to the evolution of such a contingent? Whatever did we do wrong?

  • http://tyrannogenius.blogspot.com Neil B. ?

    I saw Caroline Kennedy today endorse (not for the first time) Barack Obama at the Virginia Air and Space Center. It was never a surprise, but still enjoyable to hear her talk. The venue was of course quite appropriate since her dad got the USA rolling on the space program. The real Apollo 12 command module was nearby. (BTW, any opinions here about what kind of shape the Ares etc. program is really in? – of course we can’t trust NASA’s official line …)

    Sometimes a “event” serves as a better endorsement or counter-endorsement (disdorsement? ugh) than what someone says about someone else. Well, here is a hilarious punk’d on Sarah Palin, with a phony call from “Nicolas Sarkozy.” Palin seems quite convinced and oblivious all the way through despite many blood-curdling hints:

    http://cnews.canoe.ca/CNEWS/USElection/2008/11/01/7275526-cp.html which has some transcript and link to the audio.

  • http://www.thechocolatefish.blogspot.com Yvette

    Genuine question here- what is the point of a newspaper or celebrity etc endorsing a candidate? Does anyone out there really thing “well Nature/ my senator/ Sean said they like Obama, guess I’ll vote for him too!”

    I mean, I obviously enjoy hearing people’s opinions and reflecting on them, I just never understood what an endorsement is really supposed to do.

  • Gary 7

    SPYDER: Thank you for pointing that out. How people can’t seem to get that Colbert is a SATIRIST is beyond me,,,everything he says should be run through a nand circuit. Then his actual meaning will come through.

    GAry 7

  • http://telescoper.wordpress.com Peter Coles

    As a foreigner it would be inappropriate to give an endorsement to anyone standing for election in another country, but I am simply amazed that this election is even close. On the other hand, I thought the same thing last time. And the time before that…


Discover's Newsletter

Sign up to get the latest science news delivered weekly right to your inbox!

Cosmic Variance

Random samplings from a universe of ideas.

About Sean Carroll

Sean Carroll is a Senior Research Associate in the Department of Physics at the California Institute of Technology. His research interests include theoretical aspects of cosmology, field theory, and gravitation. His most recent book is The Particle at the End of the Universe, about the Large Hadron Collider and the search for the Higgs boson. Here are some of his favorite blog posts, home page, and email: carroll [at] cosmicvariance.com .


See More

Collapse bottom bar