Obama = Spock?

By Chris Mooney | November 30, 2009 8:59 am

AP science reporter Seth Borenstein–known for, among other things, this brilliant story which showed that there is no statistical global “cooling” since 1998–is at it again, this time with a lighter innovation. He is interviewing people like Leonard Nimoy about whether our deliberative, rational, calm, and science loving president Barack Obama is, well, Spock.

“The comparison to Spock is, in my opinion, a compliment to him and to the character,” Nimoy tells Borenstein.

Here’s more of the story, including a quote from yours truly:

One October evening, 20 telescopes and an inflatable dome with a three-dimensional tour of the universe were set up on the White House lawn. The occasion was a star party for 150 middle-schoolers that also showcased moon rocks, a couple of astronauts, several astronomers and even two science teachers dressed as Isaac Newton and Galileo.

The president’s science adviser, John Holdren, said the party showed that Obama “is genuinely and intensely interested in science and technology in a way that goes beyond their practical relevance to meeting national goals.”

Also in October, Obama gave medals to a dozen scientists, toured a lab at the bastion of science-and-technology, MIT, and visited a solar energy manufacturing plant in Florida.

“This is kinda cool,” Obama told reporters as he wandered through an MIT energy lab demonstration.

In his first 10 months in office, the president made more science-oriented trips than military ones. The White House even turned the annual Easter egg roll into a makeshift science lesson by asking experts to set up a science of eggs exhibit, complete with microscopes.

“I keep being amazed at how much attention he’s spending on science policy,” said science policy and journalism blogger Chris Mooney, author of the book “Unscientific America: How Scientific Illiteracy Threatens Our Future.”

“The nerds are happy,” Mooney said. “They like Spock.”

There’s a great twist at the end of the piece–because, guess who is Kirk? You’ll have to read Borenstein’s story to find out.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Politics and Science
MORE ABOUT: kirk, nimoy, Obama, spock

Comments (15)

  1. because, guess who is Kirk?

    I think we all know who Kirk is compared to (although I disagree).

    But in any case, Star Trek always made the case that Kirk should be in charge and the latest movie makes that point quite explicitly.

  2. Was Mr. Borenstein out of the country when this comparison was beaten to death this spring? Heck, the comparison was making the rounds during the campaign.

  3. Jon

    Also, check out John Hodgman from several months ago:


  4. Jon

    The holy grail of Democratic electoral politics would be to form a coalition of intelligent and competency-oriented professionals (who would be science-philic) women, minorities, and labor. See Teixeira and Judis’s *Emerging Democratic Majority*–they see something like this coming about, and Obama is one sign that it is. How do you keep making that trend happen?

    David Frum is worried. The last period of GOP rule was basically built on driving a wedge between professionals and the remainder of middle and working class whites, whose resentments could be exploited… Demographic changes and distance from the culturally contentious 60’s are making that strategy more and more difficult.

  5. John Kwok

    I am more inclined to view our President as a member of the Romulan Tal Shiar than as an esteemd, highly valued, member of both Federation Starfleet and the Federation Diplomatic Corps. Nothing that he has done since January 20th has led me to think otherwise.

  6. Well, Spock did live on Romulus for years…

  7. Jinchi said: But in any case, Star Trek always made the case that Kirk should be in charge and the latest movie makes that point quite explicitly.

    Exactly, which is why the analogy is stupid for anyone trying to make the case for President Obama. Great twist? Yah, it’s great along the lines of appreciating how someone can manage to shoot their pinky toe off with a long-barrel rifle.

  8. John Kwok

    @ David –

    Spock was there to support an indigenous dissent movement against the totalitarian military dictatorship of both the Romulan Praetor and the Romulan Senate. In stark contrast, like a true operative of the Romulan Tal Shiar, THE ONE has not spoken vigorously on behalf of iranian students and Iranian citizens protesting the Islamic theocratic dictatorship that is the Islamic Republic of Iran, or on behalf of persecuted minorities and dissents in the People’s Republic of China, or even to commemorate the downfall of the Soviet Empire in Eastern Europe as noted recently in the recent celebrations commemorating the 20th anniversary of the “fall” of the Berlin Wall. Were Ronald Reagan alive and president now, or even, Jimmy Carter, I am sure that either one would have spoken far more vigorously and forcefully on behalf of promoting liberty and human rights than what I have heard or seen so far from this President of the United States.

  9. John Kwok

    @ 8 (PS) –

    By dissent, I meant dissident. OOPS, sorry about that mistake.

  10. Spock then proceeded to assist Romulan scientists, possibly with the sanction of their government, in trying (but failing) to save their star from dying.

    Here’s the President’s address commemorating the fall of the Berlin Wall:


    I suspect this statement of condemnation won’t cut it for you, but I suggest anything stronger or more sustained would backfire with respect to reform efforts in Iran. Nothing like being linked to the Great Satan to boost your chances of changing your government.


    As for China and human rights, you should understand that, like with the Romulans, overt actions are usually not the best approach. Specific references to Tibet and the Dalai Lama in a joint statement with the Chinese president is likely to get more action from China than some shoe-thumping that many seem to think American presidents successfully do regularly with China. It is supposed to be speak softly and carry a big stick, not the other way around.


    “Finally, as I did yesterday in Shanghai, I spoke to President Hu about America’s bedrock beliefs that all men and women possess certain fundamental human rights. We do not believe these principles are unique to America, but rather they are universal rights and that they should be available to all peoples, to all ethnic and religious minorities. And our two countries agreed to continue to move this discussion forward in a human rights dialogue that is scheduled for early next year.

    “As President Hu indicated, the United States respects the sovereignty and territorial integrity of China. And once again, we have reaffirmed our strong commitment to a one-China policy.

    “We did note that while we recognize that Tibet is part of the People’s Republic of China, the United States supports the early resumption of dialogue between the Chinese government and representatives of the Dalai Lama to resolve any concerns and differences that the two sides may have. We also applauded the steps that the People’s Republic of China and Taiwan have already taken to relax tensions and build ties across the Taiwan Strait.”

  11. John Kwok

    @ David,

    You should have given the same advice to Ronald Reagan just before he gave the speech back in the mid 1980s urging Gorbachev to “tear down” the Berlin Wall. Unfortunately THE ONE lacks both the moral fiber and conviction possessed by Reagan and his immediate predecessor, Carter, with respect to human rights.

    As for Ambassador Spock, he was assisting a newly liberated Romulan Empire when that stellar disaster struck.

  12. Reagan’s repudiation of Carter’s human rights stances, and his abysmal record on human rights in Latin America, cast all sorts of doubt in my mind on your assertion that Reagan had moral fiber and conviction on this issue. So please excuse me if I continue to think that your preference for confrontation over negotiation with respect to human rights is a reasonable course of action with China.

    Did Gorbachev tear down the Berlin Wall? Didn’t think so.

    As for the newly liberated Romulan Empire that Spock was assisting, the liberation required the massacre of the entire government by an outside force. Is that also part of your preferred method of international relations?

  13. John Kwok

    @ David –

    You are missing my point with regards to Spock. He stayed on Romulus to assist a Romulan dissident movement; one that would have ensured a peaceful coexistence between the Romulan Star Empire and its neighbors, especially the United Federation of Planets, if that dissident movement had taken over the Romulan totalitarian military dictatorship (The “outside force” which had annihilated the existing Praetorial regime was a Reman-led military force within the Romulan starfleet.).

    Reagan did disavow some of Carter’s philosophy and deeds, but in his ongoing peaceful and military struggle (the latter via proxy in Central America, the Caribbean and elsewhere), he did give ample hope to dissident movements within Eastern Europe. In stark contrast, Obama has ignored the pleas of help coming from Iranian dissidents, Tibetans (For the first time in recent memory, he has been the only American president to ignore an American visit by the Dalai Lama.) and other persecuted minorities in the People’s Republic of China. But frankly, I wouldn’t expect Obama to understand democracy and freedom since he has been exposed since college to a predominantly radical, almost Marxist – Leninist, Socialist view of politics, as represented, for example, by his long-term support of ACORN.

    The only credit Obama does deserve is in his excellent cabinet-level appointments in science and technology, but have yet to see much substantial interest from him in using that “brain trust” he’s assembled in promoting more science and technology-oriented policies (This is a minor note, but I don’t recall Obama reminding Americans that Darwin should be regarded as a genuine scientific hero or that evolution is valid science, while creationism of any form, especially Intelligent Design, should be condemned as pseudoscientific religious nonsense. He could have said something on February 12th or November 24th, but he has yet to say anything about them at all.).

  14. First, since Mr. Kwok and I are in a bit of a threadjack here, some obligatory on-topic comment, this take-down of Mr. Borenstein’s piece in the Columbia Journalism Review.


    In short, the CJR writer felt the metaphor forced and the emphasis of the piece all over the place.

    Mr. Kwok,

    Romulans did not have a military dictatorship, as there was civilian leadership (one of whom, Senator Pardek, Spock worked with quite closely). An authoritarian government, certainly, but at the beginning of Nemesis, before the government is destroyed, the Praetor states firmly that the military will not dictate policy.

    Given Mr. Reagan’s support of death squads in El Salvador, and the dubious tactics of the Nicaraguan contras, at best I consider his support of human rights mixed and inconsistent. As for President Obama’s alleged ignorance of those in Iran, the Dalai Lama, and in the PRC, I suggest to you that more forceful pronouncements, saber rattling if you will, will not be productive with China or with Iran, because these regimes will react defensively and increase their resistance to change. He has made statements about each of these situations, and they don’t meet with your approval, fine. They don’t qualify as ignorance.

    You place way too much emphasis on symbolism, in my opinion. And way too much faith in the smear campaigns that try and paint the President as a socialist, something actual socialists, such as Senator Bernie Sanders, would tell you is inaccurate, if not false and misleading.

    As for the President and Darwin, he did mention him on February 12th.


    As that happens to also be Lincoln’s birthday, it’s a surprise that any American president mentions Darwin on February 12.

    To expect a president to join you in a religious fight is wildly optimistic.

  15. John Kwok

    @ David –

    It was a totalitarian military-dominated dictatorship, since the Romulan dissident movement could not act openly against the Praetor or his regime.

    As for Obama’s comment about Darwin’s birthday, I don’t think he said enough for someone who is supposedly a “science geek”. Wish he would have said as much on the scientific veracity of evolution as his predecessor said in support of Intelligent Design cretinism.


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About Chris Mooney

Chris is a science and political journalist and commentator and the author of three books, including the New York Times bestselling The Republican War on Science--dubbed "a landmark in contemporary political reporting" by Salon.com and a "well-researched, closely argued and amply referenced indictment of the right wing's assault on science and scientists" by Scientific American--Storm World, and Unscientific America: How Scientific Illiteracy Threatens Our Future, co-authored by Sheril Kirshenbaum. They also write "The Intersection" blog together for Discover blogs. For a longer bio and contact information, see here.


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