Field of Science

Please, don't stand in the way of this man

This is as sensible and assertive a statement about evolution that we can expect from a Presidential candidate
Do you believe that evolution by means of natural selection is a sufficient explanation for the variety and complexity of life on Earth? Should intelligent design, or some derivative thereof, be taught in science class in public schools?

Obama: I believe in evolution, and I support the strong consensus of the scientific community that evolution is scientifically validated. I do not believe it is helpful to our students to cloud discussions of science with non-scientific theories like intelligent design that are not subject to experimental scrutiny.
This is from the latest issue of Nature whose cover story is about the candidates' views on scientific issues, views that are going to be of paramount importance to the future well-being of this country. Nature asked the candidates 18 questions about science and technology, including questions about increasing funding for basic research, speeding up the track to permanent residency for talented foreign students, and pumping more funds into biomedical innovations.

Not suprisingly, McCain's camp declined to answer with specifics and Nature dug up relevant statements from his old speeches that mainly included boilerplate sound-bytes. Obama's camp on the other hand provided rather eloquent and clear answers that actually talk about facts. It's pretty amazing to hear answers that actually are filled with details about science. McCain's cast of "science" advisors looks like a Gilligan's Island outfit and includes HP chief Carly Fiorina (who thinks Sarah Palin is quite competent to be President), James Woolsey, a former CIA director and Meg Whitman, former CEO of EBay. This group seems as miscast for science as Sarah Palin is miscast for being Vice President. Obama's advisors on the other hand include some real scientists, including Dan Kammen from Berkeley and Harold Varmus from Sloan Kettering Cancer Center.

Obama would speed up the residency process for foreign students and minimize barriers between private and public R & D (this is going to be very important). And Obama is as clear about nuclear energy as anything else
What role does nuclear power have in your vision for the US energy supply, and how would you address the problem of nuclear waste?

Obama: Nuclear power represents an important part of our current energy mix. Nuclear also represents 70% of our non-carbon generated electricity. It is unlikely that we can meet our aggressive climate goals if we eliminate nuclear power as an option. However, before an expansion of nuclear power is considered, key issues must be addressed, including security of nuclear fuel and waste, waste storage and proliferation. The nuclear waste disposal efforts at Yucca Mountain [in Nevada] have been an expensive failure and should be abandoned. I will work with the industry and governors to develop a way to store nuclear waste safely while we pursue long-term solutions.
Most importantly, Obama promises to reform the political environment for scientific opinion; this would include appointing a Chief Technology Officer for the government and strengthening the President's Scientific Advisory Committee, a key source of scientific advice for the President that was abolished by the odious Richard Nixon
Many scientists are bitter about what they see as years of political interference in scientific decisions at federal agencies. What would you do to help restore impartial scientific advice in government?

Obama: Scientific and technological information is of growing importance to a range of issues. I believe such information must be expert and uncoloured by ideology. I will restore the basic principle that government decisions should be based on the best-available, scientifically valid evidence and not on the ideological predispositions of agency officials or political appointees. More broadly, I am committed to creating a transparent and connected democracy, using cutting edge technologies to provide a new level of transparency, accountability and participation for America’s citizens. Policies must be determined using a process that builds on the long tradition of open debate that has characterized progress in science, including review by individuals who might bring new information or contrasting views. I have already established an impressive team of science advisers, including several Nobel laureates, who are helping me to shape a robust science agenda for my
This point is the most encouraging policy vision, after a 8 year tradition of bullying, manipulating, cherry picking, ignoring and roughing up science and objective facts. The cost of scientific ignorance will be progress in all its forms.

Reading this is like being immersed inside a gutter for 8 years and suddenly coming up for fresh air in the bright sunlight with a gasp. We finally see a political leader who can actually think and give serious thought to all sides of a problem including dissenting ones. There's a scientist in Obama somewhere. This man deserves to lead this country. This country (at least for those who care) deserves to be led by this man.


  1. Can you vote in this election? :)

  2. The sum total of this man is more than his position on evolution. He will tell each audience what they want to hear. He is a poisonous chameleon.

  3. Correct. And John McCain and Sarah Palin are not.

  4. Psi: I wish I could :( Hopefully some time...

  5. A conservative calling Obama a "poisonous chameleon". Now that's funny, kind of like W calling himself "a uniter not a divider" or the Republican Party saying it's fiscally conservative and committed to smaller government.

    How about this: When you get back from trying to find the relationship between your party's principles and its actions in your toilet, perhaps you might also explain how McCain is not a chameleon, and how Gov. Palin is a genuine reformer. Preferably without your listeners either spinning around and spewing vomit or exploding their chest cavities with contained laughter.

  6. As a retired neurologist I was rather disturbed by Obama's appearance on the debate last night. His mouth is rather asymmetric when he speaks, with the right side moving far less than the left. Also the fold between his nose and lip is much more prominent on the left than the right. This can be an early sign of left hemisphere dysfunction. Look at the way Senator Kennedy moves his mouth.

    I've not read his two autobiographies so I don't know if he ever had a significant head injury (which might explain this). He certainly is articulate, and in 95% of right handers and 50% of left handers, the left hemisphere is dominant for speech. Does anyone know if he is right or left handed?

    Hopefully there is nothing to this. All of us have slightly asymmetric faces. You have two more debates to watch Obama speak and check this out.


  7. Intriguing observation...I wouldn't have ever thought of that. I have read one of his books, 'The Audacity of Hope' and it's eloquent and very well-written.
    Apparently many websites I looked at say that he is left-handed.

    To be honest, I am more concerned about McCain's mental and physical health than Obama's. Especially because if something happens to him the Presidency will be handed over to the beauty queen Sarah Palin.

    Psi: Maybe you can cast a vote for me too ;)

  8. It's an old cliche -- but read Obama's lips tonight. Hopefully they will be symmetric. Particularly watch both sides of his mouth to see if they move together. It would still be bad even if the final position was symmetric, but the right side got there later. As mentioned earlier, this would imply left hemisphere dysfunction (which, since you said he is left-handed, has only a 50% chance of being the dominant hemisphere for speech).


  9. I will take a look...but what do you exactly mean by "dysfunction" here?

  10. Dysfunction is a term used by the profession to confuse the laity. It means not working as it should (e.g. not completely performing its function).

    Obama's facial asymmetry is real and was consistently present during tthe debate last night. One can only speculate about what it means. Do any of the readers of his biographies know if he had a head injury, was a premature infant, had encephalitis, etc. etc.


  11. Well, of course; I meant to ask what kind of dysfunction (speech, analytical thinking etc.)
    I have to be honest that I did not observe anything unusual last night. Maybe it was because unlike the first debate, the camera had a more spread out view making it harder to see. But you are the neurologist and I am sure you have seen hundreds of cases, and it may be worth taking a look at either one of the two memoirs to find out. I will look into the one which I have.

  12. Sorry to be so cryptic

    By (neurological) definition, the way Obama moves the right side of his mouth IS left hemisphere dysfunction. His use of the right side of his body when moving about (another left hemisphere function) fortunately seemed guite normal.

    The space devoted representation of the facial musculature in the motor area of the brain is actually larger than that for the entire leg.

    Why couldn't this be a dysfunction of the facial nerve (lower down in the brain) rather than the left hemisphere -- because the facial nerve controls the muscles around the eye as well as the mouth, and his blinking was quite symmetric.

    I saw no other sign of left hemisphere dysfunction, but (unfortunately) left hemisphere dysfunction from a more generalized problem can show up just this way (again due to the large area of each cerebral hemisphere devoted to controlling the mouth on the opposite side of the body).

    Lesions in the frontal lobe (which is adjacent to the motor area) can grow to enormous size (e.g. that of an orange) without producing symptoms for a long time. We don't understand why, it's just a fact -- just like the way the 4s orbitals are lower in energy than the 3d's (something I've never understood).



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