“President Barack Obama.” What a wonderful thing to be able to write.
(Left: The Official Portrait; right: Courtesy Shepard Fairey and Obey Giant)
Not to mention the sound of “Former President Bush”, which we’ve been waiting most of a decade for. Now we just have to learn or remember how to shake off the constant feeling of low expectations rewarded with even lower outcomes. And not to be too disappointed when those heightened expectations need to be tempered with the complications of the messy real world.
Out of the blue last weekend, I was invited to participate in a review of the year’s science stories on PressTV, which I subsequently learned was an Iranian-oriented news channel; according to my Teheran-raised grad student, “the Iranian government doesn’t have much control over them, so they are sort of free of sides”. Media whore that I am, I didn’t hesitate too long before accepting, and started to mull over the biggest science stories of the past year.
After a few moments reflection, I couldn’t come up with a very exciting list. The biggest pure-science story was the start of the Large Hadron Collider, but (even if it hadn’t broken!) we wouldn’t expect to see any results until next year or later. There was the launch of the Fermi Space telescope (née GLAST), giving the first map of the whole sky in gamma rays. There were the tantalizing hints from PAMELA of an excess in the cosmic-ray spectrum, potentially the signal of decaying Dark Matter, and certainly the prompt for some interesting intra-science controversies. There was the Nobel Prize for the uncovering of fundamental symmetries (and its own controversies), and the Gruber Prize in cosmology. There were new PhDs for three outstanding scientists, and another one that was a bit more newsworthy. Here in the UK, perhaps the biggest science story, still not completely played out, was the £80 million shortfall in the Science and Technology Facilities Council’s physics budget: results from the last few weeks seem like grants around the country have been cut severely.
Of all of these, only the LHC made the list from PressTV. Instead, we were presented with a list including using mobile phones for medical consultations and data-taking; Iran’s first rocket launch (which was inevitably tied to the country’s putative nuclear ambitions, but was more interesting in the context of scientific launches by China and India this year); and a throwaway article on homeopathy that the editors (frighteningly) didn’t originally realize was a spoof (but at least eventually discarded). Update: The show was shown on Christmas Day and is available now for streaming or downloading. Painful…
But really the biggest science story of the year was the biggest story of the year, period (full stop): the election of Barack Obama. He’s got Steve Chu, a Nobel-prize-winning physicist in the Cabinet as Energy Secretary and John Holdren, a PhD physicist and environmental expert from Harvard directing the White House Office of Science and Technology: with these appointments, along with biologists Jane Lubchenko heading NOAA, and Harold Varmus and Eric Lander co-chairing with Holdren the Council of Advisers on Science and Technology, it looks like science in general, and climate change in particular, will be taken seriously and taking center stage in the new administration. Of course there are still some details, such as the fate of NASA’s post-shuttle launch capabilities and in particular its scientifically-derided Mars program, which aren’t clear; you can weigh in via the NY Times here. Let’s hope it’s coupled to and not separated from (or, worse, at odds with) the economic policies needed to get the US — and the world — out of the credit crunch/recession/depression.
It is disconcerting to be moved by a website.
Might we really get openness, sunlight, transparency?
This is an even nicer picture:
(Courtesy The Guardian)
What a joy to be able to show this map today:
So much better than last time. I wept with joy and relief, and pride.
It’s making the science-blogging rounds today that Obama has answered the questions posed as Science Debate 2008, questions on education, health care, stem cells and, of course, climate. He supports all the right scientific positions, and says several times that he will increase funding for basic research overall, but most importantly acknowledges and condemns the ideological and political interference that has plagued US research during the Bush administration.
McCain will, apparently, follow with his answers soon.
Meanwhile, here in the UK, the lengthily-named Department for Innovation, University and Skills (DIUS) is holding a consultation on Science and Society where you can answer questions like “How should scientists be rewarded for their efforts to communicate science to the public?” (I’m thinking big wads of cash.)
I only managed to make it to halftime of the Superbowl, but I’m going to try to last through at least a few Super-Tuesday results. (So if you follow this blog to read my opinions on subjects about which I actually know anything, you’ll just have to wait until a future post. And/or you can follow my even less scientific rambling, nattering chatter on Twitter — if it’s good enough for the NY Times, it’s good enough for me.)
I’m still registered to vote in California, so I mailed my absentee ballot about a week ago — I’ll never know if they even bother to open it. Just today, wistfully thinking of the millions of my fellow Americans in their voting booths, I learned that I could have voted online as part of a “global primary”, eschewing paper ballots, chads, and the lovely mechanical voting machines of my youth.
Obama is a fantastic speaker, and the symbolism of a black President Obama might actually remind people in the USA and, equally importantly, around the world, that American ideals still resonate even as America’s hegemony starts to seem less inevitable. He’s inspiring, but, change-laden rhetoric aside, Clinton’s the more classic liberal, and I’d like to think that policy matters in the end. For example, her health plan would actually at least try to cover everyone in the country.
Here in the UK, it’s been easy to follow the election news: local outlets such as The Guardian and the BBC are unashamed to devote significant space and time to the USA, and I’ve become a devotee of podcast versions of America’s Sunday morning politics shows. Sometimes, the talking heads get too much to take, especially when scary left-right politico power-couple Mary Matalin and James Carville talk too much, and I’ve started turning to Steve Gillmor’s Newsgang, an unexpectedly compelling spinoff of Gillmor’s usual tech-oriented podcast, featuring former members of the Firesign Theatre, the usual posse of tech pundits, and even the occasional political expert. They almost made me wish I had voted for Obama…
Living abroad, I’ve been following the American Presidential campaign (podcasts of This Week and Meet The Press help). But I’ve got this far without making a choice. I still vote in California, in one of the most liberal (i.e., American parlance for left-wing) parts of the country: Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi’s district, smack in the middle of San Francisco. So I need to send in my absentee ballot before the February 5 “Super-Duper Tuesday” primary.
According to this poll, I should be voting for a no-hoper such as Dennis Kucinich or the even less likely Mike Gravel, but of course the real question is: Obama or Clinton (or, still, Edwards)? Change (but Obama’s been a politician for a dozen years) or experience (and Hillary’s only been in elected office since 2001 — I find it difficult to take eight years as First Lady too seriously as “experience”)?