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Must Our Next President Be Scientifically Literate?

Laurence Krauss, a noted physicist at Case Western Reserve University, argues in today's WSJ that the next President must be scientifically literate, a standard some candidates could not meet.

Almost all of the major challenges we will face as a nation in this new century, from the environment, national security and economic competitiveness to energy strategies, have a scientific or technological basis. Can a president who is not comfortable thinking about science hope to lead instead of follow? Earlier Republican debates underscored this problem. In May, when candidates were asked if they believed in the theory of evolution, three candidates said no. In the next debate Mike Huckabee explained that he was running for president of the U.S., not writing the curriculum for an eighth-grade science book, and therefore the issue was unimportant.

Apparently many Americans agreed with him, according to polls taken shortly after the debate. But lack of interest in the scientific literacy of our next president does not mean that the issue is irrelevant. Popular ambivalence may rather reflect the fact that most Americans are scientifically illiterate. A 2006 National Science Foundation survey found that 25% of Americans did not know the earth goes around the sun.

Our president will thus have to act in part as an "educator in chief" as well as commander in chief. Someone who is not scientifically literate will find it difficult to fill this role. . . .

Even if the American public is not currently focused on these concerns, decisions made by the next U.S. president on issues such as climate change, energy research, stem cells and nuclear proliferation will have a global impact. We owe it to the next generation to take ownership of these issues now. In spite of the ambivalence reflected in some polls, there is a popular understanding that science and technology will be essential to meet the challenges we face as a society. When reports began to surface warning that the avian flu might become a threat to humans, for example, everyone from the president down called for studies to determine how quickly the virus might mutate from birds to human beings. No one suggested that "intelligent design," for example, could provide answers.

Krauss has joined with a group of prominent scientists calling for a presidential debate focused on science and technology issues, ScienceDebate2008.

Krauss' article does not make the erroneous claim that science "answers" pressing policy questions, a mistake others make (see here and here). Rather, he is arguing that scientific literacy is necessary to understand certain policy challenges, evaluate options, and develop solutions. A scientifically literate and technologically capable workforce is also important for American competitiveness. Whether a science-focused debate is necessary, the next administration should be comfortable consulting scientific expertise and recognizing the valuable role science can play in the development of public policy.

MJG:
It's hard to disagree with the proposition, at least in total. But the obvious question is how literate? And practically, how would we (as a scientifically illiterate public) know? Do you need an undergrad degree in chemistry? Some particular relevant experience? Or if Stephen Hawking says, "I endorse Mitt Romney," is that alone enough? (Just making that one up for example.)

I guess in part because of my own scientific illiteracy, and the inability to guess what parts of "science" will be most relevant in the coming decade (though there are some frontrunners) I am not sure what I'd look for in a scientifically literate candidate.
12.6.2007 10:11am
Craig Oren (mail):
Do you think Jimmy Carter was helped by his engineering background? I'm not at all sure. Did it make him a better or worse politician? I'm inclined to think the latter: scientists tend to think that there are objectively "right" answers to problems, and dislike the political process. These are good attributes for a scientist; perhaps not so much for a maker of public policy.
12.6.2007 10:19am
Houston Lawyer:
Sure, what we really need is a president who thinks he knows "science" better than anyone else. I'd rather have someone with a firm grasp of economics.
12.6.2007 10:21am
Cornellian (mail):
At a minimum I'd think a president should understand that science consists of observations, hypotheses and theories. He should know what the scientific method consists of and a few very basic principles. He doesn't need a college degree, just what someone is supposed to have learned about science at a good high school and the mandatory science requirement that he presumably picked up while an undergrad arts major.
12.6.2007 10:23am
veteran:
Knowledge of the constitution, its contents and an ability to follow it wouldn't be out of order.
12.6.2007 10:24am
Sarah (mail) (www):
I think he ought to have enough scientific literacy to be able to figure out whether someone's making things up (I'd be happier if a Presidential candidate had a firm grounding in physics and statistics,) but once again, Presidents mostly have to be good at hiring and listening to really competent people. See, also, Ulysses Grant, Don't Be Him.

And speaking of statistics, color me skeptical about that NSF survey. I'm sure I could write a poll question that gets half of respondents agreeing that the Earth is bigger than the Sun, which by itself wouldn't make a statement like "Half of all Americans don't know that the Sun is bigger than the Earth" accurate. 25% is awfully high for a trope that is repeated constantly throughout popular culture as a signal of the intelligence of a given character. The number of Galileo references (I'm sure the Simpsons has done one) also argues against the idea that a quarter of all American adults believe this. At best, I'd say that poll invited people to respond obnoxiously. I'd be tempted, with a dumb question like "does the Sun revolve around the Earth or the other way around," to answer incorrectly just out of spite.

Anyway, this isn't like being the President of General Motors. There is no one area of science that you need to be sufficiently literate in to successfully run the country -- general education level, intelligence, and emotional intelligence will serve the President better than a degree in Biology.
12.6.2007 10:25am
FantasiaWHT:
"A 2006 National Science Foundation survey found that 25% of Americans did not know the earth goes around the sun."

I would love to see the actual format of that question.

I don't really buy this whole proposition. You could make equal arguments that the president "has" to be literate in any number of fields, but the truth is that he doesn't, because that's what advisers are for. I would argue that a president only has to be AWARE of his own shortcomings enough in any field to realize that he isn't qualified to make decisions on his own based on them.
12.6.2007 10:28am
Viceroy:
America has a different standard for science literacy so as long as he or she satisfies America's standard we're good to go.

(I think we're using scientifically literate as a shorthand way of saying not evangelical.)
12.6.2007 10:30am
Presiding over (www):
Given the competing evaluations a president needs to make (e.g., science, economics already mentioned this morning) and given that presidents surround themselves with various experts, perhaps we need a president with strong moral and ethical foundations upon which s/he can evaluate these competing analyses.

See also The Science Charade in Toxic Risk Regulation
Wendy E. Wagner
Columbia Law Review, Vol. 95, No. 7. (Nov., 1995), pp. 1613-1723.
12.6.2007 10:31am
loki13 (mail):
Amazing.... a few posts in, and the red herrings start.

Yes, it is good to have a President who knows the Constitution (oath and all).

Yes, it is good to have a President who knows some economics (which, by the tenor of your comment, presupposes economics is not science, but most of us... excepting Posner... knew that already).

None of this is mutually exclusive with having a President who has some understanding of science. In the today's age, many policy issues have some science 'issue' involved. While the President should have those who can help him/her understand the issue, the President should still be able to bring some level of independent critical thinking to the issue to analyze the opinions they've been given.
12.6.2007 10:32am
dearieme:
Personally, I'd settle for "Scientists" Should Be Scientifically Literate.
12.6.2007 10:33am
frankcross (mail):
You can't understand economics without understanding the principles of science. And the belief in putting faith above scientific reality easily translates into putting faith above economic reality.
12.6.2007 10:34am
Curt Fischer:
What to look for in a scientifically literate candidate? Some extemporaneous thoughts...

1. Appreciation that federally funded R&D works best on long time scales, and thus drastic changes in funding priorities should be made only with long term committments (for example, see Bush energy R&D policy and the "hydrogen economy").

2. Appreciation that people are scientifically illiterate because of poor science education in primary and secondary schools. A good candidate will support (perhaps not through federal mandates or any federal direction at all, but at least in some vague sense) educational reforms, which hopefully make it easier for engineers and scientists to become educators.

3. The ability to weigh various and disparate threats to national security (e.g. Al Qaida, hurricanes, avian flu) rationally and focus limited federal resources effectively.

4. An recognition that technology-neutral policies are essential for unencumbered science and technology progress. Example: subsidization of ethanol is highly market-distorting, making it unattractive to produce many higher-value products, such as fine chemicals, from corn.

***

In general, I'm always glad to read Prof. Adler's posts and hear about Lawrence Kraus's latest work. As a CWRU alumn, it's the only good news I get from CWRU. Five new presidents in nine years...an engineering alumni association and upper-level administration that feud both publicly and in mailers to alumni... it doesn't exactly inspire confidence.

So, kudos to the competent, like Adler and Kraus, and keep up the good work.
12.6.2007 10:36am
NatSecLawGuy (mail):
As with most issues as to competence in a particular field for a POTUS candidate, I think it comes down to more who he surrounds himself with and his ability to sift through complex decisions than his literacy in a particular field.

An overbroad skepticism to conclusions and an ability to find and recognize when the skepticism should yield to what are good results, and thus the right course of action, serve a POTUS much better than any particular degree.

Although if were going to pick a degree, I think an undergraduate liberal arts and sciences degree will likely be the best background rather than a speciality in a Core Science.
12.6.2007 10:38am
Michael Krauss (mail) (www):
I think my brother's op-ed is unobjectionable.

The more I think about it, the more I want the next president to be:

-economically literate (foolishness is not an asset)
-scientifically literate (evidence of method and of curiosity)
-theologically literate (materialist atheists miss what matters most to most Americans)
-linguistically literate (enough Bushisms, frankly we could do with a well-spoken President for a change).
12.6.2007 10:43am
Prufrock765 (mail):
I am glad to see this issue addressed. Huckabee seems like a decent forthright fellow. But the refusal to believe in the theory of evolution is extremely disturbing to me. Not that a governor or president has to be an expert in genetics. But he does have to have an attitude toward what constitutes knowledge. I get the feeling that--beyond the ignorant "the-bible-tells-me-so" justification, there is an aspect of "it's just a THEORY", not knowing what "a theory" is. If this is in fact the level on which Huckabee, all his good qualities notwithstanding, is operating, he is not qualified to be President in the 21st century.
12.6.2007 10:43am
J. F. Thomas (mail):
Well considering the disastrous consequences that has resulted from the scientific and engineering ignorance that this administration, I would say some level of scientific competence is necessary. But of course, one could argue that the policies (denying climate change, "nobody anticipated the breach of the levees", Terry Schiavo debacle, teach both points of view on evolution and ID, blastocysts = aborted babies, the morning after pill is an abortifactant, abstinence only education works, etc.) were not borne out of scientific ignorance but just deliberate indifference of the facts (a nice way to say they lied).

Like just this morning I heard Steven Hadley going on about how because Iran was enriching uranium and had capable ballistic missiles they were a threat to quickly start up their nuclear weapons program again and mount a nuclear device on a missile (or at least that was the implication). Now I would hope that the National Security Advisor would know that a uranium device is just too damn bulky and large to ever fit on a ballistic missile. To design a workable warhead small enough to fit on a missile (as opposed to a bomb), you need plutonium, which all the uranium enrichment in the world is not going to create.
12.6.2007 10:44am
JSinger (mail):
(I think we're using scientifically literate as a shorthand way of saying not evangelical.)

No, it's shorthand for being willing to honestly answer a handful of very specific questions to which an honest answer would antagonize evangelical supporters.
12.6.2007 10:46am
Randy R. (mail):
I'd be happy to have a president who actually understands evolution and doesn't believe in the end times.

Krauss: "theologically literate (materialist atheists miss what matters most to most Americans) "

What, as opposed to the non-materialistic atheists? I think any president can be an atheist and still understand that many Americans are religious. And I'm not sure that theology "matters most" to Americans either.
12.6.2007 10:53am
JSinger (mail):
But of course, one could argue that the policies (denying climate change, "nobody anticipated the breach of the levees", Terry Schiavo debacle, teach both points of view on evolution and ID, blastocysts = aborted babies, the morning after pill is an abortifactant, abstinence only education works, etc.) were not borne out of scientific ignorance but just deliberate indifference of the facts (a nice way to say they lied).

And this pretty much illustrates the point. Someone with a genuine interest in science might distinguish between judgment calls in bioethics and scientific fact. But most of this professed concern over the importance of Science! in politics seems to come from people who don't make the slightest distinction between party line ideology and whether or not the earth goes around the sun.
12.6.2007 10:55am
Steve:
I'd love to have a scientifically literate President. I'd really love to have a scientifically literate judiciary.

As for economic literacy, good luck defining what that means in an age where "tax cuts increase government revenues" has become the Republican orthodoxy.
12.6.2007 10:56am
K Parker (mail):
educator in chief

Gack!

Admittedly it's a big improvement over "emother-in-chief", but still...
12.6.2007 10:59am
K Parker (mail):
Oops, typo time: that's supposed to be
emoter-in-chief
12.6.2007 11:00am
Lawrence Krauss (mail) (www):
many thanks for your thoughtful discussion, which my brother pointed me to. The point here is that some basic literacy regarding both the scientific method, and also the current state of science, at a level where we would expect a candidate to have a basic understanding of history, etc, may not be essential, but strongly useful when the candidate becomes president and has to distinguish sound advice from unsound advice.. Moreover, we are simply asking for a debate on these issues, which, because they inform most important policy decisions a future president will have to make, would be very illuminating. Finally, btw, the NSF survey was remarkably clear.. I always thought it was a trick question... it wasn't.. People were asked a series of scientific questions and had to answer true or false. In this case the question was: the earth orbits the sun, true or false..

L. Krauss
12.6.2007 11:00am
Virginian:

A 2006 National Science Foundation survey found that 25% of Americans did not know the earth goes around the sun.


It is clearly time to scrap our entire K-12 educational system and start over from scratch.
12.6.2007 11:01am
rarango (mail):
Scientific literacy defined as? as measured by. What a crock. The fact that a scientist even published this days nothing good about scientists.
12.6.2007 11:07am
Virginian:

As for economic literacy, good luck defining what that means in an age where "tax cuts increase government revenues" has become the Republican orthodoxy.


Maybe that's because tax cuts DO increase government revenues.
12.6.2007 11:09am
LCDave (mail):
A president without a science background is like a fish without a bicycle. Do we really need another requirement? He/she needs to be a master of: Constitutional law, macro economics, world politics, American and world history, psychology, negotiations, etc. and this person has to actually want to be President. The very nature of campaigning precludes all the the most vein and if one has any flaw in their past, it will be on the TV at nine. Just how perfect of a candidate are we dreaming of?

"Even if the American public is not currently focused on these concerns, decisions made by the next U.S. president on issues such as climate change, energy research, stem cells and nuclear proliferation will have a global impact."

Unless the President is going to actually do the research listed, it would seem that Mr. Krauss wants the next President elected not for scientific credentials so much as party-line talking points. Science says nothing about what we should do about any of those things (especially nuclear proliferation). We may determine how or why something has happened, but science says nothing of whether it is good or bad. If the weather models were actually accurate about global warming, (which they aren't) 50 ft sea level rise would only prove a model. Science doesn't care about humanity! The "people suck" mentality of the political left are trying to hijack the name of science to prove their side but science for the sake of science doesn't draw distinctions about whether people live or die or if the Earth is 5 degrees or 100. Mr. Krauss would probably not like a president with a scientific background if he/she totally disagreed with him politically. After all, science doesn't determine whether you go to war or not.
12.6.2007 11:12am
Hoosier:
Cornellian adn Michale Krauss seem to have hit on the fundamental question: I'd like to have a president who understands how science FUNCTIONS. What does science do, and what can it explain.

I've been frustrated with biologists And politicians who have allowed the Creationists to shake their epistemological moorings. Evolution as we undertsand it now is NOT "a fact." Neither is Newton's Law of Universal Gravitation. Both are theories. Evolution explains our current biology better than any other *scientific* theory.

For a long time Newton's Law explained the tendency of things to fall down better than any other theory. But it doesn't hold up when we look at the cosmological scale. Black holes or galaxies that pass through each other. For that, we need Einstein, dark matter, the bending of space, and all the weird stuff that keeps you up at night.

But while I'd like to have a scientifically literate POTUS in this sense, It's far more important to have a scientifically literate SCOTUS. It's hard to know what our constitutional jusrisprudence says about something when you haven't a clue how that thing works, or what it means.
12.6.2007 11:19am
byomtov (mail):
I'd settle for "not illiterate." No creationists or ID'ers, and BTW, no one who thinks, pace Virginian, that tax cut increase revenues.
12.6.2007 11:26am
Hoosier:
On that note: There is a wonderful quote from Newton regarding his theory of gravitation. He said that it was so ridiculous that no one ought to believe him. Planents, stars, and moons attract each other, but by means of /nothing/: There are no "gravity beams" that shoot out of the Sun to keep the earth in orbit. Nor little tiny "gravity threads" that make grandma fall down on the icy sidewalk. It just happens, without mechanism (that he could deduce. Einstein gave us a mechanism).

BUT . . . Newton could show you via application of calculus to his theory how to /explain/ and /predict/ the movements of heavenly bodies (insert Kate Beckinsale joke in the space provided: ). THIS is what I want a president to understand: Science explains thing and seeks to predict things based upon the best explanation that scientists have AT THE TIME. We can't try to force science into the bianary right/wrong of theologies or ideologies. A good model may be replaced by a better model at some point. This is what we WANT to see happen. And it doesn't mean research based on the previous model was a waste of time and taxpayer dollars.
12.6.2007 11:33am
PersonFromPorlock:

...25% of Americans did not know the earth goes around the sun.

Sounds apocryphal, although I did once meet a college student who claimed to neither know nor care when the First and Second World Wars happened, or in what order (!).

As it's presently constituted, the Presidency is an impossible job, regardless of what skills a candidate brings to it. What we really need is someone who'll reduce the scope of the job to where it's doable. Rotsa ruck!
12.6.2007 11:33am
Guest101:
I attended a panel discussion about a month ago at which Neil deGrasse Tyson, the director of the Hayden Planetarium at the American Museum of Natural History, was speaking. Dr. Tyson made the insightful point that it's unfortunate that we call science "science" because it gives the impression that it's a discrete area that can be boxed off for professionals and that the rest of us needn't worry about, and argued that the body of knowledge currently called "science" should be renamed "reality." I think this is absolutely right, and it demonstrates why scientific literacy isn't just another area of expertise that a president needn't have any personal familiarity with. While a president needn't necessarily be up on the technical details of climate change or string theory or have an informed opinion on the merits of punctuated equilibria, he should certainly have a robust appreciation for the methods and limitations of scientific inquiry and how the results of that inquiry can inform policy debates-- and equally, how misrepresentation of science can be used to obfuscate and mislead.

Jonathan, you're right of course that science can't directly answer policy questions, but I don't think it's an error to assert that if the public had a generally better understanding of the state of scientific knowledge in a number of areas, at least some of the policy disagreements that currently exist would evaporate.
12.6.2007 11:34am
Sk (mail):
"A 2006 National Science Foundation survey found that 25% of Americans did not know the earth goes around the sun."

And how many people realize that, for all practicable purposes, the sun does go around the earth? Given that there is no absolute reference point in space, one could easily define the earth going around the sun, the sun going around the earth, both going around the moon, the moon going around jupiter, or whatever you want. It all depends upon what your 'zero' point is when writing your mathematical models.

For that matter, the most reasonable zero point would not suggest that the earth goes around the sun; rather it would suggest that both go around a reference point somewhere between the earth and the sun (the gravity that causes the 'earth to orbit the sun' also causes the 'sun to orbit the earth'- that reference point will depend upon the relative mass of the earth and the relative mass of the sun, which would place it very close to, or even under the outer surface of, the sun).


Think of it this way; if you spin a dumbell, it is not the case that one end orbits the other. Rather, they both orbit the center of mass of the whole dumbell.

So what is scientific literacy? The belief that the sun orbits the earth? The knowledge that this is not the case, but the replacement with an equally simplific 'the earth orbits the sun'? The knowledge that both are oversimplifications of the actual case (that both the earth and sun orbit the same center of gravity)? Or the fact that such observations depend upon one's initial reference point, which is arbitrary?

I get the impression the 'whatever embarrasses evangelicals' is the true right answer.

Sk
12.6.2007 11:40am
Hoosier:
Guest101: "it's unfortunate that we call science "science" because it gives the impression that it's a discrete area that can be boxed off for professionals and that the rest of us needn't worry about, and argued that the body of knowledge currently called "science" should be renamed "reality." "

Well, pretty much the opposite of my point.

But, again, this goes against reason: "Science" itself has a history. And what, say, Galen told us about anatomical reality is not what Johns Hopkins Med School tells us now about reality.

Science IS discrete, because it has its own methodology. That methodology is good for developing theories about the natural world. But it's lousy for trying to undertstand, e.g., political history or the writing of poetry, which also form part of reality.

Science studies the natural world. But it does not ENCOMPASS that world, anymore than History encompasses the Past. It's just a means by which we seek to comprehend and explain a part of reality.

So Tyson's the sort of scientist I was bitchin' about in my first post. Now I have another name to add to my S-list . . .
12.6.2007 11:45am
Hoosier:
Sk--Well, to a point. But motion, like power, is always going to be relative. The Sun and Earth are both in motion around the Hub of our galaxy. But relative to that Hub, the Earth is ALSO rotating around the Sun.

But the Hub of the Milky Way contains a MASSIVE black hole, so I don't think any of this is going to matter in the long run.

(OK. I'm done now. Sorry for using up so many ones and zeroes, Prof. Adler. We may be running low these days.)
12.6.2007 11:49am
rarango (mail):
Tax cuts and revenues. Here I thought that the best that could be said on this topic was there are at least two bodies of economic opinion about the relationiship of tax cuts on revenues (eg, Professors Mankiw and Laffer) Both bodies have representatives with impressive credentials, studies and models to back them up. Who knew the issue was so settled! Seems to me the scientific trait most needed is skepticism and not assurance.
12.6.2007 11:50am
Alan Gunn (mail):
SK: "The earth goes around the sun" and "the sun goes around the earth" are not equivalent. The latter is another way of looking at the fact that the earth spins on its axis, which is why we have day and night. The earth orbiting the sun is why we have seasons (and why they're different in the northern and southern hemispheres).
12.6.2007 11:53am
WHOI Jacket:
Dr. Krauss,

I'd just like to say that I've treasured my copy of "The Physics of Star Trek" for years.

-A Big Fan.
12.6.2007 11:56am
pete (mail) (www):
"No, it's shorthand for being willing to honestly answer a handful of very specific questions to which an honest answer would antagonize evangelical supporters."

Evangelical does not equal creationist. I am an evangelical Christian who has no problem thinking that evolution is the best theory out there and there are plenty of other evangelicals out there who think the same. Please work on your theological literacy.

All other thing being equal in candidates I would prefer the candidate that said he believed in evolution, but since that has almost nothing to do with the biggest decisions presidents are faced with (who to appoint to positions, how to use the military, how to spend our money, etc.) it is very low on my list of priorities when deciding who to vote for.
12.6.2007 11:58am
stukinirak (mail):
Dr. Krauss seems to conflate a belief in creation with scientific illiteracy. Why?

Some candidates may be scientifically literate yet spiritually ignorant. Would this concern Dr. Krauss as well?
12.6.2007 12:00pm
Guest101:
Hoosier,
I didn't see our points as inconsistent at all; to the contrary, it seems to me that we're saying more or less the same thing from slightly different perspectives. I hardly think that Dr. Tyson meant to suggest that science has anything to say about politics or poetry, and while I don't think that he (and certainly not I) would deny the distinction between Reality (existence qua existence) and humankind's historical efforts to comprehend it (which obviously has a specific history and will never be more than a theoretical approximation of the natural world), I think a more charitable reading of his point would convey the idea, with which I agree, that the empirical methodology that scientists apply to their investigations of the natural world is one that should be understood and appreciated by any serious-minded person, and that laypeople leave the methods and content of science to the "professionals" at their peril. An understanding of that methodology would certainly entail an appreciation for the fact that the history of science is one of sequential models of the natural world that come (we hope) progressively closer to approximating reality in all its complexity. I'm can't imagine that Dr. Tyson would deny that, and I don't really see why you think his statemet is inconsistent with that idea.
12.6.2007 12:00pm
Steve:
Here I thought that the best that could be said on this topic was there are at least two bodies of economic opinion about the relationiship of tax cuts on revenues (eg, Professors Mankiw and Laffer)

You are mistaken. There is no serious support for the proposition that "tax cuts raise government revenues."

But you illustrate my point quite well, which is that we will never agree on a common definition of "economic literacy" in the present political climate.
12.6.2007 12:03pm
Thoughtful (mail):
I'm going to disagree with the claim, despite my level of scientific literacy being rather high.

First, one can take the claim 25% of Americans don't understand/believe/are aware of the heliocentric view of the solar system--which I agree seems apocryphal--and say, "Well, I guess that means we DON'T have to know science, as our society seems to have become quite prosperous without everyone knowing this.

As to the President, the only reason the President is now seen as having to be an expert on all manner of subjects, including science, is that the government has invaded all aspects of life/choice/social existence in our society. This is an argument for shrinking government's size and responsibility, not for futilely searching for über-men who can handle the current job.
12.6.2007 12:06pm
Hoosier:
Guest101--"that the empirical methodology that scientists apply to their investigations of the natural world is one that should be understood and appreciated by any serious-minded person, and that laypeople leave the methods and content of science to the "professionals" at their peril."

If this was what he said, then I retract my criticism of him, and take him of my list. But there are plenty of scientists who don't understand that fundamental point. Having a means to access reality is not the same as having reality; like having Rachel Weisz's phone number is not the same as having Rachel Weisz.

As to the other point: I sincerely HOPE that you are right about the asymptotic approach to reality. I part company with the po-mos on the radicalism of their espistemology. The reality that science describes is too predictable and consistent to be no more than a 'construct.' Even on the quantum level. Po-mo colleagues want to use Heisenberg to show that science is NOT predictable and regular. But that's NOT what Heisenberg was saying. In fact, he could predict aggregate results perfectly fine. He just could not predict the path of any /specific/ particle.

Compared to the predictive capacities of social 'sciences,' I think this puts physics in a completly different boat. (Regardless of whether Schroedinger's cat is alive when it ain't.)
12.6.2007 12:11pm
Another Old Navy Chief (mail):
byomtov,

I believe that the record indicates that since at least the Kennedy Administration, every occassion where income tax rates were reduced, the net effect was an increase in the revenues generated by the federal income tax.

Of course, I may be wrong but anyone who appreciates the "science" of economics would certainly be expected to look at the actual data...
12.6.2007 12:12pm
Mike Gallo (mail):
I agree wholeheartedly with Mr. Krauss's assertation. A President needs to be familiar with scientific process, but even more importantly, adept at simple critical thinking. Those who are not in the field of science might often ignore the one thing that makes a good scientist: critical thinking. Being able to scrutinize anything before you (including your own ideas and theories) with the assumption that it could be wrong is a great quality for any politician.

I think if taken in this light, instead of advocating for, say, a natural sciences background, it is a very reasonable qualification. After all, this would cross over to everything from economics to abortion debates.

Now, while I think this is a great approach to most issues, I do have one reservation. A president needs to understand that not everything is academic, and not everyone is altruistic. In other words, they need to understand that some things, some people, and some beliefs, are simply evil. Moral scrutiny (often religiously-derived, though not necessarily so) is just as important as critical scientific analysis, in this chemist's humble opinion.
12.6.2007 12:13pm
Anon1ms (mail):
Sk: "I get the impression the 'whatever embarrasses evangelicals' is the true right answer."

It does seem to work out that way, doesn't it.
12.6.2007 12:13pm
Smallholder (mail) (www):
My standard:

Able to think scientifically.

I want someome who Makes judgments based on the evidence - as opposed to someone who (re?)interprets the evidence to support a pre-determined judgment.

Another part of thinking scientifically is accepting that if new evidence shows that the intial hypothesis was wrong, then one ought to incorporate the new evidence and change one's mind.

Bymetov,

As a side note cutting taxes CAN raise revenue - if one is on the right side of the Laffer curve. The argument comes because it is hard to tell where on the Laffer curve a particular society falls. We get in trouble on this precisely because we have politicans who don't think scientifically. If we raise taxes and then the economy slows, resulting in lower tax receipts, then we ought to realize that cutting the taxes might be a better choice. If we cut taxes and don't see a rebound in receipts due to the economic stimulation, then we ought to be honest and admit that we are on the left side of the Laffer curve.

Please don't read the previous paragraph as an endorsement of a government maximizing tax revenues - we are talking economic theory and explaining how taxes influence the overall economy. I think we should purposefully stay on the left side of the curve - taxes should be correlated by what government needs to spend instead of wringing the maximum in tax revenue out of the economy and then deciding how to spend it.
12.6.2007 12:15pm
rarango (mail):
"You are mistaken."

Steve: unless your credentials in economics are as good as Professor Laffers, I will give that assertion the appropriate in attention it deserves. Read carefully please: Nowhere did I make any assertion that "tax cuts raise government revenues." That is your strawman (or perhaps someone else's). It is most certainly not mine nor is it professor Laffers. In fact, that assertion is laughable. The correct argument, that your caricature overlooks is that tax cuts MAY HAVE an effect on the amount consumer discretionary income which may in turn affect government tax revenues downstream based upon the effect those expenditures have on the overall economy. Depends on the prevailing tax rates--No credible supply side economist that I am aware of has ever said that cutting taxes will always raise government revenue. Depends, inter alia, on what the prevailing tax rates are.
12.6.2007 12:16pm
Mike M. (mail):
Futilely searching for uber-men? Beg pardon, but the search is not futile...we're just searching in the wrong places.

You want someone with a good grounding in the hard sciences? I've got a BS in Aerospace &Ocean Engineering. A good grounding in foreign and defense policy? I'm a Naval War College graduate.

There!

The problem is that we look to lawyers for our leaders...and our judges. The Constutition is too valuable to be left entirely to the lawyers.
12.6.2007 12:18pm
Guest101:
Hoosier,

That's what I took him to mean, at least; I'll confess that I don't clearly recall the context of the conversation in which his statement was made, but my characterization above is basically what I took away from his comment.

As to the question of epistemology, I suppose I take Hume's view: it may be the case that the process of inductive reasoning underlying scientific methodology can't be justified on any non-circular basis, but I am still psychologically incapable of resisting the temptation to believe that the future will resemble the past, so I'm going to continue doing that and reap whatever benefits, however rationally ill-deserved, befall me. I suspect that, in any context that matters, even the most radically skeptical postmodernist is equally incapable of resisting that view. I suppose we could test that by asking one to stick his hand into a fire.

(As an aside, I recently finished reading Robert Fogelin's pretty good Walking the Tightrope of Reason: The Precarious Life of a Rational Animal, which addresses this and other challenges to rationalism. I doubt you'd learn much from it, but it's a pretty good survey of the classic literature.).
12.6.2007 12:23pm
MDJD2B (mail):

I guess in part because of my own scientific illiteracy, and the inability to guess what parts of "science" will be most relevant in the coming decade (though there are some frontrunners) I am not sure what I'd look for in a scientifically literate candidate.


Prof. Krause can best decide what he means.

I would like to see a scientifically literate president meaning:

An understanding of descripteve and basic inferential statistics.

A basic understanding of logical inference.

Some minimal academic background quantitative science-- having done experiments, solved chemistry or physicas problems at an elementary level, so he has some idea of how scientists approach the material world. A good HS course in physicas or chemistry would provide this.

Basic knowledge of microeconomics.

And all of this should allow a president to choose appropriate advisors, read their reports, and enable him to ask the right questions.

Some of the commentators ahve been confusing moral judgment with scientific inference.

A president should want to know, and be able to reasonably ascertain:

Whether a given intervention will reduce carbon or ward off enemy missiles, a

With what probability,

At what cost,

And with what opportunity costs.

The background I suggested is necessary, but not sufficient, for a person to do this.

One wonders what capable chief executives such as Angela Merkel (physicisst) or Hu Jin Tao (engineer) will think if we elect someone like Mike Huckabee or Barack Obama, neither of whome seems to have any background or interest in science orthe scientific process.
12.6.2007 12:23pm
Smallholder (mail) (www):
We shouldn't dismiss a candidate because he is an evangelical Christian. Being a Christian does NOT require one to be ignant (so ignorant you can't afford the ora). Christians can and do think scientifically.

BUT being an fundamentalist who says that evolution is "just a theory" or a fundamentalist who tries to call Creationism a science (intelligent design/intelligent origin theory - make the acronym yourself) reveals that the person is either woefully ignorant of what science is or prone to wishful fantasy thinking or intellectually dishonest and pandering.

I have no problem with a Christian who says "I believe the literal Biblical version of Genesis. This is my faith and the evidence is not relevent to my belief." But Christians who clutter the world with anti-evolutionary apologia that make ridiculous, refuted claims about "irreducible complexity," "random odds of assembling a 747 with a tornado," etc., make Christians as a whole look bad. Whenever the church goes head to head with science, it will lose - think pi, heliocentrism, genetics, etc. It will lose because science is able to generate new, testable hypotheses as new evidence becomes available. It will lose becuase those (just!) theories end up providing technologies that make our lives better.

In short, Huckabee ought not to be elected because his creationist statement either reveals poor critical analysis skills or dishonesty or demagoguery.

If you need to vote for a Christian, vote for one who isn't divorced from reality.
12.6.2007 12:24pm
Ben P (mail):
Scientifically literate would be nice, but I'd settle for appropriately skeptical.

Skepticism is at the heart of the scientific method and what scientists of all types do. One creates theories from observations then attempts to disprove the theories.

A president doesn't necessarily need to be able to explain scientific facts (although that would be a useful skill) but few things bother me more than hearing accounts of people doing the oppisite of the scientific method. They choose a theory and only accept evidence that supports it.
12.6.2007 12:34pm
Daniel Chapman (mail):
I think Huckabee is probably smart enough to understand that evolution can easily coexist with creationism philosophically. He probably also understood that the question was a "gotcha," and he really didn't have to play along. I doubt anyone is going to change their mind about voting for Huckabee because *gasp* he doesn't Believe in Science. The man has Faith. Good for him. If it turns out he was seeing a "faith healer" to treat his high blood pressure, on the other hand, I'd be worried.

Science governs the physical world... there's no harm in letting faith govern the metaphysical.
12.6.2007 12:35pm
Thales (mail) (www):
"Yes, it is good to have a President who knows some economics (which, by the tenor of your comment, presupposes economics is not science, but most of us... excepting Posner... knew that already)"

To be fair to Judge Posner, I believe he has written (in Econ. Analysis of Law) that economics "aspires" to be scientific, which is about accurate. Would that our public figures had similar aspirations. Also, re the comment along the lines of "scientifically literate" is code for "not evangelical" . . . I think that is only a fair remark if the evangelist in question generally rejects the conclusions and methods of science to the extent they conflict with his religious beliefs. If the evangelical is intellectually mature enough to question and reevaluate his beliefs (whether rooted in reason or faith) in the case of such conflict, or to keep his deeply held faith a matter of private belief and speak the discourse of reason in matters public, that's okay with me. It's only the blind, reflexive, rejection of uncomfortable things that might nonetheless be true that I find . . . unpresidential.
12.6.2007 12:35pm
Gary McGath (www):
The idea that the president should be "educator in chief" is disturbing, and it's separate from the question of scientific literacy. It's scary if 25% of the population doesn't know the Earth goes around the sun, but it isn't the president's job to fix that.

The analogy to the commander-in-chief role just makes it worse. It suggests that the president should head up some kind of national education force, just as he heads up the military.
12.6.2007 12:36pm
Cornellian (mail):
Admittedly it's a big improvement over "emother-in-chief", but still...

Oops, typo time: that's supposed to be
emoter-in-chief


Heh, I actually liked your original version better.
12.6.2007 12:45pm
Sigivald (mail):
Randy said: <I>I'd be happy to have a president who actually understands evolution and doesn't believe in the end times. </I>

Why?

Presidents have not made, to my knowledge, and seem unlikely ever to make any important decisions that in any way hinge on their beliefs about the truth of evolution.

As far as the "end times", does that restrict only to purely theological end times, or would it include the more hysterical forms of global warming or overpopulation hysteria? The latter seem, from experience, far more likely to produce ill-advised <I>actions</i> from politicians - note that Ronald Reagan, while as far as I know believing in "the end times" as a matter of theology, managed to face down the Soviet Union without any of the caricatures of such a belief being enacted (such as starting a nuclear war to bring Jebus - a belief I've heard proposed only by opponents of eschatological religious beliefs, oddly.)

(I don't even care if someone doesn't believe in evolution - because it doesn't actually matter for anything else.

Yes, it's stupid to be a Young Earth Creationist or an ID Ideologue.

But you'll find that such people are typically quite capable of dealing with "science" in pretty much every other context, especially those most relevant to being President. Hell, some IDers are even engineers - because they don't reject "science" as a method or as a body of knowledge <I>in general</i>, easy and fun as it might be to pretend they do.)

Full disclosure: I'm an atheist.
12.6.2007 12:46pm
pete (mail) (www):
For anyone interested here is the source of the Sun revolving around the earth question. From the General Social Survey:
<blockquote>
Dataset: General Social Surveys, 1972-2006 [Cumulative File]
Variable EARTHSUN : SCI KNOWLEDGE:THE EARTH GOES AROUND THE SUN
PreQuestion Text
Now, I would like to ask you a few short questions like those you might see on a television game show. For each statement that I read, please tell me if it is true or false. If you don’t know or aren’t sure, just tell me so, and we will skip to the next question. Remember true, false, or don’t know.
Literal Question
J. Now, does the Earth go around the Sun, or does the Sun go around the Earth?

Values Categories N NW
1 EARTH AROUND SUN1372 1395
2 SUN AROUND EARTH342 329
0 NAP 49156 49165
8 DONT KNOW 149 131
9 NO ANSWER 1 1
</blockquote>

I could not get a direct link but here is the source:
http://www.norc.org/GSS+Website/ Browse+GSS+Variables/Subject+Index/
which I found from here
http://www.nsf.gov/statistics/showsrvy.cfm
srvy_CatID=6&srvy_Seri=17#top

I am a bit bothered by how they went on about how this is a teue/false/don't know question and then ask an either/or question.

Also since technically the sun and earth both rotate around a center mass that happens to lie withen the sun a picky respondent would might say neither and be more scientifically literate then the questioner.
12.6.2007 12:46pm
Cornellian (mail):
I like to distinguish between mathematics and science, despite the close relationship between the two, because science is about empirical observations, whereas mathematics is not. On the math side of things, I'd like to see a president who is literate in the language of statistics, sufficiently so as to be able to see through BS claims cloaked in misleading but superficially persuasive statistics.
12.6.2007 12:48pm
byomtov (mail):
I believe that the record indicates that since at least the Kennedy Administration, every occassion where income tax rates were reduced, the net effect was an increase in the revenues generated by the federal income tax.

Of course, I may be wrong but anyone who appreciates the "science" of economics would certainly be expected to look at the actual data...


They also go up after tax increases. Tax revenues show an upward trend due to economic growth, inflation, and population growth. Any sensible analysis tries to take these other factors into account. Those that do indicate that tax cuts just do not pay for themselves. For a summary of one recent study see this or look at the recent Treasury study itself. The Treasury study, while not explicitly estimating revenue effects, speaks repeatedly of the need to finance the Bush cuts.


No credible supply side economist that I am aware of has ever said that cutting taxes will always raise government revenue. Depends, inter alia, on what the prevailing tax rates are.

The issue is not economists but politicians. GOP politicians routinely make this claim, or something very close. This despite the fact that people like Mankiw and Hubbard, both recent Bush advisors, have written that it is nonsense.
12.6.2007 12:50pm
A. Zarkov (mail):
At the very least, a president should not subscribe to bogus theories like Intelligent Design (Huckabee) or Astrology (Reagan). Of course it would nice if the president had language literacy (Bush) as well. But what a president really needs is statistical literacy because the chief executive gets fed all kind of facts and figures, and he needs to be able to think critically in the quantitative arena. A president should not be at the mercy of his advisers. He needs to be able to ask his advisers the right technical questions. Prime Minister Harold Wilson was up to the task, as he had a First Class degree in Philosophy, Politics and Economics from Jesus College Oxford. As such he was famous for rejecting poor statistical reports. I’m afraid no American president I can think of could even begin to do that. Jimmie Carter had a BS in Physics. He studied nuclear physics and reactor engineering, but never earned a graduate degree. He was of course pretty much a complete failure as president.
12.6.2007 12:50pm
Jaskie (mail):
I think what is really important isn't so much a depth of scientific understanding but rather the critical thinking skills that are necessary for science to advance. A complete denial of evolution demonstrates an unwillingness to question orthodoxy and honestly analyze data. Just as a diehard adherence to the greenhouse effect Global Warming line.

Also, I think a basic understanding of Statistics should be expected as so much of our understanding of the world is based on them. Not to mention they are perhaps the most influential kind of lie ;).
12.6.2007 12:50pm
A. Zarkov (mail):
“A 2006 National Science Foundation survey found that 25% of Americans did not know the earth goes around the sun.”

The French seem just as bad if not worse. A contestant on the French version of "Who Wants to be a Millionaire" didn’t know whether it's the Sun, or the Moon that rotates around the earth. Watch it (with English subtitles) here. Note that approximately half the studio audience couldn’t answer the question either.

Back in the late 1980s a large fraction of Harvard’s graduating seniors could not explain the cause of the seasons.
12.6.2007 1:03pm
happylee:
Another reason to vote for Doctor Ron Paul...
12.6.2007 1:21pm
rarango (mail):
Byomtov: it seems to me that neither party has a lock on scientific truth and will deploy any argument to support their political agenda. For example: the converse of the argument with respect to GOP support of tax rate cuts is that any democratic politician will always want to increase tax rates to increase tax revenues. I suggest the (hypothetical) democratic political position is equally wrong and contradicts basic supply side theory. We can argue about the underlying economic theory, but I would suggest that politicians don't argue about theory, but select the theory that supports their policy position.
12.6.2007 1:23pm
Lawrence Krauss (mail) (www):
I am always amused at how blogs always seem to move off in their own direction, as I discovered when I returned to this one.. Two responses to comments about me: (1) thanks, glad you enjoyed the book, (2) I don't equate a belief in creation with scientific illiteracy.. I equate a believe in creation 6000 years ago with scientific illiteracy.

L. Krauss
12.6.2007 1:26pm
oledrunk (mail):
At least, the President and other sentient beings should know the difference between believing in something and knowing about something. One believes in God. One knows the theory of evolution or gravity etc.
12.6.2007 1:29pm
Zacharias (mail):
Not to flog a putrefying horse or anything, but I'll note yet again how ignorant are our lawyers in general and our SCOTUS members of math and science. Note that, in this country, it is the norm for a college studentnot to take any science and math courses beyond baby calculus, including those Econ students who do not intend to pursue a PhD in Economics.

In my law school class at UT Austin, for example, only 5 of 140 students had majored in a hard science, and that's only if you include engineering among the sciences. Lawyers are worse then innumerate.

Here's how the Supremes fail to stack up:

Roberts: History
Roberts graduated first in his high school class of 1973 from La Lumiere School, a Catholic boarding school in LaPorte, Indiana. He received a bachelor's degree summa cum laude [in History?] from Harvard College in 1976 and a J.D. magna cum laude from Harvard Law School in 1979.

Stevens: English Literature
Elementary and preparatory schools: University of Chicago Laboratory School. Following his graduation from High School, he continued his studies at the University of Chicago, earning an A.B. in English Literature 1941, joining the Psi Upsilon fraternity and graduating Phi Beta Kappa. For law school, Stevens attended Northwestern University, graduating, magna cum laude, the first in class in 1947. He received the highest grades in the law school's history and distinguished himself by becoming editor in chief of the Illinois Law Review, a member of the Order of the Coif and a member of Phi Delta Phi.

O’Connor: Economics
Sandra attended the Radford School, from kindergarten until 12th grade in El Paso; she graduated with good marks. Following graduation from the private academy in Texas, she continued her studies at Stanford University, where she earned a B.A. in Economics in 1950, graduating magna cum laude. Subsequently, she attended Stanford Law School earning her LL.B. 1952, graduating third in her class in only two years (as opposed to the customary three years most require). Along the way, she served on Board of Editors for the Stanford Law Review and was a member of the prestigious Order of the Coif Legal society.

Scalia: History
Scalia attended St. Francis Xavier, a military prep school in Manhattan, where he graduated first in his class. He then continued his studies at Georgetown University, studying abroad at the University of Fribourg (Switzerland); he graduated with an A.B. summa cum laude in history. He was also the Valedictorian in 1957. Scalia continued on to Harvard Law school graduating magna cum laude in 1960; he distinguished himself further as note editor for the Harvard Law Review. After graduation, he traveled to Europe for a year as a Sheldon fellow from Harvard University.

Kennedy: Economics
Kennedy attended local public institutions and upon graduation from high school, attended Stanford University from 1954-57. For one year, he studied abroad at the London School of Economics from 1957-58 and graduated from Stanford U. with a A.B., earning a Phi Beta Kappa key in 1958. After Stanford, Kennedy continued his studies at Harvard Law School, graduating cum laude with his LL.B. in 1961.

Souter: Philosophy
Souter attended a local public school where he excelled and later attended Concord High School, where his classmates voted him, upon graduation, the "most sophisticated" and "most likely to succeed." He continued his studies at Harvard University, graduating magna cum laude with an A.B [in Philosophy?]. 1961 and was elected to Phi Beta Kappa. He was selected as a Rhodes Scholar and spent the next two years to earn another bachelors and masters degree at Magdalen College, Oxford, 1963, receiving an A.B. and Masters in Jurisprudence in 1989. At Harvard Law School, he received his LL.B. in 1966.

Thomas: English
St. John Vianney Minor Conception Seminary, 1967-1968: At Holy Cross College, he graduated ninth in his class with an A.B. in English, cum laude in 1971. He was a member of Alpha Sigma Nu and the Purple Key Society. At Yale Law School, he received his J.D. in 1974.

Ginsburg: Government
Ginsburg received a B.A. with high honors in Government, distinction in all subjects, from Cornell University, where she was also the College of Arts and Sciences Class Marshall and a member of Phi Beta Kappa and Phi Kappa Phi. She attended Harvard Law School (1956-58) as one of only nine women in her class and earned a position with the Harvard Law Review, but later transferred to Columbia Law School where she received her LL.B. (J.D.), was a member of the Columbia Law Review, and was a Kent Scholar. She graduated at the top of her class.

Breyer: Economics
Breyer attended public elementary and high school (Lowell High School) in San Francisco. When he was in high school, he accumulated several math, science and debate awards and was not surprisingly voted "most likely to succeed" by his classmates. After high school, Breyer continued on to Stanford University to earn an A.B. in 1959, graduating with honors. He then attended Oxford University, and studied economics at Magdalen College as a Marshall Scholar, where he earned a B.A. and graduated First Class Honors in 1961. Later, Breyer studied law at Harvard Law School and received a L.L.B., magna cum laude in 1964. He distinguished himself as the articles editor of the Harvard Law Review.

Alito: Public and International Affairs
Alito attended Steinert High School in Hamilton Township, New Jersey and subsequently graduated from Princeton University's Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs with a Bachelor of Arts in 1972. He earned a J.D. from Yale Law School in 1975 where he served as editor on the Yale Law Journal.
12.6.2007 1:35pm
Prufrock765 (mail):
To piggyback on Mr Krauss' comment just now:
Is there any question in ANYONE'S mind that a person who believed that the Earth was created less than 50,000 (or whatever lesser number) years ago is ipso facto not qualified to be President?
What is the effective difference between believing "The Earth is less than 50,000 years old" and believing "The theory of evolution is unwarranted"?
How a President reasons and evaluates evidence (and what kind of person will he seek advice from) is crucial in so many contexts.
12.6.2007 1:41pm
Prufrock765 (mail):
re the Justice Stevens bio:
how does one graduate with the highest GPA in school history and still only get a "magna cum laude"?
12.6.2007 1:45pm
Zacharias (mail):
The intersection between the set of presidential candidates and the set of persons scientifically literate is a null set. Some 93% of scientists are non-believers while the POTUS aspirants are busy genuflecting all over themselves. Not one is qualified in hard (or even soft) science, except perhaps for Ron Paul, who must have picked up considerable Biology and Chemistry and Edwards, who apparently knows how to spin a good yarn:

Hillary Clinton, B.A., Political Science, 1969, Wellesley College, with departmental honors
Barak Obama, B.A. Political Science, Columbia University, 1983
John Edwards, B.S. Textile Technology, North Carolina State University, 1974, with honors
Joe Biden, B.A. History and Political Science, University of Delaware, 1965
Christopher Dodd, B.A. English Literature, Providence College, 1966
Dennis Kucinich, B.A. and MA in Speech and Communication, Case Western Reserve University, 1973
Bill Richardson, B.A. French and Political Science, Tufts University, 1970; M.A., International Relations, Tufts University, 1971
Mike Gravel, B.S., Economics, Columbia University, 1956
Newt Gingrich, B.A., History, Emory University, 1965, M.S., PhD, History, Tulane, 1968
Chuck Hagel, B.A., History, University of Nebraska at Omaha, 1971


Rudolph Giuliani, College Board scores of 569 verbal and 504 math
John McCain, [At Annapolis] McCain's grades were good in the subjects he enjoyed, such as literature and history. [Roomate] Gamboa said McCain would rather read a history book than do his math homework. He did just enough to pass the classes he didn't find stimulating. "He stood low in his class," Gamboa said. "But that was by choice, not design."
Mitt Romney, Brigham Young University, B.A. English, 1971, first in his class with a 3.97 GPA.
Ron Paul, Gettysburg College, B.A., 1957, M.D. Duke University, 1961
Fred Dalton Thompson, Memphis State University, B.A. Philosophy and Political Science, 1964
Tommy Thompson, B.A. Political Science, University of Wisconsin-Madison
Tom Tancredo, BA, Political Science, University of Northern Colorado, 1968
Sam Brownback, B.S., Agricultural Economics, Kansas State University, 1979, with honors
James S.Gilmore III, B.A., Foreign Affairs, University of Virginia, 1971
Mike Huckabee, B.A., Religion, Ouachita Baptist University, 1976
Duncan Hunter, B.S., Law, Western State University, 1968
Tom Vilsack, B.A., History, Hamilton College, 1972
12.6.2007 1:50pm
Harry Eagar (mail):
J.F. Thomas sez: 'considering the disastrous consequences that has resulted from the scientific and engineering ignorance that this administration'

What disastrous consequences would those be? Specifically attributable to 'this administration'? I know of none.

Hoover was scientifically literate and FDR probably was barely passable in that department. Who did better?

It came down to judging the quality of the advisers, not the quality of the advice.

As Will Rogers said, we're all ignorant, only on different subjects.
12.6.2007 1:51pm
Kevin Lynch (mail):
Prufrock765 said:


Is there any question in ANYONE'S mind that a person who believed that the Earth was created less than 50,000 (or whatever lesser number) years ago is ipso facto not qualified to be President?



Since you put "anyone" in bold .... There is a small, but not insignificant, population of the United States who not only think that, but who go much, much further: a person who denies the literal truth of the bible in general, and the Genesis creation story in particular, is ipso facto unqualified to be President the United States. I take it that most people reading this blog would agree with you, but it's silly to think that there aren't people who would strongly disagree. After all, this wouldn't be an issue if everyone agreed, would it?
12.6.2007 1:55pm
Cornellian (mail):
I am always amused at how blogs always seem to move off in their own direction, as I discovered when I returned to this one.. Two responses to comments about me: (1) thanks, glad you enjoyed the book.

Not to be overly geeky here, but "The Physics of Star Trek" was an awesome book - highly recommended. It's also nice to see a science book do well in the marketplace.
12.6.2007 2:02pm
Cornellian (mail):
And speaking of such books, I'd like the president to have read the book "Innumeracy."
12.6.2007 2:03pm
Steve:
No credible supply side economist that I am aware of has ever said that cutting taxes will always raise government revenue.

That's correct. I'm glad you agree with me that there are not two sides to this particular issue.

But as to whether it's a ludicrous strawman that no one believes, I'll defer to supply-side guru Bruce Bartlett:

Today, supply-side economics has become associated with an obsession for cutting taxes under any and all circumstances. No longer do its advocates in Congress and elsewhere confine themselves to cutting marginal tax rates — the tax on each additional dollar earned — as the original supply-siders did. Rather, they support even the most gimmicky, economically dubious tax cuts with the same intensity.

The original supply-siders suggested that some tax cuts, under very special circumstances, might actually raise federal revenues. For example, cutting the capital gains tax rate might induce an unlocking effect that would cause more gains to be realized, thus causing more taxes to be paid on such gains even at a lower rate.

But today it is common to hear tax cutters claim, implausibly, that all tax cuts raise revenue. Last year, President Bush said, “You cut taxes and the tax revenues increase.” Senator John McCain told National Review magazine last month that “tax cuts, starting with Kennedy, as we all know, increase revenues.” Last week, Steve Forbes endorsed Rudolph Giuliani for the White House, saying, “He’s seen the results of supply-side economics firsthand — higher revenues from lower taxes.”


It's amazing to watch otherwise rational conservatives pretend that statements like these don't exist, and that Republican orthodoxy on economic matters should be divined solely by looking at what conservative economists write as opposed to what conservative politicians campaign on.

In fact, your suggestion that "tax cuts raise government revenues" is a mere strawman is belied by another statement made in this very thread! ("I believe that the record indicates that since at least the Kennedy Administration, every occassion where income tax rates were reduced, the net effect was an increase in the revenues generated by the federal income tax.")

Believe me, I'd be very happy to see the Republican Party return to running candidates who are both conservative and rational on matters of economics, as opposed to spreading this pablum that tax cuts inevitably get you something for nothing.
12.6.2007 2:06pm
Orielbean (mail):
How about instead of scientific, economic, Constitutional literacy, we ask our leaders to be critical thinkers. To be able to weigh an issue from other sides than the one that got them into office, and deliver a solution based on the sum of all the sides? That way, we don't ignore the religious, the atheists, etc.
12.6.2007 2:07pm
Sk (mail):
"All men are created equal."
"The earth was created 10,000 years ago."
"The earth was created millions of years ago."
"I am required to kneel on the floor and face Mecca five times a day."
"I am required to light 7 candles in December, and wear yamlukes (sp) during appropriate times."

All (except the 3rd) matters of faith. All (except the 3rd) scientifically indefensible.
Which ones disqualify a potential president?

Its pretty clear that 'belief' in matters of faith is different from 'belief' in terms of scientific knowledge. Believing that I'll light Hannukkah candles is similar to belief that the earth was made 10,000 years ago. One could believe either, and still drive cars, use the telephone, and enjoy the wonders of modern medicine. Anyone who claims to be a believing Christian 'believes' that a human being came back from the dead (are all believing Christians not qualified to be president, or scientist, and so on?). This is just a little rhetorical trap to push evangelicals with (one wonders, if Inherit the Wind were never written, what cute trap the Krauss's of the world would be using).

I know where he is coming from, though. I would be disturbed if a religious person rejected a scientific conclusion in some area where it really matters (If a candidate rejected modern medicine for religious purposes, and had a close relative die as a result, I would have serious questions as to that candidate's fitness for office). But matters of faith with no impact on the world? (when was the earth formed; 10,000 years ago, or 3 billion years ago? Should I celebrate Christmas, or Hannukkah, or Ramadan?). Not an issue.

Sk
12.6.2007 2:18pm
DiverDan (mail):
Amen to Krause's basic premise that our President really needs to be scientifically literate. As far as the question "How literate does he need to be?", I have several thoughts:

1. He must have a working knowledge of what the scientific method entails. For example, when pressed on the question of evolution vs, intelligent design, our President OUGHT to know enough to point out that intelligent design is simply not science, because any explanation for the genesis of life or the origin of multiple species which relies upon devine intervention is inherently untestable and unprovable. This does NOT mean that the devine intervention explanation is necessarily false or wrong - it may well have occurred. It's just that we will never be able to either prove or disprove that explanation. Since science, and the scientific method, require that any explanation for natural phenomena be testable and subject to support through evidence and/or experimental testing.

2. The President ought to be sufficently knowledgeable about physics to have a basic understanding of Newton's laws of motion, the laws of thermodynamics, the atomic model of mass and chemical substances, Einstein's general and special theory of relativity, as well as the basic tenets which follow from those (i.e., mass cannot be accelerated to the speed of light; mass and energy are interchangeable, with the destruction of a very tiny bit of mass resulting in a high amount of energy; gravity is the result of mass distorting the fabric of space); and the basics of nuclear fusion and fission. This does not mean that the President needs to be able to pass a quiz on Kepler's Laws of Planetary Motion, Boyle's gas laws, or String Theory, but he needs to knoe enough to actually understand what his Science advivers are telling him, rather than drift off to sleep during any discussion of whether or not Irag is building up a nuclear program based upon the types of alunimum tubes they are importing.

3. The President ought to know enough Chemistry to know what the Periodic Table of Elements is and what it shows, the basics of how elements can combine to form compounds, how compounds can react in reactions such as oxidation and combustion. I expect him to know enough to spot the crazies on both sides of the questions such as global warming and environmentalism. For example, when Penn &Teller got over 60% of the participants at an Earth Day event to sign a petition to ban the creation and emission of "dihydrogen oxide" on the basis that it was a powerful solvent (quite true) and deadly to humans in high concentration (again, quite true), our President OUGHT to be sufficiently knowledgeable about chemistry to know that any group backing a ban on the production and emission of water (that's what "dihydrogen oxide" is!) is just not to be taken seriously.

4. Our President ought to be suffiently literate in Biology to know the basics of cell structure, cell division, sexual and asexual reproduction, cell differentiation in multicell organisms, DNA (and, maybe, the difference between nuclear DNA and mitochondrial DNA). He should also know that nearly ANY substance, including those absolutely vital to life such as salt, water and oxygen, can be toxic in sufficiently high concentrations.

5. On issues like statistics, he ought to be familiar with the logical falacies, such as post hoc, ergo propter hoc, most often involved in the misuse of statistics, as well as the important difference between correlation and causation.

6. In mathematics, he doesn't need to be able to do calculus, but he ought to know what it is for; the same for trigonometry. If he can't do basic calculations in his head, understand fractions and ratios and percentages and Euclidean geometry, he's incompetent to run our budget -- he should get a job behind the counter at McDonalds.

Just to be clear, he needn't have a college degree in one of the hard sciences, but he ought to have a degree from an insitution that requires REAL science classes as a prerequisite to any degree. I remember well, I started out at Michigan State University in Political Science, and the required Science credits could be fulfilled by mickey-mouse classes that could have been passed by a bright Fourth-Grader -- the questions on my final for Astronomy for Non-Science Majors included the following: (1) Our Sun is: (a) a planet; (b) an asteroid; (c) a star; or (d) a moon. When I transferred to a small private Liberal Arts college, it refused to accept those credits, and insisted that I take some REAL science classes, like chemistry &physics. I'm very glad that it did, as I found that, even as an Economics major, I really enjoyed the logic and wonder of hard sciences and math.
12.6.2007 2:18pm
rarango (mail):
"That's correct. I'm glad you agree with me that there are not two sides to this particular issue." I really think it is intellectually dishonest to make such a silly and misrepresentative statement. The issue that you are not addressing is this: The laffer curve suggests that the ability of tax rate cuts to raise revenues depends upon which side of the curve you are on. There are in fact two sides: tax rate cuts may or may not raise revenue according to supply side theory. I frankly don't care what politicians argue which is the point Bartlett is making and with which I agree. The point I was making is the same as Bartlett's and Laffers: that tax cuts CAN result in increase in tax revenues. Do you agree with that? If so, there are, in fact, two sides and not one to the argument.
12.6.2007 2:20pm
byomtov (mail):
the converse of the argument with respect to GOP support of tax rate cuts is that any democratic politician will always want to increase tax rates to increase tax revenues. I suggest the (hypothetical) democratic political position is equally wrong

No. It is not "equally wrong," and of course Democratic politicians do not uniformly and always want tax increases. It is also the case that there are circumstances where a tax cut is justified on other grounds, despite the revenue loss.

Even if you can identify some case where a tax increase does not raise revenues, remember that the orthodox GOP position is that cuts always do. A statement that is wrong 1% of the time is not "equally wrong" as one that is wrong 99% of the time. As for contradicting "supply-side theory," so what?
12.6.2007 2:22pm
Drake (mail) (www):
(1) Very basic understanding of how science works and (2) the wisdom to defer to the relevant expert consensus (when such obtains) as to what counts as a scientific fact -- particularly when his or her personal intuitions run counter to widely accepted facts and theories.

Everything else is icing; and too much icing can ruin a cake.
12.6.2007 2:40pm
Perseus (mail):
We owe it to the next generation to take ownership of these issues now. ...No one suggested that "intelligent design," for example, could provide answers.

Isn't taking ownership of these issues now just another form of intelligent design? Why not let nature and natural selection take its course? This is little more than priestcraft cloaked as science.
12.6.2007 2:44pm
Chris Bell (mail):
LIGO is a new type of "telescope" designed to look for gravitational waves. At a cost of hundreds of millions of dollars, it required political support to get through Congress. President Clinton's support was required, and he got to name directors and other administrators to the project. His support and his chosen administrators will help determine whether hundreds of millions of dollars are wasted or not.

Further, basic science tells us that this project is a good investment. Every time a new "type" of telescope has been invented (radio, X-ray, etc.) we have learned tremendous new things. Each time, we have had to revisit our idea of what type of place the universe it. LIGO is likely to have similar effects.
12.6.2007 2:55pm
Chris Bell (mail):
universe is
12.6.2007 2:56pm
Edward A. Hoffman (mail):
Zacharias: You incorrectly presume that someone who didn't major in science must be scientifically illiterate. That's like presuming someone who didn't major in English can't read. A degree in a scientific field would imply a level of mastery that goes far beyond mere literacy in the field.
12.6.2007 3:17pm
Raghav (mail) (www):
Here's the NSF survey: http://www.nsf.gov/statistics/seind06/append/c7/at07-10.pdf

It's worth noting that 34% of Europeans thought the Sun went around the Earth.
12.6.2007 3:23pm
rarango (mail):
For Byomtov and Steve: This whole discussion, for me, was about scientific (and economic) literacy that a president might need. My sole point was this: there is a body of economic theory that has some support having to do with the relationship of tax rates to tax revenues. I would hope any president would be aware of that body of theory and understand its limitations; I would also hope a president would understand the fundamentals of "keynesian economics." If you dont think supply side economics has any basis in theory, OK by me. However, it is my impression that you have made the argument about tax rates in partisan terms as if which party's support is relevant to an economic critique of the underlying theory. That is neither an economic nor scientific critique to me.
12.6.2007 3:26pm
Edward A. Hoffman (mail):
Sk wrote:
For that matter, the most reasonable zero point would not suggest that the earth goes around the sun; rather it would suggest that both go around a reference point somewhere between the earth and the sun (the gravity that causes the 'earth to orbit the sun' also causes the 'sun to orbit the earth'- that reference point will depend upon the relative mass of the earth and the relative mass of the sun, which would place it very close to, or even under the outer surface of, the sun).
The "reference point" you mention would be deep inside the sun -- so deep, in fact, that it would be within the sun's core. The sun outweighs the earth by about a million to one, but its diameter (ca. 880,000 miles) is just under one hundredth of the earth's orbit (ca. 93,000,000 miles). The reference point would be less than 100 miles from the center of the sun, which would thus be about 440,000 miles below its surface.

These figures are approximations, since I didn't have time to look them up. But then I'm a lawyer so I must be scientifically illiterate.
12.6.2007 3:28pm
Edward A. Hoffman (mail):
Correction to my earlier post:

While the earth orbits 93,000,000 from the sun, the orbit is 186,000,000 miles across. The sun's diameter is about 1/200th of this size, not 1/100th. My conclusion remains valid, but I wanted to point out my error before someone else does.
12.6.2007 3:32pm
A. Zarkov (mail):
Let’s look at the other side of the coin. A president should not be gullible. Are scientists gullible outside their field of expertise? I don’t know of any specific studies on this question, but judging from experience, the answer is yes. I find scientists extremely gullible. Here are a few examples.

*In the 1920s Scientific American formed a committee to investigate spiritualism. Various mediums were able to fool the scientists on the committee, but Harry Houdini unmasked them all.

*In the 1970s I attended a packed IEEE lecture on the bit rate associated with mental telepathy. Speaker after speaker accepted the existence of telepathy.

*Stanford Research Institute carried out hundreds of experiments on remote viewing between 1972 and 1986. The scientists were easily fooled.

*While most of the scientific community rejected the idea of a missile defense in the 1980s, a sizeable number believed it was feasible. This includes the nuclear-explosion-driven X-Ray laser.

*Continued support by many scientists for the feasibility of inertial confinement fusion (laser fusion).

*Uncritical acceptance by most scientists of anthropogenic greenhouse gas global warming.
12.6.2007 3:35pm
Bpbatista (mail):
I would have more respect for Krauss' demand for scientific literacy if Krauss hadn't spent the last 10-15 years insisting that missile defense was technologically impossible. From my personal experience with him, Krauss appears to be an ideological partisan and would use his "literacy" test to bash Republicans. His test would be full of questions about evolution and global warming with nary a peep about things like abortion and missile defense.
12.6.2007 3:37pm
Cornellian (mail):
I would have more respect for Krauss' demand for scientific literacy if Krauss hadn't spent the last 10-15 years insisting that missile defense was technologically impossible.

Has he been proven wrong?
12.6.2007 3:58pm
Edward A. Hoffman (mail):
Bpbatista: What evidence do you have to the contrary?
12.6.2007 4:00pm
Hoosier:
Bpbatista--

I'd also like to know what we are supposed to say about people who accept the mechanics of evolution, but refuse to accept its /implications/. Are they also "scientifically illiterate"?

If so, then most of my colleagues on the faculty at this lovley university fall into the category of left-ish scientific illiterates.

Item on Evolution: Comparative primatology teaches us that baby primates adjust poorly if not in near-constant contact with Mom. Our closest kin, the great apes, have societies structured in such a way that mom never puts the baby down. See, that's eveolution: babies held by mom are more likely to live to an age where they can reproduce, and thus pass on some of mom's genetics to the grand-apes. Over eons, this selects for babies who have an inborn expectation that mom's face will be there when something seems threatening.

Four million years of homonid evolution produced rather similar results, until recently, and then overwhelmingly in the rich West. But I would not want to be the one applying for a grant to research the impact of all-day daycare on the children of college faculty. A friend of mine here is an evolutionary anthropologist. I mentioned this research issue to him. He said that he has no question that it is a very suggestive problem. But he doesn't want to ruin his reputation by raising it.

One of a number of issues that the academic/intellectual left has with Mr. Darwin. Whereas conservatives like me accept the theory of evolution /and/ the implications of the theory of evolution. So I suppose Dr. Krauss may be looking for a candidate whom I can endorse(?). If so, he knows where to reach me.

Hoosier,
Semi-Evolved Simian
Big Empty State
USA
12.6.2007 4:23pm
A. Zarkov (mail):
I don’t see how one can prove that all approaches to missile defense are impossible. That would require the ability to predict future technology. One can’t show that missile defense violates some basic law of physics. But one can show that a specific approach is either too expensive, not feasible, or is easily defeated.
12.6.2007 4:27pm
Zathras (mail):
Reading this made me think of an exchange between Professors Trelawny, Slughorn, and Harry Potter in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince:
[paraphrase]
Trelawny: But Harry, Divination is the most important subject for you to know!

Slughorn: Oh Sybil, we all think our subject is the most important!

I think Slughorn has this exactly right. The scientist sees the world through their particular version of a scientific lens, and has trouble comprehending how someone could not do
otherwise. An economist would do similarly, etc. For a President it seems being a generalist is absolutely necessary. It doesn't matter what they know; it just matters how quickly they can grasp something and see the big picture to decide what needs to be done.
12.6.2007 4:29pm
byomtov (mail):
My sole point was this: there is a body of economic theory that has some support having to do with the relationship of tax rates to tax revenues. I would hope any president would be aware of that body of theory and understand its limitations; I would also hope a president would understand the fundamentals of "keynesian economics." If you dont think supply side economics has any basis in theory, OK by me. However, it is my impression that you have made the argument about tax rates in partisan terms as if which party's support is relevant to an economic critique of the underlying theory.

rarango,

I do not think the claim that tax cuts are self-financing is wrong because Republicans support it. I think it is wrong on the evidence and, I admit, because even prominent Republican economists are disdainful of the idea. Notice that even the Treasury report, as I pointed out above, recognizes the need to make up for the revenue loss associated with the Bush tax cuts. I think Republicans are wrong because they support it, while Democrats generally do not. I am not aware of any serious support for the proposition outside of perhaps some special cases.

Of course this illustrates a problem. While we would like our Presidents to avoid foolish ideas, these sorts of things often appeal to some number of voters, and so the temptation is great. I think it would extremely difficult for a Republican candidate who explicitly rejected this silliness to get the nomination
12.6.2007 4:40pm
Adam J:
Bpbatista - So lemme get this straight, Krauss is the ideologue here? Good point... how dare he use "facts" and "science" to prove the flaws in missile defense. Any science that conflicts with a political parties beliefs must therefore be partisan itself. I bet you also believe that if it wasn't for unbelievers like himself we would already have missile defense.
12.6.2007 4:49pm
Zathras (mail):
In regard to the discussion of the relationship between tax rates and revenue, it is worth noting that this argument is premised on the theory that there is a reciprocal relationship between tax rates (and in particular capital gains tax rates) and growth. However, as this document shows, even this argument is tenuous at best.
12.6.2007 4:51pm
CDU (mail):
Now I would hope that the National Security Advisor would know that a uranium device is just too damn bulky and large to ever fit on a ballistic missile. To design a workable warhead small enough to fit on a missile (as opposed to a bomb), you need plutonium, which all the uranium enrichment in the world is not going to create.


I'm afraid you're the one who's wrong here. The United States fielded gun-assembly uranium weapons that weighed a few hundred pounds and were small enough to fit in an 8-inch artillery shell. That's far smaller and lighter than the capacity of most Iranian ballistic missiles.
12.6.2007 5:01pm
DiverDan (mail):

As for economic literacy, good luck defining what that means in an age where "tax cuts increase government revenues" has become the Republican orthodoxy.



Maybe that's because tax cuts DO increase government revenues.


Speaking only for myself, I would define economic literacy to include knowledge of the difference between static and dynamic analysis, and knowing that, depending entirely upon numerous variables, including the state of the economy, the elasticity of demand for the good, service, or activity being taxed, and the effective lag time imposed by the assessment/collection methodology used (among other factors), sometimes tax cuts do increase revenues, and sometimes they do not. Anyone who replys "Always" or "Never" to the proposition that tax cuts increase revenues I would place in the category of economic illiterates.
12.6.2007 5:01pm
Bob from Ohio (mail):
Science and math are just technical skills. No better or worse than auto mechanic skills or the ability to type.

Science knowledge is very important in a science advisor or the head of NASA or the Center for Disease Control.

Technical ability in any field is just not an important qualification for president.

As pointed out, Hoover and Carter had science and engineering backgrounds. Does anyone claim that they were succesful presidents?

Jefferson was a sort of gentleman scientist. Other than that, I can't think of any other with a science background. One could infer that science knowledge is not important for a president's skill set.
12.6.2007 5:03pm
davod (mail):
"At the very least, a president should not subscribe to bogus theories like Intelligent Design (Huckabee) or Astrology (Reagan)." I thought it was Nancy Reagn who was interested in Astrology.
12.6.2007 5:29pm
MDJD2B (mail):

"I am required to light 7 candles in December, and wear yamlukes (sp) during appropriate times."


Two points-- one trivial and one significant.

Jews light candles for 8 days, not 7, and wear a beanie called a yarmulke (in Yiddish; and called a kippah in Hebrew), pronounced something like "yammuhkuh."

More significant, there is a difference between the following 3 claims:


1. The eath was created last week"

2. My soul will be rewarded or punished after I die.

3. Jews should light candles and eat potato pancakes in December because God expects them to. (Bonus, I'm contributing to your knowledge of Jewish customs and ceremonies.)


The first is an empiric claim refutable (or not) by empiric means.

The second purports to be an empiric claim, but poltulates entities (a soul and an afterlife) whose existence intrinsicly cannot be confirmed through observation, and mustbe taken onfaith.

The last is not an empiric claim at all. It is a moral claim. It is a claim that Jews are obliged to so something. Hume postulated >250 years ago (those who are slightly mathematically literate know what ">" means) that an "ought" statement cannot be derived from an "is" statement. This has not been refuted.

This is the difference between "Mother is 64 inchs toall" and "Mother says we should wash our hands before supper."

Someone who accepts itehr that God exists or that people should behave as though God existed can think that statement #1 is wacky, can accept or reject statement #2 based on their faith and conception of God and the cosmos, and can consider themselves obligated by statement #3.

For you to equate these three types of statements woulde do injustice to those who consider these things seriously, as well to your own analytical abilities.
12.6.2007 5:30pm
davod (mail):
With regard to decreasing taxes and increasing total dollar revenues. Can anyone show where this has no been the case.
12.6.2007 5:32pm
davod (mail):
Stephens had the all time highest GPA - When did the GPA system start.
12.6.2007 5:33pm
MDJD2B (mail):

Another reason to vote for Doctor Ron Paul...


Or Howard Dean.r Tom Coburn. Or Jim McDermott. Or Francois Duvalier,were he alive. Or Radovan Karadzic or Mahathir binMohammed, were they American.

Or even Tom Frist, to name a rare doctor politician who was neither evil notr detached from reality. Most doctors in politics do not seem to be very attractive candidates for leadeership, for whatever reason.
12.6.2007 5:38pm
MDJD2B (mail):
But Sun Yat-sen somewhat atones for the rogue's gallery I listed above.
12.6.2007 5:40pm
Donut (mail):
Church, State, Science. Keep them all separated from each other, and a lot of issues go away...
12.6.2007 6:10pm
Colin (mail):
Or even Tom Frist, to name a rare doctor politician who was neither evil notr detached from reality.

Surely you don't mean Bill Frist?
12.6.2007 6:51pm
Mike Z (mail) (www):
Scientific literacy, like cultural literacy, is certainly a good thing. The question seems to be, how much literacy? Will a PhD in Quantum Mechanics be enough? Or even History of Science? (I could go with that one.) It's usually the case, since we're long past the age of Franklin and Jefferson, that the more you know about X, the less you know about Y. There's an old joke involving PhDs to that effect, but the fact remains that it takes a lot of effort to learn about any X.

From what I read almost daily, Congresspeople could use a lot more Legal Literacy.

A President needs to be a manager and a leader, someone who brings smart people into his fold. A President can't know even a lot (let alone everything) about science - or even economics, for that matter. He should, though, be a good learner. As I remember, there is a Presidential Science Adviser. He, certainly, needs to be scientifically literate.

The thought of voting for either Ron Paul or Jim McDermott is enough to set one's teeth on edge.

"One believes in God. One knows the theory of evolution or gravity etc."

There's probably a good reason it's still called "the theory of evolution", in contrast with "the law of gravity". One knows the gravity thing, but one accepts the evolution thing as being the best explanation so far that fits all the facts as we know them.

Cornellian: "Has he been proven wrong?" Yes. Google for 'missile interceptor test'. Unfortunately, the acid test has to wait until the system either works or fails in actual practice. If it fails, there's no point in recrimination, because we'll all be either dead or wishing so.

As to wise governors, of the kind Plato wrote about, he evidently didn't hear about Pythagoras' stint (or one of the early Greek philosophers) as a governor. He was a rotten governor, and the people threw him out.
12.6.2007 6:52pm
Harry Eagar (mail):
A lot of people -- though far from a majority -- thought Henry A. Wallace was qualified to be president. He was a great scientist, whose discoveries affect every one of us every day.

I'd like Krauss's assessment of Wallace's overall worthiness to be president.
12.6.2007 7:13pm
Extraneus (mail):
Considering the prominance that "climate science" has taken in our public discourse recently, and the fact that it's quite possible the whole global-warming thing is a leftist hoax intended to take the US down a few pegs economically and otherwise, I'm amazed that the real scientist-in-chief, Albert Gore Jr., BA in "government" via Wikipedia, didn't show up in a text search of the preceding comments.

Many who talk of science are less scientifically literate than they probably should be, and I'd agree it might better if the president isn't one of these.
12.6.2007 7:15pm
Michael B (mail):
It's equally important, and arguably more important, for scientists and teachers of science to become more philosophically literate than they often appear to be, or even desire to be. That doesn't mean they need to be able to deal with all the arcane minutia and sticky wickets related to the philosophy of science and other philosophical topics in the manner of an analytical philosopher, but they should be able to demonstrate more philosophical literacy than they typically do or even desire to do.

That would require scientists to tackle a learning curve themselves, and therein admit they have something to learn, rather than assume the role of teacher and epistemic gatekeeper beyond their respective fields. A simple test. Ask a scientist to distinguish science from scientism and if he can't render a straight-forward answer then it's likely a sign he's philosophically incurious and additionally likely he's a presumptive in some critical areas, whether knowingly or unknowingly so.

Politicians probably could be more scientifically literate, but not at the behest of scientists who themselves are not willing to learn and are not willing to transparently admit what they don't know as readily as what they do know. Given the political and ideological bent of some scientists of note, all that is a fully warranted caution, based upon reason.
12.6.2007 7:17pm
happylee:

Or Howard Dean.r Tom Coburn. Or Jim McDermott. Or Francois Duvalier,were he alive. Or Radovan Karadzic or Mahathir binMohammed, were they American.

Or even Tom Frist, to name a rare doctor politician who was neither evil notr detached from reality. Most doctors in politics do not seem to be very attractive candidates for leadeership, for whatever reason.


Is the spelling MDJD2's or a result of typing on the blackberry while driving? In any case, of the list of names, I think Dr. Paul's the only one running. If scientific background matters (I think it does not), then he is indeed an attractive candidate for "leadeership."
12.6.2007 8:47pm
MDJD2B (mail):

Surely you don't mean Bill Frist?


Yeah, whatever. The cardiovascular surgeon from Vanderbilt
12.6.2007 9:09pm
Bpbatista (mail):
Those who responded to my post should do a little research on Krauss' past statements and writings on missile defense -- I personally heard him speak at the Cleveland City Club and declare in no uncertain terms that missile defense was a technological impossibility. Numerous tests in the past decade have shown it to be possible and even practicable and deployable (whence the programs and deployments in the US, Israel, Japan, etc.), though admittedly not invincible. He also presented illogical and unpersuasive arguments for why, in his view, even if missile defense were possible it was a bad idea (primary among them being the fact that it would not be invincible). On the possibility side of the argument, he could not answer the obvious question of why the Russians and Chinese (who have highly advanced scientific communities) might be concerned about missile defense if it could never possibly work? Wouldn't they be happy to have us waste billions on a white elephant? That question still remains unanswered by skeptics/opponents of missile defense.
12.6.2007 10:48pm
Charlie (Colorado) (mail):

Universe is



Oh, man. Deep.
12.6.2007 11:08pm
Charlie (Colorado) (mail):
Seriously, there are a couple of things here. First of all, as far as I know, the only things a President must be is 35 years of age or greater, elected by a majority of the Electors, and native born. Any other discussion of what a President must be is really a discussion of "here's a qualification I think those silly voters just don't pay enough attention to."

That said, I agree that being scientifically literate, and numerate, and preferably having a little sophistication in mathematics and statistics, as well as being widely read, multilingual, and having professional experience outside of government would be good too.

And I await the draft that will surely come, since I have those qualifications.

But realistically, most presidential candidates are lawyers, and if there's anything I've learned from reading law blogs and following legal stuff since I discovered Volokh, it's that most attorneys never let a little scientific fact slow down an argument. (Eugene a notable counter-example, but then he's a computer scientist turned to the Dark Side.)
12.6.2007 11:14pm
Steve J. (mail) (www):
the next administration should be comfortable consulting scientific expertise and recognizing the valuable role science can play in the development of public policy.

That excludes the GOP.
12.7.2007 12:56am
Steve J. (mail) (www):
I'd rather have someone with a firm grasp of economics.

This also rules out the GOP
12.7.2007 12:57am
Oren:
<blockquote>
Given that there is no absolute reference point in space, one could easily define the earth going around the sun, the sun going around the earth, both going around the moon, the moon going around jupiter, or whatever you want. It all depends upon what your 'zero' point is when writing your mathematical models.
</blockquote>

No. The reference frame centered on the earth is not inertial and therefore the trajectories of the planets and stars do not obey the laws of physics (e.g. since the earth rotates there are stars far enough away that must travel faster than the speed of light in order to 'orbit' once a day). The canard that Einstein's relativity, which held only that physics is the same in all inertial reference frames, means that one cannot distinguish between the two cases is an interpretation that no respectable physicist would ever take.
12.7.2007 1:00am
Oren:

Numerous tests in the past decade have shown [missle defense] to be possible and even practicable and deployable


Oh, you mean tests where the 'enemy' missile conveniently had a transponder on it? Oh no, you must mean the one where it failed to launch. No? Maybe that other time?

Oh, I get it. The enemy will affix transponders to their missiles and give us multiple chances to shoot them down. Comedy Gold!
12.7.2007 1:11am
Oren:

On the possibility side of the argument, he could not answer the obvious question of why the Russians and Chinese (who have highly advanced scientific communities) might be concerned about missile defense if it could never possibly work? Wouldn't they be happy to have us waste billions on a white elephant? That question still remains unanswered by skeptics/opponents of missile defense.


Even if it didn't actually work, it could have the effect of making the US more likely to threaten or go to war. Believe it or not, China and Russia don't actually *want* to nuke us (much as we don't actually *want* to nuke them) but rather dance the MAD dance in order to assure themselves that they are protected. In the game of MAD, having a nuclear deterrent that your opponent believes he is protected from is no deterrent at all. A country gains nothing from actually executing a 'second strike' but gains everything from threatening to do so.
12.7.2007 1:17am
Duffy Pratt (mail):

But realistically, most presidential candidates are lawyers, and if there's anything I've learned from reading law blogs and following legal stuff since I discovered Volokh, it's that most attorneys never let a little scientific fact slow down an argument. (Eugene a notable counter-example, but then he's a computer scientist turned to the Dark Side.)


Five of the eight Democratic candidates have law degrees. And three of the nine repugs. That makes eight of the 17. When I was doing math, less than 50% was not "most."

If you look at the people who actually get elected president, at least recently, you will see that lawyers do less well. Of the last two lawyers who were elected, one was impeached and the other resigned in disgrace.

The other recent elected presidents were, a baseball team owner, a spy/businessman, an actor, a nuclear engineer, a school teacher, a journalist (sort of), and a general. The complaint that they are all lawyers belies the facts that you scientist types are so in love with.
12.7.2007 1:17am
Daniel Chapman (mail):
Everyone who claims they can "empirically" prove that the earth wasn't created 6000 years ago or even 6 minutes ago is proving themselves rather philosophically illiterate.

You can't "empirically" disprove the supernatural. Science just doesn't measure religion. Immediately after "God created the heavens and the earth," assume you took a rock sample and did some carbon dating. Do you think you'd come up with "5 seconds ago?" Of course not.
12.7.2007 1:52am
Hoosier:
Daniel Chapman: Huh?

/Empirical/ evidence does in fact prove that the Earth is quite a bit older than that. Geology and paleontology are therefore not taught in a rather large number of "Bible Christian" colleges: The statements of faith that faculty must adhere to are patently at odds with the empirical evidence science has assembled since Buckland and Cuvier. As for the creation of the Universe, you just need some geometry and a knowledge of the speed of light to empirically demonstrate that light from /observable/ stars has been on the road longer than 6,ooo years.

Now, these people can of course come up with an apologetic (E.g., Satan planted the dino bones to make us doubt the Bible). As an act of faith, perhaps that is an unassailable approach. But /empirically/, that sort of thing is of no probative value.

If you want science and Christianity to cohabit the world peacefully, Aquinas has it about right, and thus Catholics have been able to accept evolution and get on with it. St. Thomas said that: God gave humans reason, and God willed the natural world to be as-is. So to say that doctrine trumps what we learn from science is to accuse God of: (A) Screwing up on the human reason thing; or (B) Creating a world that is full of lies, in order to deceive human reason. Both a and b strike the RC Church as being heretical.

So /empiricism/ does in fact demonstrate that the universe has been around for quite some time. And Aquinas demonstrates that you might be getting God really p-o'd by saying it doesn't. (I'm just concerned about your soul, Daniel. Honestly.)
12.7.2007 4:30am
Daniel Chapman (mail):
First of all, God wouldn't be getting pissed at ME for anything. Secondly, you're missing the point entirely. Empiricism doesn't prove anything, it's a set of premises which scientific observations are applied to.

If you adopt their premises (God is omnipotent, and the bible is literal) there is nothing inconsistent between scientific observations and the belief that the world is very young. One can be very "scientifically literate" and still be a young earther. After all, once we're talking about an omnipotent being who can create matter and energy at will, we're pretty much outside the realm of "science," aren't we?
12.7.2007 9:28am
Mr. X (www):
Let's set the bar really low:

I want a President who does not believe extraordinary claims without extraordinary evidence.
12.7.2007 9:35am
Daniel Chapman (mail):
Heh. Translation: We need an atheiest? Good luck!
12.7.2007 9:45am
Mr. X (www):
Not an atheist, a skeptic.
12.7.2007 10:47am
Colin (mail):
MDJD2B said, "Or even [Bill] Frist, to name a rare doctor politician who was neither evil notr detached from reality."

Whether he's evil is a matter of opinion, but I think the man who (incorrectly) diagnosed Terri Schiavo as awake and aware "based on a review of the video footage which I spent an hour or so looking at last night in my office" is willfully detached from reality. See Wikipedia (collecting authority).

Too, as he'd say, I'm delighted to see Michael B. enter the fray. It's just not a Volokh thread about creationism without Michael B. grousing about those wicked scientists and their highfalutin' scientism. Cursed empiricists!
12.7.2007 11:17am
Michael B (mail):
Wrong Colin, desperately and fantastically wrong.
12.7.2007 12:19pm
Adam J:
Bpbatista - what "illogical and unpersuasive arguments" was that? The logic of how a missile defense system would lead to another escalation in the production of nuclear weapons by foreign powers to maintain the status quo of MAD? That, by the way, is precisely why Russia and China are concerned. If you find this illogical, please explain how so.
12.7.2007 12:40pm
Michael B (mail):
I attended a panel discussion about a month ago at which Neil deGrasse Tyson, the director of the Hayden Planetarium at the American Museum of Natural History, was speaking. Dr. Tyson made the insightful point that it's unfortunate that we call science "science" because it gives the impression that it's a discrete area that can be boxed off for professionals and that the rest of us needn't worry about, and argued that the body of knowledge currently called "science" should be renamed "reality."

It's unsurprising that Tyson believes this as it very much reflects a presumptive stance vis-a-vis the totality of reality, which totality, presumably, is what Tyson is referring to. No epistemic or philosophical caution for the ever affable Tyson.
12.7.2007 3:06pm
Colin (mail):
How dare he not acknowledge the existence of magic! Cursed white-robed empiricists.
12.7.2007 3:29pm
Oren:
<blockquote>
Cursed white-robed empiricists.
</blockquote>

You curse them now but yet somehow you accept the buildings/heat/light /power/computers/internet /medicine/cars/planes/. . . . that they have created. When you break your leg or get cancer you'll be begging for the white robes back.
12.7.2007 4:44pm
Michael B (mail):
No, he more simply needs to acknowledge his philosophical disposition as a materialist or whatever it happens to be, very much in the mode and spirit of transparent rational inquiry.
12.7.2007 4:56pm
Colin (mail):
Oren,

Sorry, forgot to close my tag: [/sarcasm]
12.7.2007 6:15pm
Ryan Waxx (mail):
Perhaps we are coming at this from the wrong direction.

How many Presidents are college graduates?

And shouldn't you fail to get a degree from any college, anywhere unless you have a basic grasp of the scientific method?

And shouldn't you fail to get a '(x) of Science' degree unless you have an ability to evaluate scientific claims, or at least understand how to interpet such an evaluation from yor advisors?
12.7.2007 6:23pm
iowan (mail):
The 'smartest' Presidents of late past where Carter and Hoover. Therefore using science I conclude 'smartness' should be excluded from any list of qualifications.

However the people should have a working knowledge of a lot of different things. For example; We'll just tax the corporatios'. People see that as not offecting them so all is fine. Just is, Corporations dont pay taxes. people do.
yes you can tax corprate net income but all you do is take away a $ from being used to invest in to Co. or from amount paid as dividend. Corporations can only do those two things with money left over.

lots of talk of taxes, but in the end the people dont realize the all politicians assume that they can spend the peoples money better than the peple can. Politicians in all their talk of helping the people really belive people are to stupid to realize that all the promises made are mothing more than bribing the people with their own money.

Give me a leader that can lead people to a vision.

Last example. Does a salesman have to know what he is selling? No. He has to know how to sell.
12.8.2007 7:29am
Oren:

The 'smartest' Presidents of late past where Carter and Hoover. Therefore using science I conclude 'smartness' should be excluded from any list of qualifications.


You fail Statistics 101 - two points does not determine a trend.
12.8.2007 11:49am
Thoughtful (mail):
Actually, based on IQ, I believe Nixon was the smartest President of the last 100 years. Granted, this doesn't strengthen the argument that "smartness" is a good parameter, but perhaps it contributes to determining the trend...
12.8.2007 1:02pm
Oren:
Clinton was a Rhodes scholar and he didn't do too badly (although I suppose I should be sore at his for canceling the SSC).
12.8.2007 9:06pm
James M (mail):
To the above poster who said, "I'd rather have someone with a firm grasp of economics."

I don't think you grasp the fact that economics is not very scientific. In fact economics is mainly flim-flam and has about as much ability to predict the future as the bible does. If large scale economic theory actually worked, we would not have several contrary and opposing theories. Science has one law of gravity, not 32 flavors of the day.

The first assumption in Science is that you don't know something, and therefore you either set out to discover it, to prove it or to disprove it, based on the evidence. Evidence you may have to go and get, not wait for.

A scientist as president would be very good because scientists are some of the few people who's profession starts with admitting just how much they do not know.

This is then followed up by process of gathering and examining all the research done to date to see if the existing body of work can shine some light on their lack of knowledge, and then following that up with devising a plan to discover what else they do not know. Next, if they want to get to a quick answer they fill a lab full of PHD's and devise a plan to get some empirical or experimental data.

I want a pres who is smart, so smart he knows the limits of his own knowledge, and is able to identify the people and reliable sources that he can use to inform his decisions. A scientist would fit that bill. Second place to a man who first turns to scientists for help in finding solutions, not proving his pe-determined stupiditys.
12.9.2007 10:51am