IgNobels for Obama

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The Article

Seventy-six American Nobel laureates in science endorsed Barack Obama this week. Despite their scientific successes, their political analysis just doesn’t make the grade.

Featuring signatories such as James Watson—the co-discoverer of the structure of DNA who shocked the world in 2007 with his assertion that blacks were not as intelligent as whites—the Nobelists praised Obama in an Oct. 28 letter as a “visionary leader who can ensure the future of our traditional strengths in science and technology and who can harness those strengths to address many of our greatest problems: energy, disease, climate change, security, and economic competitiveness.”

Although the election is between Obama and John McCain, the letter first criticized President Bush for “stagnant or declining federal support” of science and politicizing the scientific advisory process.

But in 2007, Bush asked Congress to double the funding for AIDS programs from $3 billion per year to $6 billion per year. During the Bush administration, the budget for the National Institutes of Health increased by 38 percent from $17.1 billion to $23.7 billion. Bush increased funding for climate change research by 15 percent from $1.75 billion to $2.02 billion. The National Science Foundation budget went from $4.4 billion in 2001 to $6.0 billion budget in 2008. The budget for the National Institute of Standards and Technology increased by 34 percent from 2002 to 2008 ($692 million to $931).

In August 2007, Bush even signed the so-called “America Competes Act,” a law that would double federal funding for basic science research by 2016. Ironically, it is the Democratic-controlled Congress that so far has failed to appropriate funds to implement the law.

Although the Obama Web site says,“Barack Obama and Joe Biden support doubling federal funding for basic research over ten years…,” there’s no indication they’ve made any progress in convincing their fellow congressional Democrats on this point.

While the Nobelists claim that “Senator Obama understands that Presidential leadership and federal investment in science and technology are crucial elements in successful governance of the world’s leading country,” they overlook the fact that McCain also supported the America Competes Act and, on his web site, says he “will fully fund” the law.

The Nobelists’ assertion about the Bush administration politicizing science is also a canard that boils down to their political differences with Bush on subjects like embryonic stem cell research and global warming.

The Nobelists wrote that, “We have lost time critical for the development of new ways to provide energy, treat disease, reverse climate change, strengthen our security and improve our economy.” But what does any of this really mean?

Shouldn’t the 48 signatories who won their Nobels for chemistry and physics return their prizes for signing a letter that calls for climate change to be “reversed”? Just how would that be physically accomplished? And, then, reverse the climate to what point? What it was in, say, 1750, 1850 or 1950? Let’s say, for the sake of argument, that they actually did reverse climate change; how would they keep climate from changing the moment after they got it where they wanted it?

On the other hand, there’s not a single climate expert among the letter’s signatories—so maybe they really didn’t understand what they were signing.

The “treat disease” comment in the letter is undoubtedly aimed at the embryonic stem cell research controversy. But despite limitations in the U.S., the rest of the world was free to conduct such research. Has there been any progress? There’s been nothing to speak of except a lot of fraud—remember South Korean researcher Hwang Woo-suk?

Is Obama really a science “visionary” as compared to McCain? As liberal-leaning Associated Press reporter Seth Borenstein wrote on Oct.16, “Both presidential candidates… offer policies farther from the president than they are from each other. They advocate mandatory caps on the main global warming gas and favor federal funding for embryonic stem cell research—positions opposite the Bush Administration.”

A quick review of the political contributions of the 76 Nobelists revealed that at least 28 of them have contributed to Democratic politicians, including Barack Obama. There seems to be no recent record of any of the signatories contributing to any Republicans.

Contrary to the Nobelists positioning themselves as independent geniuses looking out for the nation’s best interests, the group appears to be nothing more than a collection of liberal academics who rely on their elite status rather than well-reasoned argument to promote a political candidate.

Steven Milloy
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