Friday, October 31, 2008

An Endorsement that Means Something

After performing an in-depth analysis of each candidate's stance on scientific issues back in September – to which Obama responded thoughtfully and at length while McCain did not respond at all – the science journal/publication company Nature endorsed Barack Obama for president of the United States. To give you an idea of how big of a deal this is, a list of Nature journals can be found here. Suffice it to say that the title "Nature" would be audacious if they weren't one of the premier sources of information for practically every scientific field.

This is, I believe, their first political endorsement of all time. As such, and because of the fact that these are scientists, the editorial reads somewhat differently from most endorsements. Rather than pressing any particular issue, it focuses directly on the intellectual abilities of the candidates by comparing their decision-making styles to scientific practice:

But science is bound by, and committed to, a set of normative values — values that have application to political questions. Placing a disinterested view of the world as it is ahead of our views of how it should be; recognizing that ideas should be tested in as systematic a way as possible; appreciating that there are experts whose views and criticisms need to be taken seriously: these are all attributes of good science that can be usefully applied when making decisions about the world of which science is but a part. Writ larger, the core values of science are those of open debate within a free society that have come down to us from the Enlightenment in many forms, not the least of which is the constitution of the United States.

While they (perhaps wrongly) laud McCain's stances on carbon emissions and (again, questionably) praise Obama's choice of advisors, the overall stress is on Obama's tendency to seek a wide range of alternative views before making his own decision:

On a range of topics, science included, Obama has surrounded himself with a wider and more able cadre of advisers than McCain. This is not a panacea. Some of the policies Obama supports — continued subsidies for corn ethanol, for example — seem misguided. The advice of experts is all the more valuable when it is diverse: 'groupthink' is a problem in any job. Obama seems to understands this. He tends to seek a range of opinions and analyses to ensure that his own opinion, when reached, has been well considered and exposed to alternatives. He also exhibits pragmatism — for example in his proposals for health-care reform — that suggests a keen sense for the tests reality can bring to bear on policy.

Some will find strengths in McCain that they value more highly than the commitment to reasoned assessment that appeals in Obama. But all the signs are that the former seeks a narrower range of advice. Equally worrying is that he fails to educate himself on crucial matters; the attitude he has taken to economic policy over many years is at issue here.

And then, just like practically every other endorsement from an unexpected source, they get around to our old friend Bible Spice:

Either as a result of poor advice, or of advice inadequately considered, he frequently makes decisions that seem capricious or erratic. The most notable of these is his ill-considered choice of Sarah Palin, the Republican governor of Alaska, as running mate. Palin lacks the experience, and any outward sign of the capacity, to face the rigours of the presidency.

That is, for the record, about as damning a statement as I've ever seen in a formal publication. I will miss her. Or, at least, her effect on this election.


Also, Stephen Colbert endorsed Barack the other night. Sort of.


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