Professor Lawrence Krauss, a physicist at Arizona State University, wrote an op-ed for the New York Times (our favorite newspaper) on January 15 entitled “Deafness at Doomsday”. This is a very useful read, although probably not in the way that Professor Krauss intended. The only word I can use to describe this piece is “whiny”. Professor Krauss is bemoaning the fact that the country is not listening to scientists on important issues, the way we once supposedly did.
He cites Einstein’s August, 1939 letter to President Roosevelt concerning the possibility of an atomic bomb as an example of how scientists were once respected and their advice heeded. Prof. Krauss is missing the point entirely. Einstein’s letter (which you can read at http://www.dannen.com/ae-fdr.html) made two factual points. First, science now tells us that an atomic bomb is a real possibility and, second, the Nazis seem to be doing work in this area. His only recommendations were that Roosevelt pay attention to this issue, consider funding additional research and think about how to obtain uranium which was not believed to be in abundant supply in the US. Einstein’s letter was effective precisely because of its rigor and modesty. He brought some compelling facts to Roosevelt’s attention and made some common sense suggestions about what to do. Einstein did not recommend that Roosevelt approach Hitler and agree to ban further nuclear weapons research in the interests of humanity. He did not suggest that the US should publicly declare our intention never to have such weapons and our willingness to work with other countries toward that end. He did not recommend that the US let the League of Nations take the lead on controlling such weapons. Such recommendations would have seemed preposterous at the time. The League of Nations was in shambles. Europe was being carved up by ruthless and murderous dictators in Germany and the Soviet Union. Britain’s attempts to avoid war by appeasing Hitler had clearly failed, and very few Americans at the time saw Hitler as an acceptable partner in anything.
Fast forward to today when nine countries have nuclear weapons, including Putin’s Russia, the oppressive and increasingly aggressive Chinese communists, the lunatics in North Korea, and an unstable and increasingly Jihadist Pakistan. Ahmadinejad’s Iran, whose stated goal is to wipe Israel off the map, appears to be next. The US, Professor Krauss argues, is complicit in nuclear weapons proliferation because “our actions suggest that we have no real intention to disarm.” Seriously?
Einstein’s letter to Roosevelt demonstrated that he had adopted the US as his new home and that he believed that the US should and must defend itself and the rest of the world against the evils everyone could see. Prof. Krauss, on the other hand, sees the US as having no more moral standing than Kim Jong-Un. He implies that all these dangerous states have nuclear weapons only as a defense against aggressive enemies (such as the United States) and would happily give them up if we would do the same. His scientific advice fails on two grounds. First, it is based on opinions about politics and has nothing to do with science. Second, it’s advice no sensible person would accept. His viewpoint undoubtedly gets rave reviews on college campuses, a bastion of extreme left ideology. The average American, however, is much too smart and sensible to buy into this nonsense. If Professor Krauss had written the 1939 letter instead of Albert Einstein, Americans (or what was left of us) would be speaking German today.
Then, of course, Prof. Krauss gets to global warming. As we’ve discussed in many previous posts, the science behind predictions of catastrophic global warming is weak. What our Climate Community scientists are proposing is that Americans abandon the free market institutions which have made us a wealthy and successful nation and turn the economy over to “experts” who will dismantle our economy, impose severe limitations on our personal liberty and dramatically reduce our standard of living in order to achieve a trivial reduction in carbon emissions which will be dwarfed by the massive growth in emissions from China, India and other developing countries. Professor Krauss seems genuinely baffled as to why the American people would not take that advice seriously.
Here are a few suggestions for Professor Krauss.
First, remember that the US is a democracy and not a Platonic Philosopher Kingdom in which the smartest people rule. Monarchy always looks good to the people who assume that they will be the monarch. Unfortunately, the levers of power have a tendency to end up in the hands of the most ruthless people, not the smartest. Monarchy is not so attractive when someone else is telling you what to do. Hence the appeal of democracy to most people.
Second, remember the distinction between science and the opinions of scientists. The American scientific community should speak out actively and forthrightly on scientific issues. Most of the issues around, for example, nuclear proliferation and climate change, however, have very little to do with science and much more to do with economics, politics and general world views about how nations really do interact, as opposed to how Professor Krauss would like them to interact. Scientists have no superior claim to knowledge in this area. It’s rather silly to claim that “I know how to deal with Vladimir Putin because I wrote a paper on String Theory and must therefore be smarter than you.”
Third, leave campus every once in a while and talk to real people. Most Americans don’t accept the leftist politics of academia that cast the United States as the villain in the world and see American society as a racist, sexist, homophobic cesspool of gun-toting bible-belting rednecks. At the very least, Professor Krauss should understand that most Americans will not easily accept that view of themselves or the country in which they live and then give him the power to “fix” them.
Professor Krauss asks an interesting question: Why don’t we listen to our scientists on the critical issues of the day? His embarrassing essay answers that question brilliantly.