Sunday, November 6, 2011

Physics for future presidents



Is global warming a threat?  Which alternative energy sources are viable and affordable?  What is wrong about stem cell research?  How easy is it for terrorists to develop nuclear or biological weapons?  Can a missile defense shield or space weapons actually work?  Heck, even abortion has its scientific angles.
No one can or should be expected to know everything but science seems to have been fairly low on the totem pole of intellectual pursuits for our political leaders.  Both of the Bush men openly disdained needing to know this sort of thing and I doubt that either Clinton or Obama had much interest in it either.  I remember George Bush Sr. quipping on one campaign junket in 1988 that he wouldn't release his school grades as he had "flunked chemistry and wanted to look like a good president for all the chemists out there."  
After all, just how much benefit can you get from physics or chemistry when you're talking political power plays? 

Richard A. Mueller seems to think it's pretty important.  He is a professor of physics at the University of California, Berkeley and wrote a book called, Physics for Future Presidents back in 2007.  I heard about this book on the radio and decided to go investigate it.  
According to Amazon and Google Books, the book is separated into chapters by subject with a "Presidential Summary" at the very end.  I perused what is likely to be the most popular and controversial sections, the ones on climate, global warming, and greenhouse gas.  Not only for the contentious aspects but due to the fact that the subjects are close to me.  From just my brief skimming, it appears that Mueller does indeed see Global Warming as a reality but one which we can do little about as there are no real viable alternatives to fossil fuels.  That and in his opinion, the U.S. has no political right or authority to demand that nations like China or India curb their carbon emissions.  That, if it is indeed what Mueller is saying, is disappointing.

Political books are often greeted with contention and judging by the comments on Amazon, this one is no exception.  I am looking forward to reading it so that I might endorse the text one way or another.  But I'm not the intended audience, am I?  Will presidential or even congressional candidates read this?  I doubt it.  They will more likely rely upon their scientific advisers, such as they are.

Then again, maybe I am the audience for this book.  Maybe we all are.  As voters, we should be at least as educated on hot-button issues as those who seek to lead us.


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