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Hawking hits the headlines in the US…

hawking ob.jpg
Two agents of change

By Hamish Johnston

Cosmologist Stephen Hawking has been in the news recently for two very different reasons.

Yesterday he was awarded the US’s highest civilian honour — the Presidential Medal of Freedom — by Barack Obama.

Obama described Hawking as “an agent of change”, and someone who “saw an imperfect world and set about improving it, often overcoming great obstacles along the way”.

I believe that Hawking is only the second physicist to receive the award, the first being Edward Teller — ‘Father of the H-Bomb’ and nemesis of Robert Oppenheimer.

Teller received his award from the previous president George W Bush, so perhaps physics is enjoying a period of grace in the White House?

Although Hawking received his award at the White House, he is British born and lives in the UK…facts that seem to have escaped a commentator in the US who has written:

“People such as scientist Stephen Hawking wouldn’t have a chance in the UK, where the National Health Service would say the life of this brilliant man, because of his physical handicaps, is essentially worthless.”

I don’t want to say that this is typical of the level of debate surrounding Obama’s healthcare reforms…but you can read a corrected version of the editorial here.

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  1. Anton Szautner

    This is unfortunately widely typical of the dull-wittedness amongst many of my conservative countrymen in the US, who compound the aggravation they cause by taking enormous pride in their ignorance and loutish behavior. I know first hand, since I’ve been a citizen from birth living here amongst them, and I’ve seen it pose a constant inflammation on our country since the McCarthy era, and how fundamentalist Christianity has so gruesomely exasperated the condition in more recent decades. It has become a break-away culture onto itself, seeking domination and totally dedicated to an ambitious and overwhelmingly selfish quest for power, influence and money.
    They have no respect for Constitutional principles, let alone for the rule of law or the ordinary moral fibre and awareness which attends good citizenship and decency towards truth, justice and tolerance of one’s neighbors. Conservative editors or “journalists” (such as the one responsible for that featured “editorial opinion”) delight in twisting the facts or, as this physicsworld article amply demonstrates, completely mangle it, on a completely vacuous claim of superior patriotism and ethical standards.
    A disquieting proportion of them in positions of civic or elected responsibility cheat. They lie and they steal, and many are corrupt beyond belief. And when they get caught, they exhibit contrition with little more than a shrug and a smirk.
    The recent spate of screaming matches at town hall meetings across the country dealing with health care reform have been orchestrated by right-wing Republicans and their self-righteous radio talk show barkers who think nothing of misrepresenting the facts, and get an enormous egomaniacal kick out of wielding such power. They’ve cultivated it for decades, playing on the fears and discontents of an increasingly marginalized middle class population and transforming it into anger and hatred whenever the political climate turns sour on them. This can be accomplished because their millions of well-heeled listeners have long since lost their capacity for independent thinking…and have no clue that their predicament has largely been orchestrated by the very same propagandists whom they listen to.
    Hamish Johnston hits the nail on its head directly when he obliquely asks us to appraise the “level of debate” on this implied basis: many of us are rawly familiar with the scent of crackpottery. This exhibition is hardly any different in kind. Scientists and researchers who subsist on government funding ought to remember they have a civic as well as a career duty to attend to. Otherwise society loses has lost some of its very best noses for smelling these things out before they get so wildly out of hand. The chaos that continues to swirl within the political arena can stand a strong dose of objective skepticism and rational thinking.
    Those responsible for stoking the growing unrest are an absolute disgrace to our country in particular and to the human species in general, and it’s about time they are called out on it and denounced forcefully in no uncertain terms for what they in fact are: dreadful parasites.

  2. tim simpson

    I am ashamed to live here where people read their horoscope daily and 1/5 believe the sun goes around the earth. Our new and bright President is going to help our country get back into the mainstream of technical improvements and innovations. We can get people interested in science again like duing the space program. Eliminating the 4th tier college students from the U.S. government who were illegally hired would help.

  3. Jim

    Anton is ABSOLUTELY correct in his appraisal of the stranglehold the christers have on American society, and I applaud him for succinctly stating so.
    This is the legacy of our system which refuses to divorce church from state, in spirit & in practice. Every American atrocity against its citizens you can think of in the last century, has been at one time or another, galvanized by god.
    From alcohol prohibition, WWII internment camps, & McCarthy commie-witch hunts, to the wars against blacks, gays, porn, and drugs, its all been religon-driven.
    Fortunately, the cultural tide seems to be turning on all fronts, from humor & philosophy, to science & medicine.
    Rationality & humanity will ultimately prevail against superstition, stupidity, & bigotry.

  4. David Foster

    Article – great
    Comments – so much for nuanced debate. They deplore the opposition, but then launch into tirades and ad hominem attacks that add nothing to the debate. There are more than enough nutjobs and corrupt political figures on BOTH sides to make it quite disingenious to claim moral superiority by virtue of party. Even reasonable people can come to very different conclusions – suggesting that anyone who disagrees with you is “dullwitted” or “seeking domination and totally dedicated to an ambitious and overwhelmingly selfish quest for power, influence and money” is indulging in blind misrepresentation of the facts.
    Now, would anyone like to discuss the actual debate, or just lob more name-calling?

  5. Martin King

    As with other comment writers, I am surprised at the amount of political bickering that takes place. How can anyone miss the major point? President Obama has announced major recognition of one of the most amazing people in our corner of the galaxy. I’m sure we would all prefer to spend our efforts to congratulate Stephen Hawking for his lifetime of achievement, whatever our nationality or political stripe.


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