Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Whose next?

Of the thirteen students working with me in on rotifer work, only one is white Christian heterosexual male. This never occurred to me before yesterday, when we were sitting around the lab, talking about the fact that should Obama win, he would be the first POTUS who was not a straight white Christian man.

I asked my students if they thought, now that we were getting a non-white president, we would have a female president, a non-Christian president or a homosexual president first. Some said we would have a woman soon, others said America would elect a Jewish president before a woman. Everyone agreed that there is still too much bias against homosexuals to have an openly gay president any time soon. I asked them if they thought Americans would ever elect a scientist as president. They all said no, and a couple of them said that was probably a good thing.

Three of my students a naturalized citizens, and therefore are barred by our constitution from running for president. But the other ten, in my opinion, should all have equal shots at the White House. The fact that they are all science students studying evolution at Berkeley means that this chance is zero is bearable, so long as it is an equal and unbiased zero.


jte said...

If your students (and you?) mean that no currently practicing scientist will be elected president--as in, an active researcher with no political office experience announces a bid for the White House--then yeah, someone should tell that scientist to go back to Statistics 101 and relearn the meaning of "not a chance in Hell."

But I don't agree that merely having a college major in the sciences, or a portion of a career actively working in science, would preclude someone from winning the presidency. American voters often (but not always) have high regard for successful entrepreneurs and, as with Ross Perot in 1992, consider executive experience in business a good proxy for qualification as the government's top executive. There are many scientists who turn discoveries into commercial products, and a few of them turn out to be good managers capable of growing their companies into profitable enterprises. So I think it's well within plausibility that a biology professor could start a business based on something they figured out in their lab work, and then become prominent in the local business circles, and from that gain clout with the local politicians, and from that decide to run for a mayorship or state legislative office or directly for U.S. Rep position, and then aim for the U.S. Senate or a governorship, and from there head for the White House. Their science work would be years behind them, but their self identity and public persona might remain as a "scientist."

Does Computer Science count as a science? That gives you a larger pool of applicants.

Dan Levitis said...

Computer Science counts as science so long as it is science. By which I mean writing programs and designing hardware is not science unless it employs the scientific method for the purposes of answering questions about how the universe or its components work. Not all engineering is science.

The scenario you sketch does seem the most plausible route by which someone with scientific training could be elected president, with one minor modification. I think that in order to have any chance at all, a scientist turned entrepreneur, would have to have the public persona or entrepreneur rather than of scientist. The US is still far to anti-intellectual a country to elect anyone seen primarily as "scientist."