Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Time to listen to Stephen Hawking

Stephen Hawking described climate change Wednesday as a greater threat to the planet than terrorism. AP Photo/Lewis Whyld, PA

In joint press conferences in London and Washington, scientists moved the Doomsday Clock ahead two minutes and set it at five minutes to midnight. For the first time, they added global warming to the threats that could annihilate civilization.
Professor Stephen Hawking - one of the sponsors - said: "Since Hiroshima and Nagasaki, no nuclear weapons have been used in war, though the world has come uncomfortably close to disaster on more than one occasion. But for good luck, we would all be dead."

He continued: "As we stand at the brink of a second nuclear age and a period of unprecedented climate change, scientists have a special responsibility once again to inform the public and advise leaders about the perils that humanity faces.

"We foresee great peril if governments and society do not take action now to render nuclear weapons obsolete and prevent further climate change."
And in this Reuters report, his Cambridge University colleague Martin Rees was even more blunt.
Cambridge astrophysicist Martin Rees added that while the Cold War confrontation between two nuclear-armed superpowers is over, the world is closer than ever to having nuclear bombs used in a localized war or by terrorists in a city center.

"A global village will have its village idiots," Rees said.
Wonder who he was talking about?


Dr. Know said...

Three guesses:

May I have more guesses?

Dr Diablo said...

Actually, it's time to stop listening to Stephen Hawking. At least that's what an increasing number of his colleagues believe; they claim his String Theory is untestable--a giant check that can never be cashed. But that's another story.

The last I heard, Hawking was a theoretical physicist who knows less about climate than Al Roker. The estimable Hawking, who loves the limelight despite a serious illness, is just a celebrity spokesman. He is no better a candidate for 21st-century Jeremiah than Warren Buffet, the brilliant investor and publicity hound who also likes to pontificate about matters into which he has no special insight, such as the War on Terror.

I don't have a big problem with public figures flogging their pet causes; I would do the same if I had achieved anything I could exploit. However, their audiences need to remember that these people speak from a position of celebrity, not authority. I have never changed my mind after reading comments by a Dixie Chick, George Clooney, Hawking, or Buffet, except in areas where they have genuine expertise. Since I've singled out Lefties here, I should add that Charleton Heston's credibility was just as meager in his square-jawed defense of the sacred American right to own a larger arsenal than some principalities.

Listen to Hawking the way you listened to Joe DiMaggio plugging Mr. Coffee. Like Einstein, the intellectual icon of a bygone era, Hawking has no unique prescriptions for the maladies of our age.

Madison Guy said...

Dr. Diablo, string theory may or may not be untestable. The Large Hadrom Collider could eventually provide some experimental evidence one way or the other. The jury is still out. But in any event. Hawking, although he's done some work with string theory, did not develop it.

Your screed seems weighed down with overkill. Not quite sure why you feel the need to discredit his scientific bona fides before going on to assert their irrelevance to the topic of global climate change. And you skirt perilously close to asserting he revels in his disability ("loves the limelight despite a serious illness" -- why shouldn't he?)

Just checking: Are you sure you're not Michael Crichton writing under an all too revealing pseudonym?

Dr Diablo said...

That's a sly debater's trick, chiding your opponent for "perilous closeness" to an outrageous assertion. I studied my post for several hours, trying to figure out how you extracted "revels in his disability" from my remarks. I guess you mean that a simple word switch would produce "despite the limelight loves a serious illness." I suppose that's perilous proximity of a sort. My main point is still standing despite the assault.

It is well-known that the aptly named Hawking is a self-promoting publicity dawg. His books have been criticized for inflating his contribution to his field. He has played himself on "Star Trek," where he outclassed Newton and Einstein. He has made commercials for British Telecomm, among others. He loves his Brainiac image.

While Hawking surely laments his illness, he and his publishers have drawn fire for exploiting the disability. Photos of him, on the dust jackets and elsewhere, seem designed to feed into his cyborgian public image. Various organizations of the disabled have grumbled about this.

Note that I myself admire Hawking and to not criticize him for the rock star status he does revel in. Anyone with so tragic an affliction deserves all the fun and $$$ he can rustle up. I would not trade places with him.

What I am pointing out is that Hawking is a shill for himself, for selected products, and for causes he espouses. He is a Celebrity Spokesman. It's fine that he thumps the tub for Global Warming; he should not, however, be treated as a Voice in the Wilderness.

You had better hope I'm Michael Crichton. If am, you might be able to cadge a link from me--provided you stop coming perilously close to slandering me.

By the way--isn't there a mechanism for racheting up posts that include ongoing snappy exchanges. Some of my favorites have sunk quickly out of sight beneath the weight of those above.