I am in the middle of spending two weeks at CERN. Week 1 just ended, and Week 2 has just begun. I reflect on ducking away from SMU for two weeks of research at CERN during a crucial time for new members of our SMU ATLAS group.
The first week was an “ATLAS Week,” one of our quarterly collaboration meetings to catch up on the progress of the LHC, the ATLAS detector, and the huge portfolio of physics analysis ever-ongoing in the Collaboration, as well as planning for the future of the experiment. The first week was also a time to get together with colleagues over food or at a whiteboard and discuss lives, projects, and trivialities. I also used the time to map out some code that I would like to understand, in anticipation of digging much deeper into that code.
It has been a remarkable week for U.S. Presidential politics. The Republican candidate, Donald Trump, found himself abandoned by many supporters in his own party when videotape surfaced of him talking about having sexually assaulted women, using the pretense of his wealth and celebrity to then take advantage of them. He made those remarks when he was 59 years old. The Democratic candidate, Hillary Clinton, would have had to deal with allegedly leaked excerpts from paid speeches (in which she described a vision of a western hemisphere free to open trade… not a huge surprise for center-left Democrat) except that Trump stole all the headlines… and not in a way that he would have liked. Tonight, just 90 minutes before the second debate, Trump hosted a panel of women alleging sexual assault against Bill Clinton, women whose accusations were dismissed by earlier prosecutors due to their unreliability under interview by investigators (changing stories, etc). Trump has been using this to cast shadows on Hillary Clinton, alleging she threatened these women to keep quiet. The goal here is to use the shadow already on Bill and hope to cast an equal shadow on Hillary… an interesting strategy for a man who admitted on tape to sexually assaulting women and planning further such assaults.
So here we are. It’s less than 1 hour before the second debate starts. It’s a town hall debate. This Presidential election cycle has broken all the rules of all past such campaigns… I refuse to even predict what could happen tonight. I’ll post fact-checks as they roll in from various news agencies, and maybe add some of my own reaction to this mess.
It’s been a while since I felt it necessary to comment on the people who profess that things like “intelligent design” are science. However, tonight on Twitter the Discovery Institute mixed their usual nonsense – their fundamental distortion of biological science – with physics. Since they took it upon themselves to blend their area of obfuscation with my area of expertise, I feel the need to write. Their tweet and the post to which it links show that there are bad at more than one science.
If you read nothing else in this post, read this: they confuse two things and use their confusion to try to mislead the reader. First, dark matter physicists are still hunting for the fundamental explanation of the nature of dark matter, and when they figure it out they will take all the failed ideas and throw them away. Biologists already had that moment – in 1859, when Charles Darwin published “On the Origin of Species”, he showed that he had discovered THE fundamental explanation of natural biological diversity. That idea went on to succeed, at the elimination of all competing ideas. Biologists had their moment almost 2 centuries ago, while dark matter physicists are still waiting for their breakthrough. If anything, dark matter physicists have much to learn from the biological community.
Tonight is the first and only scheduled Vice Presidential Candidate debate for the 2016 U.S. Presidential Election cycle. Meeting on the stage will be the Republican VP candidate, Gov. Mike Pence, and the Democratic VP candidate, Sen. Tim Kaine. I’ll live blog this evening if there is anything of particular note that leaps out at me, but here is what I expect:
Remember, we are not voting for VPs… we are voting for the people at the top of the ticket. For these parties, those people are Donald Trump (R) and Sec. of State Hillary Clinton (D). While the VPs may come off as more likeable or informed than the top of the ticket, who cares? When you vote, you’re voting for the Presidential Candidate. Other than needing to break ties in the Senate or take over if the President is unable to execute their duties, there isn’t much of a bar the VP candidates have to cross.
That said, expect the VP Candidates each to attach the top of the ticket of the other party. If they’re smart politicians, they will always take the fight to the top of the other party’s ticket. Nobody really cares about the VP candidates scoring points against one another; what matters is a bruising of the other party’s Presidential Candidate.
From a scientist’s perspective, the Republicans are a mess this year and the Democrats are generally in good shape. By that, I mean that the policies expressed by the Republicans regarding issues where science is a leading player (e.g. whether or not to act on Climate Change, how to shape the Energy Economy) are largely unaligned or anti-aligned with the best science; the Democrats are generally aligned well this year, though it’s never perfect. Pence has a history of expressing a misunderstanding of the fundamentals of biology, which underpins all of the successful medical procedures known to our species and our total understanding of the biological world. He’s often advocated for watering down science by introducing one branch of one religion’s beliefs into the science classroom. Kaine has little such nonsense in his past statements. Watch for Pence to be sticking to personal or party ideologies on issues where science is a leading component of the issue: the environment, energy, and climate policy. Democrats have their anti-science demons, too: watch for Kaine to make missteps on food policy, for instance.
With that in mind, let’s relax until the event begins at 9pm US Eastern Time.