Monday, June 07, 2010

Steven Chu, gamma rays, and the triumph of science

The Obama Administration may not be home to the best, but it certainly includes some of the brightest. Take, for example, Energy Secretary (and Nobel laureate) Steven Chu, who is actually rather brilliant. the WaPo, via Ezra Klein:

Obama has also called in some of the many scientists on the federal payroll, led by Energy Secretary Steven Chu, a Nobel Prize-winning physicist. Chu at one point pushed the unusual idea of using gamma rays to peer into the blowout preventer to determine if its valves were closed, a technique he experimented with in graduate school while studying radioactive decay.

The suggestion at first elicited snickering and "Incredible Hulk" jokes. Then they tried it, and it worked. "They weren't hot on his ideas," a senior White House official said of BP's initial reaction to Chu's suggestions. "Now they are."

Whatever else we may say about Obama, one thing that distinguishes him clearly from his predecessor is his respect for science (and therefore for the search for truth). Where Bush and his administration undermined it (for example, with respect to climate change), turning instead to theocratic Christian moralism, Obama, who (admirably) lacks Bush's self-righteous sense of absolute certitude, seems more than willing (perhaps often to a fault) to reach out to those who have a sense of what's actually going on and who can, with their expertise, propose meaningful solutions to the challenges of the real world, such as the disaster in the Gulf.

Lest we forget, we've come a long way from the Dark Ages of Dubya.

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