The Intersection

Wes Clark Really Gets It

Wow. The Yearly Kos science panel this morning was awesome, really a tour de force. Facing a full room, Wesley Clark got up there and riffed for at least twenty minutes, with impressive eloquence, about the importance of science to the American future. I wish I’d been taking notes. Here’s a guy whose past–unbeknownst to me–had a lot of science in it; he’s a kid of the Sputnik era, and really grasps how far we’ve fallen from the days when scientific innovation was at the center of America’s image of itself. I was very, very impressed. (And I can’t complain that at one point, Clark actually uttered the phrase “Republican War on Science.”)

What’s really heartening to me is how so many Democratic leaders–of course Gore, but also Kerry during the 2004 campaign, and now Clark–are focusing on science and its importance to policy. The science/politics issue has come almost out of nowhere to become a topic that political candidates feel a need to address…a incredible transition, when you think about it. I am so psyched to have been sitting right there on the stage where I could watch it happen.


  1. #1 Abel PharmBoy
    June 9, 2006

    Yeah, baby! Must’ve felt great to hear a former and, perhaps, future presidential candidate utter the title of your book.

    It’s a great honor and opportunity to join you here at ScienceBlogs and I look forward to our discussions. Travel safely!

  2. #2 Laurence Jewett
    June 9, 2006

    In case there is anyone out there who has not noticed: major decisions about the future of our country are no longer “reality based”.

    In fact, REAL reality does not even enter into the equation any more.

    Virtual reality — manufactured to political specifications — is now the only thing that matters.

    What used to be done with smoke and mirrors is now done with computers, so as long as we can keep the electricity on, we’ll be fine.

  3. #3 Karmen
    June 9, 2006

    I thought your speech was excellent–you’re a natural speaker. The quote from Bush you displayed (“I am not a geologist, as you know”) was absolutely priceless. Oh, and both you and PZ managed to overshadow the General in intelligence, albeit gracefully. 🙂

  4. #4 skippy
    June 9, 2006

    saw chris today at ykos, you are very funny and did a great job. this is actually the first time i heard of you and your blog, but i will definately return!

    here’s my liveblogging post of the science panel w/gen. wesley clark, chris mooney, pz meyers and darksyde (which was great)!

  5. #5 Joanna Bryson
    June 9, 2006

    I hope the Democrats do run with this. There’s an aweful lot of people of voting age who can remember that science won the war, the race to the moon, when science was prestige. If they can engage the public on this it might help them win, and it might make more kids think about being scientists again.

  6. #6 Donna Z
    June 9, 2006

    Thanks for posting your thoughts about this morning’s YKos panel including General Clark. Yes, it is a surprise to learn of his interest in science. Not to overwhelm you, but I thought you might be interested in this snip….

    WaveCrest: developer of hydrogen engines

    Note: a job Clark gave up because we asked him run. At West Point Wes Clark entered as physics/math major, and he was first in his class even before he switched to foreign policy.


    Setting and some of the participants participants: Allen Andersson-MIT math; Boris Maslov-Moscow Institute, PH. D. electronics engineering; Joe Perry-Duquesne U, physicist; Wes Clark. lab at WaveCrest.

    Subject: electromagnetic cores, battery chemistries, algorithms, power-to-energy ratios, and electric drivelines

    The first meeting of the minds between Clark and WaveCrest was informal but intense. “I remember that day very clearly,” said Perry. “Our company was very small, we had this dream, and Wes said, ‘I’d like to just come out and the engineers and have you guys explain what you’re doing.’ So people sat around on the floor and we had pizza and a couple of beers and did equations on the whiteboard. And Wes was at home. He immediately connected with the science and the engineers.”

    Allen Andersson, the principal investor and cofounder of WaveCrest, was astonished at the mathematical prowess and quick grasp of the new technology that Clark exhibited during that first meeting. “When it came to explaining what our company was doing, he understood it a lot better than I did,” Andersson said. “He thought that I was just being modest; but no, he understood it and I didn’t . I felt embarrassed because he went to West Point and learned how to march while I went to MIT and learned mathematics. He’s a guy that does all the practical things, he knows how to move vehicles from one place to another and make sure they have good drivers and fuel and the right number of rest stops; but he’s also right there on the theoretical science end of it.”

    …Perry remarked that Clark had a down-to-earth relationship with everyone at the company. “He would walk around building and talk to the janitor and people running the switchboard; everybody was equally important to him. He has that genuine connection that only a few people could make.” …According to Perry and other officers of the company, Clark had the ability to rally everyone and make morale soar. “Wes was really, in many respects, an inspirational leader,” said Perry.

    …”Towards the end he was becoming really distracted,” said Joe Perry. “It was one thing to read in the papers about the rumors of him entering the race, but it was another thing to sit in the next office to him see what was going on. You could just see that it was tearing him up; he just thought that what we were doing was bad for the country.” To his coworkers, Clark’s ambition was not about politics but about problem solving. In their day-to-day talks with him about the war on terrorism and the bush administration’s environmental policies, they witnessed a genuine concern that was personal. “You read that he’s just another politician,” said Perry. “He’s kind of everything but.”

    (excerpts from: Wes Clark, A. Felix, 177-88)

    Since this text is not available on line, there is no link.

    “We need a vision of how we’re going to move humanity ahead, and then we need to harness science to do it.” ~Wesley Clark

  7. #7 KR
    June 9, 2006

    I hope to read the transcript and view the video of everyones discussion soon. But, I believe that this was a historic day for the netroots movement and science advocacy, particularly given your participation with this panel, today. Science has been abusively politicized, but it’s part of a broader campaign of deceit by this administration.

    Let’s hope that this event also reflects and raises a new level consciousness among Americans to seek the facts and value the truths that are fundamental to our future, against the assault of lies and distortions that have been employed by this administration and the Republican Party.

  8. #8 Aaron
    June 10, 2006

    “What’s really heartening to me is how so many Democratic leaders–of course Gore, but also Kerry during the 2004 campaign, and now Clark”

    Clark got it back then too, you just didn’t notice. Recall that at one point he was attacked for believing in time travel because he said this:,1283,60629,00.html

  9. #9 jczachary
    June 10, 2006

    He should attribute to RWOS. It’s become the text book on the subject. Z.

  10. #10 Laurence Jewett
    June 10, 2006

    Here’s an apropos link.

    Union of Concerned Scientists — that lefty group that is always whining about political interference in science (you know, the one whose member list includes some of our nation’s most pre-eminent scientists) — is sponsoring the “Scientific Integrity Editorial Cartoon Contest” to “Draw Attention to the Misuse and Abuse of Science”.

  11. #11 Harris Contos
    June 10, 2006

    I must admit to a contrarian nature (and being somewhat of a party pooper) and I haven’t seen the particular science panel discussion, but allow me a couple of caveats. For certain we do not want to see the politicization of science as demonstrated in RWoS, but I think we also need to be very cautious of politicians who adopt even well established science as a campaign vehicle (I don’t mean to imply this of Gen. Clark, I am speaking more generally); there is the potential for the misunderstanding and misapplication of science there as well.

    How the intersection of science and politics and society plays out is not always straightforward, for example, in the biosciences, will bioethics or the market be the criterion for our decisions in the future? The allusion to the Sputnik era is also apropos, as it did call into question our preparedness in the sciences. But the Sputnik era also brought in the notion that atomic power would make electricity “too cheap to meter” and that DES was safe to give to pregnant women. Numerous other examples exist as well about the tantalizing potentials of science, essentially along the theme of another Sputnik era belief, “better living through chemistry,” but that never did, and perhaps never could, materialize.

    My point is that yes, we do want and need politicians who have an acceptable literacy in science and do not distort it for political and ideological motives, but we also want and need something rarer, not the politicians who promise a bright future if only we were to invest more in the wonders of science (that “better living through chemistry” theme again, only updated) but the politicians who understand and can convey to the electorate that fashioning a just and human society will not only involve science, but also the proper (hence political) incorporation of science into our lives, and also perhaps most critically, human endeavors that lie outside the realm of science.

  12. #12 Nevada Scandalmonger
    June 10, 2006

    In the local Las Vegas paper, you got the lion’s share of the coverage because of your reference to Nevada gubernatorial candidate (and current Republican congressman) Jim Gibbons and his participation in that lousy Gibbons-Pombo mercury report. His campaign spokesperson was not pleased.

    I enjoyed the presentation, and the fallout in the local press very much. Thanks for coming.

  13. #13 Joseph j7uy5
    June 10, 2006

    I sometimes wonder what would have happened, if Wes Clark had gotten into the Preidential race earlier. It seems that he got off to a slow start, and never had much of a chance.

    But then, I’ve never understood how internal party dynamics influence the selection of a candidate. It seems that there is a lot of back-room machination, that often does not lead to the selection of the best candidate.

    Anyway, it’s good to hear that science advocacy is gathering some momentum.

  14. #14 Kevin22262
    June 10, 2006

    Thank you for the great words about Clark. You are right, he does get it and many of us have known this for a long time. 🙂

    Come by and visit…


  15. #15 Tinksrival
    June 10, 2006

    Hi Chris

    I am a “clarkie” from the draft Clark days so I watched the AAR video feed. I had never heard of you before but I wanted you to know I enjoyed your presentation and I’ll be checking in with your blog.
    Having been a volunteer the General for years now and having the pleasure of seeing and speaking to him on many occasions I can attest to the General being a major science nerd!
    In 2003 Clark became a chairman for Wavecrest Laboratories.
    Nice to “meet” ya!
    See ya around the bloggerhood!

  16. #16 Tinksrival
    June 10, 2006

    Where are my manners! Your welcome to visit anytime at the General’s sight.
    Post a blog!

  17. #17 shinypenny
    June 11, 2006

    OT, but you’re traveling around and this may be something you want to read:

    A Student’s Forest Paper Sparks One Hot Debate.

  18. #18 LBBP
    June 11, 2006

    Chris, it was a pleasure to meet you in person before the panel. Thanks for the presentation and thanks for signing my copy of your book. The panel was pretty good overall, but I thought that you and PZ were really the most targeted to the stated purpose. Wesley Clark said many of the right things, but was I the only one that was kind of annoyed that he still felt it necessary to bring his comments back around to a “I believe God wants us to blah, blah, blah…” rhetoric. I mean I know he’s running for President, and you can’t get elected these days without stating a belief in the invisible friend in the sky, but really for that group, speaking about Championing Science, it seemed out of place.

  19. #19 Laurence Jewett
    June 11, 2006

    Aaron posted above
    “Recall that at one point he [Clark] was attacked for believing in time travel because he said this:

    “I still believe in e=mc², but I can’t believe that in all of human history, we’ll never ever be able to go beyond the speed of light to reach where we want to go,” said Clark. “I happen to believe that mankind can do it.”

    Whether Clark’s statement violates Relativity Theory depends on what he meant by “go beyond the speed of light to reach where we want to go”.

    If he meant “travel faster than light”, it does violate the theory.

    But, whether that was his meaning or not, Clark’s vision of travelling very large distances from earth IS possible (at least in principle, according to Einstein) at speeds close to but less than the speed of light.

    There are actually two ways of looking at this (involving shrinking distances and slowing clocks, respectively), according to Einstein, but perhaps the easiest to understand is the following:

    According to Einstein, when you travel in a rocket ship toward your destination at something close to (say 3/4) the speed of light, the distance to your destination (measured from your rocket ship) shrinks down considerably (from what you measured it to be when you were sitting on earth).

    So, in effect, you can get there in less time (as measured by you in your rocket ship) than you might have thought based on a simple (non-relativistic) calculation involving the same speed of travel but the greater distance to the destination that you measured from earth.

    On a related note, while it forbids faster than light travel (and, consequently, travel into the PAST), Einstein’s Relativity theory does NOT forbid all “time travel”.

    Namely, travel into the FUTURE IS still possible under Einstein’s theory — and at speeds lower than the speed of light. While it forbids time travel into the PAST, this is clearly NOT what Clark was referring to.

    There is a famous “paradox” related to this called the “Twin Paradox.” One twin leaves in a rocket ship and travels at something close to (but still below) the speed of light (say 3/4 light speed) away from earth for what is a short time (to him), then turns around and travels back at the same high rate of speed back to the earth.

    When he gets back he finds that the twin brother he left behind on earth has aged much more than he has. Effectively, the travelling twin has “travelled into the future” (specifically, his twin brother’s future).

    According to Einstein’s theory, time has passed more slowly for the travelling twin than for the stay-at home twin.

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