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View Full Version : Are YOU qualified to be President? (Science every President should know)


Starwatcher162536
10-22-2010, 02:55 AM
Are you qualified to be President? Take the interactive quiz found here (http://www.nature.com/news/specials/climatepolitics/index.html) and find out.

I wonder how Reagen / Bush I / Clinton / Bush II / Obama would have done* compared to average people. I got 14/17, but that includes a few lucky guesses.

*After omitting era-dependent questions

Don Zeko
10-22-2010, 03:08 AM
Are you qualified to be President? Take the interactive quiz found here (http://www.nature.com/news/specials/climatepolitics/index.html) and find out.

I wonder how Reagen / Bush I / Clinton / Bush II / Obama would have done* compared to average people. I got 14/17, but that includes a few lucky guesses.

*After omitting era-dependent questions

Every President should know this? I was lucky to get 4.

Starwatcher162536
10-22-2010, 03:19 AM
Well, there were a few where I couldn't think of why a president should know this*, but I figured that was more to my ignorance then anything.

*Not sure what's up with the fuel/liquid hydrogen comparison or the how far can light travel in one cycle question. The botox question is kinda iffy to. I'd say the rest are reasonable though.

bjkeefe
10-22-2010, 03:44 AM
Every President should know this? I was lucky to get 4.

I agree with the sentiment. Nothing against you, Star -- congrats on your score -- but most of these questions are just factoids. In fact, I'd be a little worried about any president not named Jed Barlet who scored a 17 on that test -- I'd wonder if this person was prone to missing the forest for the trees.

(The radioactive requirements for booze was an entertaining trick question, I'll grant, and I am a little mad at myself for not thinking for a moment about that one.)

None or almost none measured the ability to reason, or even to be able to come up with a ballpark figure for a consequence given some input information.

None that I recall measured the kind of things I'd actually be worried about if a presidential candidate didn't know. For example: Is the Earth's age in years in the thousands, millions, or billions? Where did humans come from? What is an embryonic stem cell and how are the ones used in medical research obtained? What does a double-blind study mean, and why are these kinds of studies considered the gold standard? What does peer review mean and why is this important? What does it mean when a statistician says something is significant? And of course, the question posed by some other guy named Wright: if you're driving your car at the speed of light and turn on your headlights, what happens?

(I got 9, if you care.)

Starwatcher162536
10-22-2010, 12:25 PM
Factoids are underrated. All the reasoning ability in the world is not going to get you anywhere without a large enough reservoir of knowledge.

Looking at the specific questions; The battery question seems like a reasonable question considering how much is being invested in renewable technology. Would have been better if it was asking about some form of flow battery, as the AA example isn't really analogous (Storage capacity will prob come in some form of distributed UPS's), but I hope a President that has to make decisions about renewable technology knows that running things off of AA's isn't cost competitive with the grid. Solar Cell question would have been better if it asked about price trends, but still doesn't seem unreasonable for same reasons.

The X-Prize question is relevant in a time when people are seriously talking about privatizing NASA. Spy satellite question seems reasonable for the guy who decides NASA's funding and depends on intelligence updates on Iran.

The radiation, plutonium, and Chernobyl questions seem okay in light of fears of domestic terrorism and the importance of nuclear power.

CO2 question needs no explanation.

..Can't remember the others...

Finally; I'd like a President to know all your things to, but they seem to be less multiple choice questions then they do essay questions....And why, in a country of 350,000,000, is asking for a Jed Bartlet to much to ask for? Why is asking for 535 not reasonable? Not really sure what the intelligence/knowledge distribution looks like, but surely there are a few thousand extreme outliers that can be wrangled up.

nikkibong
10-22-2010, 12:39 PM
Shorter Starwatcher

Either you have the same exact intellectual interests and know the same arcane stuff as me, or you're not qualified to be president.

This is the equivalent of badhatharry demanding that candidate know the ins and outs of carpentry, or me saying that unless someone knows the most specific details of FAA regulations and airline fleet utilizations, than they're NOT QUALIFIED TO BE PREZNIT!!1!

nikkibong
10-22-2010, 12:41 PM
Factoids are underrated. All the reasoning ability in the world is not going to get you anywhere without a large enough reservoir of knowledge.

Looking at the specific questions; The battery question seems like a reasonable question considering how much is being invested in renewable technology. Would have been better if it was asking about some form of flow battery, as the AA example isn't really analogous (Storage capacity will prob come in some form of distributed UPS's), but I hope a President that has to make decisions about renewable technology knows that running things off of AA's isn't cost competitive with the grid. Solar Cell question would have been better if it asked about price trends, but still doesn't seem unreasonable for same reasons.

The X-Prize question is relevant in a time when people are seriously talking about privatizing NASA. Spy satellite question seems reasonable for the guy who decides NASA's funding and depends on intelligence updates on Iran.

The radiation, plutonium, and Chernobyl questions seem okay in light of fears of domestic terrorism and the importance of nuclear power.

CO2 question needs no explanation.

..Can't remember the others...

Finally; I'd like a President to know all your things to, but they seem to be less multiple choice questions then they do essay questions....And why, in a country of 350,000,000, is asking for a Jed Bartlet to much to ask for? Why is asking for 535 not reasonable? Not really sure what the intelligence/knowledge distribution looks like, but surely there are a few thousand extreme outliers that can be wrangled up.

you seem to have this odd idea that presidents work in an intellectual bubble, without advisors, and other "knowledge experts" surrounding and aiding them.

Starwatcher162536
10-22-2010, 12:48 PM
I guess when I imagine what's happening inside the Oval Office I imagine the advisors giving insight into problems at a deep level, not getting the President caught up on basic facts a group of four or five interested 14 year olds could know.

If my expectations are so unrealistic, then maybe we should change the selection pressures?

Perhaps the following would help? All Presidential debates are painful. What we should do is lock candidates in a room for two days with a bunch of encyclopedias and a large supply of tough essay questions and see how they do.

Remember in the last election cycle when the media could not stop exclaiming over Obama's oratorical abilities? Why does that matter so much, and yet the qualifications I want, ya know actually knowing shit, matter so little?

nikkibong
10-22-2010, 01:18 PM
I guess when I imagine what's happening inside the Oval Office I imagine the advisors giving insight into problems at a deep level, not getting the President caught up on basic facts a group of four or five interested 14 year olds could know.


but it's not the President himself who's making these hyper-specific decisions. these kinds of matters are delegated. do you really think batteries are being discussed in the oval office.

i think what's going on here is that you want a President who reflects the values you admire. i do too: i want a President who speaks a foreign language, and who knows Shakespeare. but i don't claim that because our own president never bothered to learn a foreign language, he's not "qualified to be president."

bjkeefe
10-22-2010, 03:34 PM
Factoids are underrated. All the reasoning ability in the world is not going to get you anywhere without a large enough reservoir of knowledge.

True. But being able to win at Trivial Pursuit is not identical to possessing a large reservoir of useful knowledge, especially not of the kind that would make a person a good president or any other chief executive. (And I say this as someone who usually wins at Trivial Pursuit.) Almost all of those questions were the sort of thing that could be looked up in a few seconds and/or that a specialist (aide) would know off the top of his or her head. You, or at least I, want a president who immediately gets the point of some of those questions, such as some of the examples you raise, but I don't think knowing the factoids in that quiz indicates anything besides "here is a person who has recently been reading some semi-technical literature advocating nuclear power."

Which is not to say that reading semi-technical literature advocating nuclear power is a bad thing, mind. It's just it suggests to me a state of being intimately familiar with the bark on one tree, and likely at the expense of being knowledgeable about other things.

Looking at the specific questions; The battery question seems like a reasonable question considering how much is being invested in renewable technology. Would have been better if it was asking about some form of flow battery, as the AA example isn't really analogous (Storage capacity will prob come in some form of distributed UPS's), but I hope a President that has to make decisions about renewable technology knows that running things off of AA's isn't cost competitive with the grid.

Maybe I should have said the bark of one square meter of one side of one tree?

But seriously ...

I grant your point that a good presidential candidate would have some awareness that storing energy in batteries always involves a loss of efficiency, and that when design considerations such as portability are added, the drop can be precipitous. Beyond that? Meh. The president is not going to be the person writing the specifications for a next-generation electrical grid or writing the budget allocating research dollars for next year's alternative energy research projects. People such as yourself will be doing that. What the president has to be good at, here, is picking out a few people who are will give good and honest counsel when these things are being thrashed out.

As to the rest ...

Solar Cell question would have been better if it asked about price trends, but still doesn't seem unreasonable for same reasons.

The X-Prize question is relevant in a time when people are seriously talking about privatizing NASA. Spy satellite question seems reasonable for the guy who decides NASA's funding and depends on intelligence updates on Iran.

The radiation, plutonium, and Chernobyl questions seem okay in light of fears of domestic terrorism and the importance of nuclear power.

... I'm not saying the topics from which these questions were drawn aren't important, nor that a president shouldn't have understanding of them, but again, the questions themselves don't measure the sort of knowledge I'd want a chief executive to have. I would like the president to know or to be able to understand after a one-paragraph explanation that it is considerably more expensive to leave Earth orbit than it is to get there, and that a spy satellite cannot instantly zoom to an arbitrary point and stay there indefinitely, and that nuclear radiation is not infinitely lethal, sure. But that's all I'd ask.

CO2 question needs no explanation.

Sure it does. The things I'd want a president to understand are, for example, that CO2 concentrations have been increasing since the dawn of the Industrial Age, why this has happened, and what it means if allowed to continue its upward trajectory. He or she doesn't have to have memorized exact PPM numbers to be smart about the core problem.

..Can't remember the others...

Finally; I'd like a President to know all your things to, but they seem to be less multiple choice questions then they do essay questions....And why, in a country of 350,000,000, is asking for a Jed Bartlet to much to ask for? Why is asking for 535 not reasonable? Not really sure what the intelligence/knowledge distribution looks like, but surely there are a few thousand extreme outliers that can be wrangled up.

I agree that there are some very smart people out there. I believe that there are two main reasons why we do not get these people as presidents. First, the political process is thoroughly distasteful, particularly getting into it enough to get to the point of being able to run for president, and as one consequence of that, people who are brilliant almost always opt for a different career. Second, there is a disturbingly large fraction of this country who considers intelligence, particularly of a technical nature, a negative in a political leader. Go through some newspaper archives and look at some of the stuff that was hurled at, say, Jimmy Carter and Al Gore in this regard.

As an aside, I'd observe that it is almost always the case that people who are really good technically are not particularly outstanding at -- and I know you're going to make a face here -- people skills. They are not very good at matters crucial to a chief executive such as administration, delegating, being able to pay attention to a myriad of unrelated issues in succession, not getting bogged down in minor technical details at the expense of paying attention to the next items on the agenda, building consensus, developing workable compromises, and so on. Also, they often fail to grasp how important non-rationality and irrationality are to what makes people tick, both on the individual and population scales.

Therefore, my point of using Jed Barlet as an example was precisely that there don't exist very many people like him. He was not only technically smart and a polymath, he was also good at all the other things that make a successful politician and chief executive. A nice piece of fiction, granted, but a fantasy, especially in the realm of politics as it exists today. To the extent that a few exist who come close to being Jed Bartlet, I'd say they are far, far more likely to become CEOs or directors of research labs or jobs of that nature, where they can concentrate on the things they care about and not have to spend the majority of their waking hours schmoozing donors and posing for pictures with the winners of the Fourth Grade Recorder Band Contest.

The reality of the complications of getting to the point of running for president aside, I'll close with this: I have to say that I used to be more sympathetic to your point of view on this -- let's get the smartest one in the room to be the president and that will be for the best. But from my experience working peripherally in academia and in an applied science field, and from my observations of the political process, I have come to believe that the sort of person you dream about is much better suited to a position as project head or senior advisor, and is inevitably not very good at running the show.

JonIrenicus
10-23-2010, 12:52 AM
I got 8, and many of those were pure guesses. No way a President ought to know most of that stuff off the top of his head.


That test is more like a physics/science focused trivial pursuit game.


A good leader =/= who is the smartest or most knowledgeable. Good god that does not make a good leader. It's nice, but by no means the most important aspect.

Starwatcher162536
10-23-2010, 02:42 AM
It's not perfect. It's hard to design multiple choice questions that test acquisition of concepts while simultaneously maintaining brevity. The "Science every President should know" portion of this thread's title is somewhat tongue-in-cheek as the interactive quiz is linked from a book review of "Physics every future President should know"*. Still, looking back through the questions I'd say alot of them should be able to be answered through basic concept knowledge and elimination of totally unrealistic answer choices.

Maybe I'll come up with my own question list. I think I could do better.

*Book is more concept based

[Edit]
Okay, just retook it. I guess I see the factoid critique now. I'd say only 5 or 6 should be known as just a reasonable minimum bar.

bjkeefe
10-23-2010, 02:09 PM
It's not perfect. It's hard to design multiple choice questions that test acquisition of concepts while simultaneously maintaining brevity. The "Science every President should know" portion of this thread's title is somewhat tongue-in-cheek as the interactive quiz is linked from a book review of "Physics every future President should know"*.

Yes, that much we can agree on.

Still, looking back through the questions I'd say alot of them should be able to be answered through basic concept knowledge and elimination of totally unrealistic answer choices.

In that case, the test would have been better designed to give partial credit for marking choices as wrong. That is, if someone can confidently mark two of the answers as "I know this is not right" before guessing between the remaining two, that is a much better indicator of whether the test-taker has at least some grasp of the concept which the question intends to test. This would not be at all hard to do for a web-based quiz -- just a bunch of check boxes and a submit button and a little more logic on the back end to evaluate the answers.

Maybe I'll come up with my own question list. I think I could do better.

That might be a fun group exercise.