Let me start off by offering my utmost congratulations to the statistician-bloggers who predicted the outcomes of the US elections with startling accuracy. The methodical and scientific approaches of using poll aggregates with statistical variables introduced in a wholly scientific manner was championed by The New York Times FiveSixtyEight blogger Nate Silver, Princeton neuroscientist Sam Wang (at the Princeton Election Consortium) and Emory political scientist Drew Linzer (at Votamatic)–as well as others.
So “taken” was I by this refreshingly scientific and solid statistical approach, computer simulations and calculations, that I spent some of my free time (3 minutes a day?) brushing up on my statistics to try to better understand the methods being used. Well before the election I became convinced by the evidence presented and was almost certain (Silver had a >90% certainty) of the upcoming election results. So already, before any new US government policies have been decided, I can call science and math as a big winner of this election cycle. As some would say, “the proof is in the pudding.”
But let’s move on and look at the ramifications of these US elections. First, whatever the situation with the fiscal cliff and the need for reducing spending to get the US debt under control, President Obama has consistently shown commitment to US science. His explicit vision for America is a country that needs to retain its edge as a leader in research, development and technology. This was stated again and again on the campaign trail and in election debates. As pointed out by my son, he even took part in a “Myth Buster” episode looking at the Archimedes Solar Ray myth. While Governor Romney never opposed science and technology, and did voice support, he left many in the country wondering how firm that commitment would be in the wake of proposed mass spending cuts.
To a certain extent, these elections also were a victory for women, who clearly were responsible for President Obama’s success, and for keeping two extremist Republicans out of the US senate. In Missouri, it is clear that Republican Todd Akin (who was well ahead in the polls over Democrat Claire McCaskill) lost his senate bid due to his egregious comment on ‘legitimate rape’ and ‘the ability of the female body to shut that whole thing down.’ His colleague, Richard Mourdock in Indiana, was filmed in a debate saying that “God intended for pregnancy to result from rape,” and met a similar losing fate.
I think, however, that the elections allow us significantly more insight into the changing world views and demographics of the US public (and I am optimistic). Excluding perhaps areas of the deep south, and of course isolated instances of racism (which unfortunately will probably always exist), the US is truly becoming a “rainbow” country as one political commentator noted. Latinos, Caucasians, African Americans, Native Americans, Asian Americans from India, China and other countries of the far east–all mixing together. Through the high numbers of integrated couples and their offspring, “race” will fast become a thing of the past–as typical descriptions (such as those I noted above) will not be sufficient to capture to rapidly changing population. Through kids in the US school system, it is easy to see that they simply don’t care about race; tolerance and equality is instilled early, and I have to say that it is working.
But the US elections showed more than just anger at a couple of repugnant Republican senate candidates and their disgusting comments. Gay marriage was on the ballot in several states, and won big. The younger generation–even those from conservative families–is clearly up to the task of the 21st century. In fact, I heard a reporter from the US National Public Radio describe his visit to Miami University (in Ohio!)–considered to be a bastion for conservative views, and the Alma mater of Vice Presidential candidate Paul Ryan. His own mentor and professor in economics noted (and I paraphrase): “Just as I don’t want the Democrats in my pocket book, I don’t want the Republicans in my bedroom.” Indeed, despite the popularity of Ryan on the campus, students expressed dismay for the candidate (and his party’s) radical views against gay marriage and abortion. In addition, evidence shows that an increasing number of youngsters are secular in the US (up to 1/5 of the population).
I am optimistic for STEM in the US. I know that the president is a strong supporter–his well intentioned American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) stimulus for the National Institutes of Health (NIH) proved this in the previous term. I only hope that the Congress will not provide unnecessary obstacles to advancing STEM in the US. This will be a sure way to alienate the majority of Americans.