National Medal of Science Awards

Circus in the East Room
November 6,2003

National Medal of Science

At 3:04 PM on Thursday, November 6th, George ( The Usurper) Bush walked up to the podium of the East Room of the White House, to introduce, deliver medals and shake hands with the 8 laureates of the National Medals of Science , 2003.

It was clear from the beginning that Dr. Bush was cowed by the presence of such a critical mass of Intellect at close quarters. It was equally clear that these intellects regarded Dr. Bush as little more than a stepping-stone to the prestige and adulation that they merit from the rest of humanity as a matter of course. It is almost certain that this select list had been extensively vetted in advance, with background checks on all of them to determine that they would not be the sort who make trouble on these occasions.

Like those traitorous poets who were delighted to make hay with their refusals to attend Laura Bush's "poetry festival" last January, before setting up their own alternative festivals in hot-beds of subversion like New York's Lower East Side.

But poets are poets, scientists scientists. Poets are supposed to worry about people,( though many of them worry as much or more about words). Scientists aren't supposed to do that. Once you start mixing in ideas like conscience, responsibility or soul into your equations, you stop being a good scientist. However its quite allright to slop in healthy dollops of oozing flattery, even if it does come from an arrant fascist.

What these 7 distinguished men and one distinguished woman shared in common, was the eagerness with which they jumped onto the podium, the rigid stance at attention as their long lists of accomplishments were read out, the universal ingratiation of their fixed smiles, their passionate handshakes, ( that is to say their readiness to receive a thick residue of slime that will require years to wash away), and their deep concern, (indicated usually by hearty laughter) that Bush should not be intimidated by being in the company of a genius.

The most striking display of all these characteristics was evidenced by the mathematician James Glimm, chairman of the SUNY-Stony Brook department of applied math. He is tall, gangly, elderly, distinguished looking and handsome. He bounded onto the platform like a gazelle fleeing a hunter, all smiles, with his hand thrust before him ready for the shake. With each item in the list of fields in which Glimm has done notable work was recited by a military aide, Bush shrank ever more compulsively into a gnome crouch, while the smile on Glimm's face virtually exploded like a rainbow: Shock Wave Theory, Operator Algebras, Quantum Field Theory, Quantum Statistical Mechanics, Scientific Computation... Finally, as Glimm waved his hands, the two of them broke into a lively comedy routine, ( though it was difficult to know who was the straight man and who the clown) : "Heavens!", Glimm seemed to be saying, "I can't help it, Mr. President, if I'm a genius!"

Among the notable stage-jumping hearty hand-shakers with fixed grins we can cite James E. Darnell, Jr. ( gene regulation), Leo L. Baranek (the first B in BBN - smothered within the pink complexion to which his face had been tickled one could read the plea: 'Give me the damn medal so I can get out of here'!); Evelyn Witken (DNA). (As the lone woman she received the inevitable grasp around the shoulders and bear hug embrace -no kiss on the lips thank God! The human body has no antibodies to protect against such infection );W Jason Morgan ( big toothy smile, full of antique distinction); and John I. Brauman (chemistry).

Richard L. Garwin is a long-standing member of the Hawk Establishment (nuclear weapons; Council on Foreign Relations) so one should not have expected any protests from him. He however did not smile. Conspiracy to plunder mankind is not a laughing matter.

Finally one must devote a few paragraphs to starchild Edward Witten. At the Chandrasekhar Memorial Conference at the University of Chicago in 1996, Dr. Witten gave a talk about the theory of M-branes and P-branes. This he called "Stringy Geometry". Intoning , stretching forth his arms like a Biblical prophet, he made the claim that his stringy geometry was the first real advance on Euclid in 2000 years. He'd either forgotten or dismissed the work of Pascal, Desargues, von Staudt (projective geometry), Gauss, Bolyai and Lobachevsky's Non-Euclidean Geometry, Riemann and Levi-Civita ( Differential Geometry), and the Grothendieck unification of Geometry, Algebra and Arithmetic.

The exaggerated display of public attention being given to String Theory today is well-correlated to the NSF and the DOE's exponentially increasing funding over 4 decades to what is destined to be the most notorious flop ( far worse than the Ether Theory or Phlogiston) in the whole history of theoretical physics. It claims to be a Theory of Everything, that is to say, able to predict everything, yet has predicted precisely nothing. It claims to be beautiful mathematics but one can't find a single mathematician who agrees with this assessment, given that it completely side-steps the Dirac operator and the gauge fields of the Standard Model, each of them a cornerstone of modern mathematics and modern physics. See String Theory: An Evaluation. However what it has done is train an entire generation of graduate students in physics in an abstruse methology of mathematical model-building, which will be useless to them, both professionally and intellectually, once the fad passes.

It hardly comes as any surprise that someone so insecure as Ed Witten (that he could, despite his brilliance (which no one contests), so lightly dismiss all his predecessors) , would not hesitate to rush to the table to crave yet another prestige bestowing award from His Excellency to His Excellency. Needless to say, Dr. Witten, standing like a giant Frankenstein beside his cringing Igor, exhibited, in exaggerated forms, all of the unctuous attributes of his colleagues.

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