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Hawking interview

I thought I'd comment on Stephen Hawking's interview with the BBC from earlier in the month, summarised in this BBC news article:

Hawking interview

Hawking castigates Donald Trump for supposedly putting Earth on a path where the atmosphere turns into something like conditions on Venus as a result of pulling the USA out of the Paris climate agreement:

""We are close to the tipping point where global warming becomes irreversible. Trump's action could push the Earth over the brink, to become like Venus, with a temperature of two hundred and fifty degrees, and raining sulphuric acid," he told BBC News.

"Climate change is one of the great dangers we face, and it's one we can prevent if we act now. By denying the evidence for climate change, and pulling out of the Paris Climate Agreement, Donald Trump will cause avoidable environmental damage to our beautiful planet, endangering the natural world, for us and our children.""

The Czech physicist blogger Luboš Motl does a pretty good debunking job on this particular assertion in a blog post called "Venus and Hawking's scientific illiteracy":

Lubos Motl debunking

In another part of the news article, Hawking suggests that the Earth is doomed, and the best hope for the survival of the human race might be to set up independent colonies in space:

"When asked whether he felt we would ever solve our environmental problems and resolve human conflicts, Prof Hawking was pessimistic, saying that he thought our days on Earth were numbered.

"I fear evolution has inbuilt greed and aggression to the human genome. There is no sign of conflict lessening, and the development of militarised technology and weapons of mass destruction could make that disastrous. The best hope for the survival of the human race might be independent colonies in space.""

Hawking has been making this point a few times in interviews over the past year or so. A pretty good debunking of this idea is given in this Forbes article called "Sorry Nerds, But Colonizing Other Planets Is Not A Good Plan":

colonising planets debunking

In another part of the news article, Hawking claims Brexit will be bad for British science:

"And on Brexit, he feared UK research would be irreparably damaged.

"Science is a cooperative effort, so the impact will be wholly bad, and will leave British science isolated and inward looking"."

It depends what you think "British science" is. To me "British science" sounds like an activity that is mostly carried out by native Brits. To Hawking "British science" is probably international science, carried out by people with a world citizen mentality, and without any specific British flavour, that happens to be hosted in the UK. I suspect that if you asked UK taxpayers what they expected to get out of their money being spent on funding scientific research, it would be a) some sort of economic return, b) if nothing else, some sort of kudos or 'soft power' for the UK. In the case of Hawking's field of scientific research, an economic return is unlikely - for example Hawking identifies his greatest achievement as the not particularly useful discovery that 'black holes are not entirely black'. At first sight, it looks like the UK is getting a significant soft power benefit from Hawking as he is the probably the world's most famous scientist (as far as the mainstream media is concerned), and he is British. But is Hawking recognised as being British in the rest of the world? In the USA, I believe a lot of people think he's American because his speech synthesiser has an American accent, and that might apply in other countries as well. Hawking could use a speech synthesiser which has a British accent (they are available), but he prefers to keep the original one with the American accent - it probably helps with his book sales in the USA. So British science may not actually gain any benefit from Hawking's fame, if people around the world don't realise that he's British.

Re: Hawking interview - by Dave Gardner - Jul 27, 2017 2:33pm