Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Three youtube videos related to the Presidential campaign

Three people have endorsed candidates for President recently: Sarah Silverman, Jackie Mason and Marty Chalfie. The first two are well known comedians. The third is a Nobel Prize winning scientist.

Comedian Sarah Silverman recently posted a Youtube video calling for young Jews to persuade their retired relatives in Florida to vote for Obama. Jackie Mason (yes he is still alive) posted a rebuttal video. Frankly, they both seemed like close to a waste of time. Silverman's video wasn't that funny and Mason's video missed the entire point of Silverman's video. Mason seems to think that Silverman is using her video to persuade people to vote for Obama. That's clearly not what she intended. The video is to persaude people who are already voting for Obama to talk to their elderly relatives. Mason attacks Silverman's video for being contentless but his own is about as contentless. Also here's a minor hint for Mason if you are reading this: most old people in Florida probably aren't going to spend much time watching Youtube videos.

But enough about the comedians. The video out that should matter a lot more is that by Chalfie. Marty Chalfie, one of the three nobel prize winners in Chemistry for 2008, has endorsed Obama. That brings the total to 65 Nobel Prize winning scientists who have endorsed Obama. That total includes all the American winners of the 2008 prizes. When James Watson is endorsing a black man that says something. And Chalfie's video gives a detailed, contentful rationale for voting for Obama. An interesting note: As of writing this message Chalfie's video has been viewed 4,120 times. Silverman's video in contrast has been viewed 189,661 times and Mason's video 7,873. So even with the information contained in our little hint above, Mason's video has still been viewed over twice as many times as Chalfie's. Apparently people prefer listening to comedians over Nobel Prize winning scientists for advice.

One interesting argument I've heard in the context of the Nobel endorsements of Obama is that the scientists are just another special interest group. That argument is flawed. Most seriously, no endeavor is as influential to the long-term success of the United States or humanity as science. Scientific research impacts everyone from the discoveries that make many consumer goods possible to the drugs that stop cancer to the agricultural techniques that provide cheap food. Moreover, even aside from issues of funding (where one might be able to make something resembling a coherent argument that scientists function like a standard lobbying group) science provide guidance on what policies make sense and what do not. In that regard, science offers far more relevance than any other "interest" group.

(I'm having some trouble embedding videos for some reason for now here are three links to the videos: Silverman. Mason. Chalfie.)

Note: This post underwent substantial revisions after talking to a few people about it. Also, I acknowledge that the comparison between Chalfie and the comedians suffers from a variety of flaws. If I have time I'll write another post discussing this in more detail.

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