Carly Fiorina and the courage to question science

Carly Fiorina before being fired from the McCain campaign for saying that, like her, none of the major party candidates could run a major company.

Carly Fiorina, as you probably know, is campaigning to replace Barbara Boxer as one of the two US Senators from California. She is running largely based on her self-proclaimed executives skills, last in evidence when she was CEO of Hewlett-Packard. Of course, Senator is not an executive position; it is constitutionally described as a legislative office, one requiring the ability to understand legal craftsmanship, represent others (that is, act in a way that the interests of others are emphasized, even at the expense of self-interest) and work with other like-minded people.

When you look at the job description, it’s no wonder she runs on her executive skills, because she doesn’t seem to have any of the job qualifications as I listed them. But then again, she really doesn’t have much executive skill either. The stock price of the company she “ran” decreased by 50% during her tenure. She evidently felt that this unfortunate result for the shareholders was not her problem because she chose to walk away with $21 million—the price of the golden parachute she negotiated in the event of her termination (foresight based on self-knowledge?). The market—that all-knowing deity which Republicans usually invoke for favor, knowledge and campaign contributions—seems in this case to have disagreed, because the stock price of Hewitt-Packard “soared,” as the bulls say:  it increased over 10% the day the news of her canning was announced, before settling down to an increase of 7%. It’s a good thing, therefore, that the job of Senator doesn’t require executive skills. And it’s good for another reason too. Before her canning by the  Board of Directors, Fiorina launched an “investigation” at company expense into the directors who employed her so that she could find out which one of them was publicly critical of her. It’s unlikely she will have that power to investigate the voters of California even if she is elected. But you never know. Republicans seem to have a non-traditional view of what the voters owe them these days.

Henry Clay Frick had the unfair advantage over Carly Fiorina of being able to have his unruly employees killed.

But all of that is not important. I didn’t begin pounding on this keyboard to suggest that someone vote against a self-important failure, who was able to manipulate a culture of self-enrichment to become wealthy beyond her most remote dessert. Even if she was the 19th worst CEO in the history of capitalism according to portfolio.com’s list. (Incidentally, I think portfolio.com was selling Fiorina short. She could easily climb to 7 or 8 if the rules were made equal. For example, Henry Clay Frick is rated ahead of her even though as a capitalist she couldn’t hold a tinted eye-shade to Frick’s ability to make money. Frick is downgraded unfairly because he sicked the Pinkertons on a group of strikers who killed a handful of them. Even though it was perfectly legal to do so then! And maybe soon again.  Talk about double standards! I’m quite sure Fiorina would have killed one or two directors if it were legal when she was CEO. It only goes to reason.)

No, what I am interested in is her statment about climate science. The company she ran into the ground, Hewitt-Packard, had this to say about global warming in 2008:

“Our planet’s climate is changing, and scientific consensus is that greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions are the main culprit. The effects are forecasted to be far-reaching and substantial. The IPCC Fourth Assessment Report, published in 2007, warned that unmitigated climate change would likely trigger a range of environmental problems threatening agriculture, natural habitats and communities in low-lying coastal areas.”

But Fiorina, even after receiving $21 million, is still not on the same page as HP. Once it became clear that the GOP would no longer look to science for the answers to things like the history of life, the future of climate, research potential of stem cells, the undesirability of acid rain, the dangers of acidifying the ocean and so forth, Carly decided to “man up.” Carly was courageous enough to abandon her own position, announced on Fox News (of all places!) not earlier than last October,  so that she could march lock-step with the new Know-Nothings. Now evidently thinking better of her previous position, she believes that “we should have the courage to examine the science on an ongoing basis.” In the GOP “courage” means something different from what we old-timers were taught. An example of the old usage of the word can be found in John Kennedy’s book Profiles in Courage. That book described various Senators who risked their political careers to maintain principal despite the prevailing wind. The last thing Carly and the modern Republicans want, however, is to have a chapter in that book devoted to them. “Courage” in the new vernacular is not talking truth to power. Now it’s rejecting truth in order to appease , or better yet attain, power. In exchange you get money, lots of it, which you can use to help yourself to even more things at the public expense.

So I thought it would be useful to see if that kind of courage has any sort of history, and I was able to confirm that it did. Here’s a quick list. Sorta like Forbes does of the 10 best cities to die in or the top five best forms of cancer.

The Soviets in 1938 printed this post card of the death of Socrates evidently to remind the dense that they also had the courage to investigate science.

Although there is probably earlier instances, Athens in 399 BCE is a good place to start. The rulers of the place where science began (and who better to know than they?) had the courage to investigate what Socrates was saying. Athens had just been through a war that didn’t go as planned, but nevertheless its citizens had the courage to discover whether disinterested phiosophic inquiry was compatible with a militarized slavocracy whose ruling elite was exposed as inept. After a courageous investigation they asked Socrates to do away with himself. In those days intellectuals had the good taste to take a hint. They went off, had a party, drank some hemlock, and you never had to hear bad news again! Now-a-days big corporations have to spend much of their hard-exploited profits to wage a campaign to vilify disinterested scientists. (Or even get rid of faield CEOs.) It’s enough to make you nostalgic for the days of Henry Clay Frick.

We’ll skip Rome because you have probably all seen I, Claudius. If not, it’s too complicated to explain anyway.

Maffeo Barberini, who later called himself one of the Urbans, was one of the more courageous of the scientific enquirers

Jumping to the Baroque era, we come across Galileo Galilei. If anyone really needed investigating it was Mr Galilei. If you had enough courage, that is. And boy did Maffeo Barberini have courage. Just because he collected a lot of art didn’t make him a pushover. He not only had the courage to investigate science, he had the courage to investigate people who didn’t believe a Cardinal could sell eternal salvation. You really couldn’t pull anything over this guy. Not even if you had some self-made telescopes. He was going to get to the bottom of it. If you were craven enough to advocate some sort of nonsense like heliocentrism, he was not going to be in your corner. And Maffeo was not a guy you’d like to cross (so to speak). He could give you eternal damnation faster than you could figure out what the ordinal for 8 was in Latin so as to address him by his assumed name. Mr Galilei soon stopped trying to lie to people once that encounter took place.

Antoine Lavoisier tried to hide the fact that he was an aristocrat by claiming that there was such a thing a law governing the conservation of mass. Fortunately there were enough people with the courage to look behind this load of crap. I’m not sure anyone really objected to it, but since nobody could understand it and it didn’t seem to have any use, the conclusion was obvious. His head should be removed. And the courageous helped him, because he wasn’t as obliging as Socrates was. Or maybe because it’s harder to take off your own head than to drink hemlock. Either way, courage was the key.

The 1930 and 40s were a great time for courage. It was possibly even have been the most courageous time for investigating science. You might have thought that the Soviets had more important things to worry about than natural selection. But that’s why we need people with the foresight to know when courage needs to be applied. You see, Josef Stalin had the courage to realize that Lysenko had the thing right: Mendelian genetics was the reason for the Great Hunger. It had absolutely nothing to do with the policy towards the peasants. Other scientists maintained otherwise and continued to urge that there was a genetic basis for biology. Fortunately there were gulags for those people. And more fortunately there were those with the courage to act.

We don’t have to go through the rest: the courageous junior Senator from Wisconsin investigating the anthropology department of Columbia, the courageous Khmer Rouge reeducating doctors and scientists, the courage of Thabo Mbeki and his AIDS panel, the Texas State Board of Education of their oversized courage, and so on, with workers and fighters too numerous to mention. All of whom made our life a little bit better by ensuring that science doesn’t have the freedom to make us uncomfortable or impinge on our profits. We need fighters like Carly to show us how none of us will ever know what it’ll be like to have an average increase in global sea temperatures of 4º C (because we the living won’t be alive then), so why worry about it? That’s courage.

So just let me emphasize. If you were going to vote against Fiorina just because she was a poor CEO, but a greedy one, think again. Without people with the courage of Fiorina, our lives might be under the thumb of people who put multicolored pens in the pocket protector of their shirt pockets. Now is the time to stop that nightmare from ever happening.

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  1. October 12th, 2010

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