Legend has it that during the Siege of Syracuse, circa 214 B.C., Archimedes destroyed the enemy ships with fire, the result of a “heat ray” involving a series of mirrors set up on the coast. But the question has long remained: Did it really happen that way?
“Mythbusters” has already tried to test this myth. In 2006, with the help of some students from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the show declared the myth “busted” because it took far too long for any reflected light to ignite a fire on a distant ship.
But apparently, Mr. Obama wants them to try again.
“Did Greek scientist and polymath Archimedes set fire to an invading Roman fleet using only mirrors and the reflected rays of the sun?” a press release for the show asks. “Will Adam and Jamie be able to pull this off, or will they have to report back to the president that they failed?”
Producers of the television series are not saying exactly how Mr. Obama will help prove — or disprove — that myth. But the first presidential appearance is intended to help spur interest in math and science as part of the White House effort to increase American competitiveness in those subjects.
Good. The President should be promoting a healthy interest in science, as Steve Benen lays out.
A few months after his inauguration, President Obama was showing so much passion for science and scientific integrity that one observer characterized him as "almost strident" on the issue. The description put a negative spin on what I consider to be one of the president's more endearing qualities -- I can't think of a modern president who speaks as often and as enthusiastically about science as Obama.
Indeed, nearly a year ago, the president announced that, from now on, there will be an annual White House Science Fair. Obama explained at the time, "If you win the NCAA championship, you come to the White House. Well, if you're a young person and you've produced the best experiment or design, the best hardware or software, you ought to be recognized for that achievement, too. Scientists and engineers ought to stand side by side with athletes and entertainers as role models, and here at the White House we're going to lead by example. We're going to show young people how cool science can be."
And that's exactly what this President is doing, and more (solar) power to him. Science is how our economy is going to flourish and grow...or lack of it will cause us to sputter and stumble as the rest of the world passes us by in innovation and technology. To keep up, we're going to need to make a commitment to science, math, and education in general. (Also, burning things with solar radiation is neat.)
Or, you know, you can denounce it all as a hoax and then wonder why the rest of the world thinks we're superstitious hicks while businesses relocate out of here in droves. Your choice, America.