Vice President Joe Biden has a message for scientists: Treat him as you would a friend, even if he sometimes has trouble communicating his thoughts.
For a series of recent speeches on issues from quantum computing to climate change, Biden has highlighted the great strengths of working with the government – but hasn’t ignored the pitfalls.
He has been keen to stress that the federal government is the vast world’s largest research institution with a range of options to move ahead, even when doing so involves tremendous limitations.
Biden on the Climate
Biden has made climate change his biggest campaign issue, saying that “the science is indisputable” in an interview with the Washington Post.
A Google search of Climategate reveals a controversial string of emails hacked from a University of East Anglia computer server and published online in 2010. Some of the emails, between UEA researchers working on climate data, cast doubt on the conventional climate science consensus that anthropogenic warming is happening.
Biden invoked the scandal in a speech to the Climate Science Coalition in Chicago.
“We have a range of options, and we can approach this from only one of two directions. Either we just tread water and won’t be able to adapt to whatever’s created, or we can change the narrative, and … the conventional story with regard to climate change has to be challenged,” Biden said.
Biden on the Quantum Future
Biden has big dreams about the role of quantum computing in data analysis, but he’s been less clear on the government’s role in exploiting it.
The US government already has a number of major research programs in quantum computing, he told one crowd at Drexel University in Philadelphia. But although these projects are funded by the government, the programs’ progress is not expected to be rapid or state-of-the-art.
“When you think about data management for us in the Pentagon or the FBI or the Justice Department, for example, or any intelligence agency, you cannot look at the amount of information that there is by projecting, you know, data in the future as compared to today,” Biden said.
“We literally need 10 to 100 times more data, bigger networks,” he added. “If you just extrapolate 10 to 100 times, you’d need, you know, a fleet of planes that fly around the world.”
Biden’s speech left listeners wondering if the US government might take a lead in the development of quantum computers, akin to the US government’s futuristic advances in artificial intelligence, or its investment in quantum computing has already been made.
On the Bookshelf
Biden might be great at keeping up with the latest technology, but he’s also wary of learning too much from academic scientists. When he attended a science roundtable hosted by the USC law school, he criticized scientists for ever pushing the boundaries of their research too far.
“I didn’t want to know the science; I wanted to know the solutions,” Biden told the audience.
“Instead of asking, ‘What’s the next best thing that is going to make the world a better place?’ the professor would go off and invent something and make me an economist,” he added.
“I said, ‘As long as I’m in government, I won’t be an economist.'”
The Vice President’s primary job is to champion government research, but he also knows that sometimes the scientific community is useful and useful to government work.
He can always find an old science journal article on his hard drive. “I’ve actually got papers, actually signed with stamps, that I’ve been signing that might be essential to my own research now, but were just little asides from other research,” he told Wired in 2015.
He has cited sections of his own research in his speeches about climate change. In a speech to an “Earth in Peril” symposium in Philadelphia last year, Biden outlined his research on “measurement and visualization” of the Earth’s atmospheric carbon dioxide levels in order to calculate the Earth’s Carbon Dioxide budget.
Other scientists, however, have questioned Biden’s basic judgment in devoting an entire section of his speech to the topic.