The Science Bits of Obama's Farewell Address

"Science and reason matter."

It lasted a little more than 50 minutes, and in his farewell address from Chicago on Tuesday night, President Barack Obama ran down his administration’s successes, shortcomings, and a request for the future: “I’m asking you to believe — not in my ability to bring about change — but in yours.” Obama also touched several times on science and innovation. Here are those remarks. We’ve done a little decoding of his language and offered a few Twitter reactions because 2017.

Cyberwar: Obama recalled when American intelligence and U.S. Cyber Command “shut down Iran’s nuclear weapons program without firing a shot.” This is a common phrase he uses when he talks about Stuxnet, the “zero-day” virus created by American intelligence (that’s still not acknowledged) that manipulated the computers controlling Iranian nuclear centrifuges — causing their destruction.

Automation: The president also touched on the constant advancement of robotics that will soon disrupt job numbers. He said, “The next wave of economic dislocation won’t come from overseas. It will come from the relentless pace of automation that makes many good, middle-class jobs obsolete.” (In November, Inverse interviewed Trump voters about robots, but they only seemed to be concerned with whether the robots would be American.)

Obama offered that education is what’s needed to be prepared for an increasingly automated future: “And so we must forge a new social compact – to guarantee all our kids the education they need.”

Social Media: The president took to task algorithms, if indirectly, noting social media platforms (👋, Facebook!) that promise to show you more stuff you like as a way to keep you engaged/addicted and in turn create a one-dimensional info stream. Although, so-called Facebook “filter bubbles” aren’t entirely to blame. Here’s Obama: “For too many of us, it’s become safer to retreat into our own bubbles, whether in our neighborhoods or college campuses or places of worship or our social media feeds, surrounded by people who look like us and share the same political outlook and never challenge our assumptions.” He continued “the splintering of our media into a channel for every taste – all this makes this great sorting seem natural, even inevitable.”

“Science and Reason”: Building up to his remarks on climate change, Obama warned of continuing, frankly, an exhausting reality where everyone has their own set of facts: “Without some common baseline of facts; without a willingness to admit new information, and concede that your opponent is making a fair point, and that science and reason matter, we’ll keep talking past each other, making common ground and compromise impossible.”

Climate Change: Obama indirectly mentioned the Paris Climate Agreement, approved in November 2015 and formally signed in April 2016. Even if there are concerns that Trump will kill the thing, Obama persevered, calling it an “agreement that has the promise to save this planet.” Here are Obama’s full remarks on climate change from his farewell address. We’re just going to paste them in full:

Take the challenge of climate change. In just eight years, we’ve halved our dependence on foreign oil, doubled our renewable energy, and led the world to an agreement that has the promise to save this planet. But without bolder action, our children won’t have time to debate the existence of climate change; they’ll be busy dealing with its effects: environmental disasters, economic disruptions, and waves of climate refugees seeking sanctuary.
Now, we can and should argue about the best approach to the problem. But to simply deny the problem not only betrays future generations; it betrays the essential spirit of innovation and practical problem-solving that guided our Founders.

“A Computer in Every Pocket”: Obama famously had to fight to keep his Blackberry when he became president. When Obama announced he was going to run for president in February 2007, the Apple iPhone was still months from its debut. Since then, we’ve seen the rise and fall of the California-designed device. He lauded the “problem-solving” spirit of Americans, one “born of the Enlightenment, that made us an economic powerhouse – the spirit that took flight at Kitty Hawk and Cape Canaveral; the spirit that that cures disease and put a computer in every pocket.”

Trolls: Obama used a modern problem — fighting with randos online over politics — as a way to galvanize Americans to get involved in their political processes when he urged, “If you’re tired of arguing with strangers on the internet, try to talk with one in real life. If something needs fixing, lace up your shoes and do some organizing. If you’re disappointed by your elected officials, grab a clipboard, get some signatures, and run for office yourself.”

Watch the full address here:

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