Damn speech synthesizer

« previous post | next post »

It is truly almost beyond belief that the Investor's Business Daily could say in an editorial (which after much ribald mockery on the blogs they have now altered):

People such as scientist Stephen Hawking wouldn't have a chance in the U.K., where the National Health Service would say the life of this brilliant man, because of his physical handicaps, is essentially worthless.

The minor issue for me is the fact that the NHS does not have what the Republicans allege are "death panels" that judge whether an individual's life is worth living. (There is a panel that decides if a drug is too expensive relative to the increase in length and quality of life it provides for — there's a limit to the quantities of public money the NHS will spend on supplying expensive drugs for free when they don't do much good. But that's not about judging individuals' lives.) No, the real kicker is that the journalists at IBD didn't even know that Stephen Hawking (long-time holder of the chair that Isaac Newton once held at the University of Cambridge) is a British physicist, and has lived his whole life in Britain! His motor neurone disease has been constantly and expertly treated under the NHS and he has received constant nursing care (he says, "I wouldn't be here today if it were not for the NHS. I have received a large amount of high-quality treatment without which I would not have survived"). It's a linguistic issue, of course: it's that damn speech synthesizer Hawking uses. The people at IBD have heard it speak his words, but they couldn't tell from its odd and mildly Swedish-flavored enunciation that he is not an American (and that would be the default assumption for anyone brilliant, naturally). Britain's speech scientists need to work on that synthesizer and get it talking more like Prince Charles. It looks like Americans' hopes of a reform of their broken health insurance system are going to depend on such things. If it is left up to IBD, and the sort of people who think Medicare is going to be taken over by the gov'ment, all hopes of reform are doomed.

Comments are closed.