A little more on Stephen Hawking

« previous post | next post »

Sarah Lyall's piece "An Expat Goes for a Checkup" (front page of the NYT Week in Review, August 16) disusses American attacks on Britain's National Health Service (and affronted British responses, and her own experiences with the NHS), leading with the Investor's Business Daily invoking the physicist Stephen Hawking in an August 3 editorial opposing Barack Obama's health care proposals. As Geoff Pullum posted here last week, IBD (an American enterprise) barreled into the matter with the (utterly mistaken) assumption that Hawking is an American. The question Geoff asked was where IBD got this idea.

It's possible that the people at IBD just took it for granted that any really eminent scientist would be American, but Geoff had a cleverer idea: that Hawking's voice synthesizer (which allows him to communicate despite grave neurological deficits) doesn't sound at all British.

I suggested to Geoff that the (U.S.) Presidential Medals of Freedom might have contributed to IBD's misapprehension, via the assumption that such awards go only to Americans. But this is a misapprehension as well; this year's 16 recipients included not only Hawking, but also Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Mary Robinson (former president of Ireland), and Bangladeshi economist Muhammad Yunus. Unfortunately for my idea, the timing is bad: the award ceremony was on August 12, more than a week after IBD's editorial. So it looks like it's back to the speech synthesizer proposal.

[Addendum: Melissa K. Fox writes to say, "while I think Dr Pullum's speech-synthesizer explanation for IBD's confusion has a lot in it, I think there might be something in the Medal of Freedom explanation as well — the ceremony was August 12, sure, but the recipients were announced July 30, several days before the editorial.  You can both be right!"]

Comments are closed.