Romney’s Obama Number

Physicists calculate what is called the “Einstein Number.”1 It is a measure of closeness. If you published a paper with that most celebrated scientist, you have an Einstein Number of 1.

If you have never published a paper with Einstein, but you have co-authored one with somebody who worked directly with Einstein, you have a Number of 2. And so on. Small numbers are a badge of honor.

I suggest politicians seeking advice on science adopt a similar quantity, which we can call the Obama Number. The lower the number the closer the politician is to adopting policies supported by President Obama.

Mitt Romey’s Obama Number was, until recently, 1.

Both men shared the services of John Holdren, the Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.

Mr. Obama uses Dr. Holdren’s services on a routine basis. Mr. Romney eagerly sought Holdren’s advice when the ex-governor drafted the “toughest in the nation” rules on power plants, a feat of which Mr. Romney openly boasted. These rules, incidentally, caused power production in Massachusetts to drop 18% in four years.

Holdren is a devoted follower of Paul “The End Is Near And This Time I Mean It” Ehrlich. He and Ehrlich once co-authored a paper which promised that if their “population control measures [were] not initiated immediately, and effectively, all the technology man can bring to bear will not fend off the misery to come.”

The misery failed to arrive, but lack of evidence means nothing to a man as deeply committed as John Holdren. He went on to write a textbook that advocated Communist Chinese-style forced abortions for women who have more children than their government-mandated maximum.

It was Holdren who coined the term “global climate disruption” as a replacement for “global warming,” because the latter did not sound frightening enough. Holdren cannot abide climate skeptics and would have them barred from speaking. He said of one moderate (Bjørn Lomberg) that he “needlessly muddled public understanding and wasted immense amounts of the time of capable people who have had to take on the task of rebutting him.”

Holdren also advocated seriously that “global climate disruption” can only be diverted if the U.K. and U.S.A. forced their economies to go into a planned recession. Fewer workers means less carbon dioxide released, you see.

Mr. Romney also dallied with Douglas Foy, a standard bearer for progressive environmentalism, and one-time boss of Massachusetts’ “super-Secretariat” of Commonwealth Development.

Part of Foy’s duties were to assist writing the Climate Protection Plan, part of Mr. Romney “no regrets” climate policy. Mr. Romney argued that if global warming turns out to be real, then increasing now the bureaucracy that regulates business will have seen to be wise.

But if turns out that global warming is not as pernicious as promised, increasing the size of government “will still help our economy, our quality of life and the quality of our environment.”

Mr. Foy was not as tempered in his predictions as Mr. Romney. Foy said that the “world’s dramatically shifting weather patterns are in part attributable to the often-heedless development patterns of the past.” Better, then, to have the government decide what is best—which coincidentally turns out to be what Mr. Foy considers best.

But all that is in the past. Since he began campaigning for the Republican nomination, Romney knew that convince conservatives to rally to his banner he had to fix his deplorable Obama Number.

So he began distancing himself from his past. He issued his “Believe in America” plan, which saw an abrupt about face from his previous believes. He announced, for example, that the current occupants of the White House are “in thrall to the environmentalist lobby and its dogmas”.

His previous green rhetoric has vanished. Where before he spoke of the “battle to improve our environment,” he now cries that the “regulatory bodies under [Obama’s] control have taken measures to limit energy exploration and restrict development in ways that sap economic performance, curtail growth, and kill jobs.”

These efforts have shifted Mr. Romney’s Obama Number to a more respectable territory, but he still has a long way to go.


1Yes, mathematicians more famously compute an Erdös number, but few civilians know who this great man was. The principle is the same.


  1. Speed

    A deathbed conversion is the adoption of a particular religious faith shortly before dying. Making a conversion on one’s deathbed may reflect an immediate change of belief, a desire to formalize longer-term beliefs, a desire to complete a process of conversion already underway, or a subconscious mechanism to cope with fear of death.

    Or a conscious mechanism to cope with fear of not winning the primary.

  2. Matt

    I think you’ll find that Romney still has an Obama number of 1. I* give you, ObamneyCare.

    * OK, Pawlenty said it first, but since he wouldn’t repeat it, I think he loses his claim.

  3. obiwankenobi

    Not to change the subject but has anyone else commented on Newt’s 21st Century Contract with America? Newt’s soliciting citizen input on which Executive Orders to issue on Day 1. Check it out.

  4. Eric Anderson

    To be sure, I’m concerned with Romney’s receipt of advice from Holdren. However, my understanding is that, at the time, Holdren was a professor of environmental policy at Harvard. So let’s see, I’m governor of Massachusetts and I’m planning on implementing some kind of environmental-related legislation (good, bad or ugly). I’m probably going to reach out to policy “experts” at the most prestigious institution in my state — otherwise I’ll be roundly criticized for going it alone and not even seeking input from experts in the state.

    Again, I’m concerned about the Holdren connection, and hopefully Romney’s more recent statements about climate represent a real change (like many true believers who have become skeptics after reviewing the evidence) and not just a political opportunity. But I think Romney’s work with Holdren needs to be seen in the context at the time.

  5. Am I missing something about the Einstein/Erdäs number determination?

    Obama –> Holdren –> Romney

    Doesn’t that make Romney’s Obama Number 2? If Chris Matthews’ latest knock on the President is valid, I would suspect that few folks have an Obama number less than 5…

  6. Bob Ludwick

    I could pontificate indefinitely on Romney, but it is unlikely that I could improve on Dr. Sowell’s brief summary of Mr. Romney’s politics in his 15 November column on

    “Now the smart money inside the Beltway is saying that Mitt Romney, who is nothing if not versatile in his positions, is the Republicans’ best hope for replacing Obama.”

    I will add, for what it is worth, that Mr. Gingrich seems to have a history of ‘positional versatility’ similar to that of Mr. Romney.

  7. George Steiner

    The name is Erdös.

  8. Briggs


    Typo from pasting the HTML double-dots. Thanks.

    Mike Anderson,

    You know, I think you’re right!

  9. William Sears

    I have never encountered the idea of an Einstein number. The reason that Paul Erdos (The Man Who Loved Only Numbers) is given this honour is not only the large number of publications to his credit (1475) but also the large number of collaborators (485). Einstein does not fit this profile. If you want to understand the concept of savant, read the biography by Paul Hoffman. Of course, his being a number theorist is the reason the idea occurred to Erdos’ colleagues in the first place.

  10. Jonathan D

    Erdős would be even better.

  11. DAV

    If you have never published a paper with Einstein, but you have co-authored one with somebody who worked directly with Einstein, you have a Number of 2. And so on. Small numbers are a badge of honor.

    Hmmm .. does that mean Einstein is a zero?

  12. Briggs


    It does. But, you know, math and computer people are odd.

  13. It means we are all zeroes…but some of us are looking at the stars. Well, the blog of the Statistician to the Stars.

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