The contenders for the Republican nomination in the 2012 U.S. presidential election may appear to be a fairly uniform group of middle-aged white conservatives, but when it comes to issues of science, technology and overall geek cred, none of these candidates is cut from the same cloth. In fact, Newt Gingrich nudges out Mitt Romney and Ron Paul in Scientific American's overall ranking, based on the former Congressman's engagement in issues related to energy, the Internet and military weapons, combined with his mastery of top online tools such as Twitter and a healthy appetite for science nonfiction.
Paul is a geek contender based on his appeal to libertarian-leaning Silicon Valley, combined with his support of online freedoms, although he fails science when it comes to accepting evidence for anthropogenic climate change and evolution.
Romney accepts evolution, accepts at least the phenomenon of climate change, if not the science showing that it is human-caused, and has deeper ties to Silicon Valley. He also has thought extensively about energy, technology and engineering issues to the point that he explicitly favors a federal program for advanced energy research.
All candidates were ranked with up to five stars in three broad categories: "Geekiness" is an evaluation of whether or not the candidate qualifies as a geek. "Associations" encapsulates the degree to which he or she has been attached to causes and people in science and technology. And "policies" sums up the degree to which the candidate engages those subjects in his or her platforms.
Read on for a deep dive into the GOP candidates' personal histories, public statements and policy proposals, which gives a unique window into their understanding of the issues closest to geeks' hearts and of how the universe works.
# 1 - Newt Gingrich
The two things you need to know about Gingrich's geek cred is that one of his nicknames is Newt Skywalker and that he once made the cover of Wired—back in its early, weird days—in a feature written by none other than technology investor and commentator Esther Dyson. Bob Walker, a Gingrich booster and former chairman of the U.S. House Committee on Science (now the Committee on Science, Space, and Technology), said that Gingrich "would probably be the most knowledgeable president on technology issues ever elected."
Calling Gingrich a science-fiction nerd is like saying that vampires have seen a modest resurgence in young adult literature. He has repeatedly expressed that Isaac Asimov's seminal Foundation trilogy (about "psychohistorians" who use mathematical models to predict the future) made a deep impression on him in his youth.
Gingrich has written so much and spoken so often that it is possible to confuse the volume of his pronouncements with their frequency, but some of his ideas appear to come straight from the science fiction he has read. He has proposed using lasers against North Korea, putting mirrors in space to increase agricultural productivity, colonizing the moon, reviving a Star Wars–style orbiting missile defense system and solving climate change through geoengineering. Whereas other candidates wring their hands over the threat of Chinese currency controls, he has warned of the threat to the U.S. of that most science-fictionesque of all weapons, the electromagnetic pulse.