Today’s (May 17) New Yorker carries an article written by Andy Borowitz under the title, “Obama alienates millions with incendiary pro-knowledge remarks," which begins with the following passage:

“President Obama handed the Republican Party a gift for the general election by making a series of offensive pro-knowledge remarks at Rutgers University over the weekend, a leading Republican official said on Monday.”

From the following lines;

“The President’s inflammatory comments, in which he offered full-throated praise for such controversial fields of knowledge as math and science, are sure to come back to haunt the Democrats in November.”

I assume “pro-knowledge” means being in favor of sophistication in math and science, but neither Oxford nor Cambridge English Dictionary carries this word. GoogleNgram doesn’t show “pro-knowledge” either.

What does “pro-knowledge” exactly mean? Is it only applicable to math and physical science? Is the knowledge of liberal arts, metaphisic and social science excluded? Is the word widely used and accepted?

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    Note the advert at the bottom of the Borowitz piece: "Get news satire from The Borowitz Report delivered to your inbox." This is satire, playing on the established trope that America's Republican party is anti-intellectual and that "facts have a notorious liberal bias." Commented May 16, 2016 at 22:35
  • @BrianDonovan: the established trope that America's Republican party is anti-intellectual and that "facts have a notorious liberal bias." Sounds like you are an assistant writer for Borowitz Report.
    – mharr
    Commented May 18, 2016 at 17:54
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    @mharr By calling it a trope and by putting the statement about facts in quotation marks, I have avoided explicit endorsement of this take on my country's politics, in favor of merely elucidating it to Yoichi-san. And it has been a long time since I have been a mere assistant anything. Commented May 18, 2016 at 22:50

4 Answers 4


Borowitz is a writer of satire, his pieces are intended to be parody. Satirical works are often characterized by one-off language and terminology, in this case the idea of being "pro-knowledge."

There is a stereotype in US politics that the Republican party is anti-science, due to the beliefs of many its members and leaders on science-related issues, including global warming and the theory of evolution. Borowitz has satirically extended this stereotype to include being "anti-knowledge" in general, which would mean the Republicans are against all forms of knowledge. The statement from Obama is meant to imply that he is pro-knowledge, casting himself in opposition to the Republican position of being against knowledge.

This satire is driving at two ideas here:

1) Republican opposition to science can be humorously characterized as a broader dislike of knowledge in general. 2) This contempt for knowledge is shared by the general US electorate, making a "pro-knowledge" position politically dangerous for a politician.

  • Also, this usage harkens back to the Know-Nothings, a briefly existing party from just before the Civil War. Some commentators (see examples here: google.com/… ) view the nativist currents of the modern party through this lens. Commented May 17, 2016 at 15:59
  • 1
    The idea of jocks vs nerds also seems relevant here considering the overall state of the primaries so far.
    – corsiKa
    Commented May 17, 2016 at 18:22

Andy Borowitz is a comedian and that article is very much tongue in cheek.

'Pro-knowledge' is not a set phrase; it means what it says, that it is in favor of knowledge. It isn't restricted to math and science but anything that is based on facts.

The tongue-in-cheek part is that one could take either position, pro or con. Con would be strange because reality would literally contradict you. And pro would be strange because why would you ever not be that.

It is a reference to absurd statements made by people close to President Bush during his presidency that the government leadership was not bound to reality-based rules.

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    Also, the New Yorker is considered a left leaning publication.
    – Mitch
    Commented May 16, 2016 at 23:05
  • Taking Karl Rove's posture (re:empire, re:"world doesn't work that way anymore") in the attributed (and likely at least partially misrepresented) "reality-based community" comment and putting it 'over there',there is at least a kernel of wisdom in the remark that empiricism is not by itself the makings of realityCertainly, it is exceptionally difficult to actually observe a Crusoe Economy,but all concepts of Natural Law and its extension into property rights flourish from the ontology formed from this classic though experiment of Methodological Individualism.Empiricism has nothing to add to MI Commented May 17, 2016 at 15:26
  • ...but then, you pull Rove's comment back in from 'over there' and he was talking about empire and essentially saying that "the world is our oyster for the shucking" and you realize that he wasn't constraining his comments to the confines of Natural Law, but was merely framing the State's myriad ideological imperialisms in a way that said "sit down; shut up;go away. We're going to do what we are going to do and you're going to shut up and take it because I have the power" and you realize he wasn't referring to an ontological-empirical conflict at all. Commented May 17, 2016 at 15:40

I think you already know this (since this is english.SE not ell.SE), but just to be clear:

pro- as a prefix means "being in support of" something. So even without the context, you could guess the meaning.

The sides in political arguments often get called things like "pro-choice" or "pro-life", for example.

"anti-knowledge", "pro-ignorance", or "pro-believe-whatever-you-want" would be the opposite position. As the other answers point out, this is where the satire comes in.


I assume “pro-knowledge” means being in favor of sophistication in math and science, but neither Oxford nor Cambridge English Dictionary carries this word.

Addressing that part in particular, it's not a word in and of itself, it's the word knowledge1 with the prefix pro,2 meaning "in favor of." E.g., pro-knowledge comments are comments that are in favor of knowledge. Usually a hyphenated word indicates a prefix (like pro) attached to a root word, and one must look them up individually. This is also sometimes true even without the hyphen, but less commonly; by the time the word is commonly written without the hyphen (such as cooperation3 in American English and modern British English [still co-operation in BrEng well into the 70s if not beyond]), it likely has its own dictionary entry.

1 knowledge - "information, understanding, or skill that you get from experience or education" - Merriam-Webster

2 pro - "in favor of something" - Merriam-Webster

3 cooperation - "a situation in which people work together to do something" - Merriam-Webster

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