July 28th, 2008When Did Science Become the Enemy?
You, dear reader, are one in a thousand.
So begins an article at space.com
The fact that you’re confronting this column on a web site devoted to space science and astronomy makes you roughly as rare as technetium. Despite the fact that astronomy is one of the two most popular science subjects in American schools (the other is biology), it’s really not that popular.
The overwhelming majority of the citizenry has other interests, and looming large among them are the peccadilloes and personal intrigues of the rich and famous. Consider the contrast: in the past week the Space Telescope Science Institute released a startlingly detailed photo of a distant cluster of galaxies, a picture that gives even the non-expert a good idea of the structure of these, the largest entities in the universe. The photo of cluster Abell S0740–an image that would have bedazed every previous generation of humans–probably didn’t even make it to the front section of your local newspaper.
However, what did garner front-page ink last week, not to mention huge dollops of chatter on talk radio, was the unexpected death of Anna Nicole Smith, a former Playboy Playmate and reality TV star.
I’m amazed at not just the apathy toward science, but the outright antagonism toward it. In past centuries, the population thought the sun revolved around the earth. We all accept now that the earth revolves around the sun, but it took drastic measures to convince the population of that fact. Other significant discoveries have also been initially rejected by the people, then accepted. Why then, especially in the United States do we still have debates about teaching evolution in science classes? Why do we respect a blastocyst (a group of 15-60 cells) as more “sacred” than a soldier’s life? Why do people still deny (vehemently!!!) that global climate change is a reality? A couple of generations ago, the US was proud to send the “best and brightest” into leadership positions. Now, with notable exceptions, we seem to be sending the “mediocre and beholden” to leadership. (We can’t blame them, the people we elect are simply reflections of ourselves.) Worse, the general population seems to be losing interest in maintaining the US’s technical and visionary leadership of the world. Who cares??? Just gimmie my National Enquirer! How do we reconcile a written “Thou shalt not kill.” with a whispered “Go to war in Iraq”? How do abortion clinic bombers justify killing? Aren’t they “pro-life?”
I’m a firm believer in education — “You shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free.” Please, dear reader, don’t simply follow the crowd; inform yourself! If that information along with a rational evaluation lead to you follow the crowd, then fine. Keep an open mind! Read! Discuss! Debate! Choose Wisely! Every now and then, visit Barnes & Noble and browse the books on the shelves. You might find interesting discoveries. Every now and then, read a book that is counter to your own beliefs. You might find surprising common ground. Above all, try to lift yourself out of ignorance — and bring a few others along with you.