Sunday, December 9, 2007

The Future Of Science

The problem with Science is there are a lot of problems. Funny thing is nobody seems to think so. What you get in the media are a lot of geewiz science shows and stories. Of course Science is our modern magic and the revelations and accomplishments overwhelm us and our critical thinking, where fantasy becomes a reality, at least for a few spoiled scientists. Later we get the spinoffs. Space Tourism next according to Virgin (not the goddess but the record company) and the Japanese who are already planning Honeymoon Hotels (where else but on the Moon). Once the ball starts rolling it can go anywhere, from E=MC squared, to Hiroshima and Chernobyl, people being people and not very scientific.

If Science flops or goofs somewhere, the media provides an apology, like it's a regrettable mistake which won't happen again and better luck next time. Or lately the usual we're getting better at this. Safeguards are now in place. Science is after all, Experimental Science and naturally some experiments fail. Usually we pay a long term price for them, but the media are not concerned with the future. There are fires and ticking time bombs everywhere that are instigated by Science and yet no one holds scientists accountable. The nuclear industry for example. And what really is important, whether a success or failure, is not evaluated on TV and in print. We'll worry about that later, when the facts are in. By that time it's usually too late. Look at the drastic poisoning of the environment by a handful of agricultural chemical companies. What warnings there were, came from left field, not from the scientific community who are even less critical of themselves than we are. A few ordinary people protested like Rachel Carson in Silent Spring. Like farmers, but the media weren't listening. They still don't. A few groups have organized against the chemicalization but they're considered flaky or they're blackballed as Far Left or as troublesome extremists like Greenpeace. What compounds the comatose response to environmental threats is the comforting presence of government agencies like the EPA in America, who have their own scientists approving this and that, so we're safe in doing nothing. Leave the professionals to deal with the professionals. Sounds great in theory. In fact, certainly there's less degradation in the environment and our health, than without these agencies, but it goes on at an alarming pace. Statistics like a third of all Americans suffering from some respiratory illness grouped into asthma, up from 3% since 1900. Obviously there's room for ordinary people to get involved in the debate about our future.

The only other critics we have who come down hard on Science are writers of science fiction and later the movie makers who've been warning us since Victorian times like HG Wells. The gloom and doom about the future, the future of Science, is almost a daily feature of our lives. Yet we don't seem to be taking the warnings of the inevitable progress of Science seriously. But I'm sure we worry a lot while we're watching these blockbusters, squirming in our seats at the appalling things going on. But here it's more like adrenalin space junkies getting their fix. Always some wiseguy scientist quoted later, trying to bring us down, who says that this movie's based on poor science. Don't worry. That'll never happen. It can't happen if you know your Science.

Evidently there is a need for a public forum on the future, The Science of Conundrums. Nobody seems to know what to do about the present. If we look ahead and figure out what kind of future we want, we could shape the present so we get to the future. Not some wasteland.

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