Monday, April 25, 2005

Science, Scientists and the American Way of Life

Science, to me, is a strong uniting force. I've discussed, and often collaborated on, projects with people from a long list of countries, and never once in these discussions have issues of politics, race, economics, history or religion intruded on us. Sure, we talk about all these things over a beer afterwards, but the camaraderie we feel because of our common scientific goals, and shared experience in working towards them, ensures that these conversations are, almost always, constructive and civil.

For reasons like this, I am not one of the people who need to see U.S. dominance in science. I don't like the combative implications of the word, and I think its use misses the point of science as a unifying endeavor.

However, there are a host of economic, medical, educational, social and security reasons that the nation desperately needs a large, well-educated and well-supported scientific base. That's why the current turn away from science and reason and towards superstition and dogma in this country terrifies me. I don't think it is an overstatement to say that, if it continues unabated, this trend will bring about such a fundamental change in the intellectual constitution of the nation as to threaten to break the backbone of American life. I say this because maintaining a high standard of living for Americans is deeply connected to our country's investment in the scientific and technological research that will dominate the economy of the future.

Obviously, I have many longer posts planned about this, but I was galvanized to mention it today after reading two sobering posts on other science blogs. Over at Dynamics of Cats, Steinn Sigurdsson has a well-written piece about the inverse brain drain. Meanwhile, Gordon Watts writes eloquently about the impact of new restrictions on foreign graduate students on his Quantum Diaries blog.

Although there are many subtleties involved in what's going wrong in the U.S., ranging from the impact of the extreme right in politics, to the absurd way in which appropriations need to be reconfirmed year after year, the bottom line for the U.S. can be expressed quite simply (if not maturely); you snooze - you lose!
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