by Chris Bowers, Sat Jan 15, 2005 at 11:01:05 AM EST
I now have an eight-year niece named Claudia, and every night I have seen her since last Thanksgiving when I first showed her the telescope I received as a boy, she has wanted me to help her look at the moon, the planets and the stars. Unfortunately, most of the time there have been too many clouds to see anything (my family lives in Rochester and Syracuse), but this past Christmas, I bought Claudia a beginner's book on star gazing to go along with the telescope my parents bought her for Christmas. As long as the clouds ever clear, I am sure that she will spend many nights looking up at the sky just as I did.
Claudia may not go on to study astronomy or any other natural science. I myself never took a science course after the one required for graduation when I was an undergrad. However, it does take a society open to the possibility and wonder of scientific discovery to produce achievements like this:New, refined pictures from Saturn's moon Titan released Saturday show a pale orange surface covered by a thin haze of methane and what appears to be a methane sea complete with islands and a mist-shrouded coastline.
Space officials worked through the night to sharpen the new photos taken by the space probe Huygens, which snapped the images Friday as it plunged through Titan's atmosphere before landing by parachute on the surface.America has been involved in some of the greatest scientific achievements of the last one hundred and fifty years. From the telephone to the lightbulb, from mass production to nuclear power, from landing a man on the moon to developing the Internet, from refrigeration to improved medicine, we have frequently been at the forefront of innovative technologies that have allowed our country to prosper, and our minds to dream of better days. However, even as the European Union is landing a probe on Titan, moves are being made in this country to stamp out science among our children: When U.S. President George W. Bush takes his oath of office next week in the midst of a $40-million, four-day orgy of Republican euphoria, he will be carrying the dreams of a newly emboldened conservative movement. The American right is ascendant. It is empowered. And it is impatient.>p> Evangelicals and ``faith-based'' groups are looking to Bush to do nothing less than entrench a conservative philosophy, one they believe has long been trampled and one they expect will last a generation or more.
Their fundamental beliefs have changed little with the times. They want gay marriage outlawed by the U.S. Constitution. They want the Supreme Court's landmark Roe v. Wade abortion rights decision overturned. They want abstinence taught over contraception and creationism over evolution. They want the airwaves, the cinemas and the Internet purged of all things perceived prurient.
Now, they have the money and the power. And they believe they have one of their own in the White House.To not teach natural selection to our children would be one of the most dangerous things we could do as a country. To abandon our children to ignorance of even the most basic scientific principles will not allow us, as a nation, to produce the sort of innovation and progress necessary to keep our economy afloat, especially now that most of our blue-collar jobs have been exported overseas. Now, more than ever, we need innovation to survive.
Granted, the fundamentalists will not succeed everywhere, and the likely result of abandoning science in public schools will be a significant brain-drain in the areas that do the abandoning. This is already happening to red states that are banning stem cell research. However, with rising conservative dominance of the federal government, there can be little doubt that federal scientific funding will take a significant hit, and that as a nation we may begin to slip behind other regions of the world in terms of innovation and progress. When I was a boy, my love for scientific discovery was regularly fueled by the magical images and information retrieved by well-funded programs like Voyager, the Space Shuttles, and (formerly) the Hubble telescope. With conservatism firmly on the ascendancy, I have to wonder if the love Claudia currently has for science at her young age will be regularly kindled the same way mine was.