The Future of Science in America

This is an article I had originally written for a Seed Magazine science writing competition, but I missed the deadline.  Well, turns out it was almost done.  So I just wrapped it up and I’m putting it out here.

Science is more important in our lives than ever before. We use produces created from scientific discoveries every day. And scientific issues are always in the news. Our economy is driven largely by scientific businesses: biotech, information technology, energy. The rate of scientific development in America, and the world, has rocketed. The last few decades have seen unprecedented numbers of scientific and technological advances, and there is no sign it will be slowing down any time soon.

However, the future also shows some ominous signs. As a leader of scientific innovation, America is seeing great competition from India and China. Their children are more adept in math and science than ours (although that in itself is not difficult to achieve), and they graduate more PhDs in science and engineering than we do. Finally, the future will hold greate challenges, many of them created by the scientific and technological advances of the last century. Climate change, energy shortage, epidemics, terrorism. It is clear that science in all its forms will be critical to America’s future.

It seems to me that many of the troubles the scientific community faces (shortage of money, people, respect) could be solved through a simple, yet startling and possibly controversial idea.

We (the American public) need to treat science more like the military.

Now before you say anything, hear me out. Here’s why science needs to be treated more like the military. Read the first sentence of each of these next paragraphs normally, then read them again and substitute “the military” for “science”.

Serving in the military is akin to serving your country. We have established that science will be critical to America’s future. People need to understand that scientists aren’t simply conducting experiments to answer isoteric questions about the universe, (although some do), but they are doing work that is helping this country grow stronger. Don’t you think that that alone would give scientists much more respect?

You are not in the military forever. Science should also not be seen as a be all end all as a career. Many people have worked years as a scientists and then moved onto other fields: teaching comes to mind, but also business, writing and law or politics. Science should be seen as something that you can dedicate a few years to or a few decades to.

The military gives you skills for life. In the same way, people have to see that working in sciences gives you incredible skills – self-discipline, meticulousness, creativity, the ability to synthesize ideas, work in teams and work under pressure. These skills can translate over to many other fields. Time spent in science is worth spending.

The military can show you the world. Even if you don’t travel anywhere, science can show people a whole new world that is right under their eyes, or in every part of their lives. Science illuminates and reveals the mysteries of the universe.

Do you see where this is going? I think that science needs to be taken more seriously and made more accessible, the way the military is. Now how are we going to do this? My three step program.

1) A massive public awareness campaign. This is going to cost a good amount of money, but I think it is worth it. I’m talking splashy, sexy, bold television spots, celebrity endorsements, billboards, weblogs, bracelets, the whole 9 yards. This is a total change in the perception of science so it needs to really get out there.  The military is pretty good at this.  (Army of One.  Navy – accelerate your life.  The few, the proud, the Marines).

2) A change in the way we train and deploy scientists. This requires coordination between education, government and businesses. I see young people enrolling in a Science Corps boot camp, serving time (maybe a 2 year commitment at a lab on a certain assignment) and they’d be on the way to a PhD.  They could also go down to Reserve, where they could be called to duty for a few weeks out of a year.

3) Get more scientists and Science Corps members into government, so that our country will be lead by people who understand what is going on.  As we have established, science is going to become more advanced and become more interconnected with society.  Policy makers need to have a grip on the issues.  Also, the Science Corps program will fail without having members in government positions.  Think about how many politicians have military backgrounds. With science-educated leaders in place, America will be in a better position to lead the world.  Hopefully in a safe and ethical manner.

The Paradox of the Human Body

The paradox of the human body is that we are such powerful, yet such frail creatures.

Our bodies are capable of incredible feats of strength, flexibility, speed, endurance and power. Just think of olympic weightlifting, contorsionists, sprinters, Lance Armstrong, and karate masters breaking concrete. The things we can do with our bodies should we train ourselves for them, are simply amazing.

At the same time, we are truly frail and sometimes pathetics creatures, especially when you compare us to other animals. We have no exoskeleton, we have no claws or sharp teeth. The same bones that can break concrete when properly applied, can also snap from a simple fall.

What this all comes down to is that we need to respect our bodies. It is often called a machine, a machine that needs proper tuning and oiling to run well. The best part of the human body is that, unlike a car, when you hurt yourself, time can heal the injury. Try doing that with your dented fender.

I guess I’m thinking about this topic because as I get older, I’m facing up to a lot more injuries, even as I increase my ability to perform skills. My back hurts, my shoulder is bothering me. I’m just trying to stay healthy for 2 more years.

The Takeaway: Respect your body, and it will do great things.