Just a useful list to keep in your back pocket when someone says “Yeah, but what has brave public investment in large-scale basic science ever really done for us?”
If you’d like to support federally-funded science research during the government shutdown, just whisper forsaken algonquinia …
Just kidding, that won’t work. But we could use some supernatural intervention, or perhaps just regular-natural intervention, because this
kid taking his ball and going home government shutdown looks like it’s not close to being over.
Among other things, this showdown is really hurting science. Even if you aren’t directly affected by the shutdown (for instance, you don’t work for the government), if you live in America then it is affecting your life. Here’s a few examples:
- There’s currently a food-borne Salmonella outbreak in 18 states that has sickened more than 250 people that the CDC is unable to investigate. So skip out on that chicken, maybe.
- The CDC is also unable to continue its seasonal flu monitoring program, so that should make for a fun winter.
- David Wineland, 2012 Nobel Laureate in Physics, has been furloughed, along with countless other scientists.
- Not only can government scientists not do research during the shutdown, they are barred from going to conferences.
- Government agency social media accounts are temporarily shut down, so citizens are missing out on ALL THE SCIENCE. Luckily we still have @SarcasticRover.
- Everyone’s #1 stop for Space Porn, Astronomy Picture of the Day, is dark.
- Government biomedical research is shut down, stalling experiments years in the making, disrupting clinical trials for new drugs and meaning thousands of research animals will be unnecessarily euthanized.
- MAVEN, a Mars mission set to launch next month, faces an uncertain future.
- The USGS can’t test groundwater safety, no one is watching out for asteroids, and dangerous products can’t be recalled by the government.
- If you’re not mad enough yet, Verge and DNews have more.
The strange, hooded figures currently holding Congress and the rest of our government would like you think that they are not actually there, that you’re better off not even thinking about them. But you should think about them. Think the worst things about them. And you should tell them that this just isn’t acceptable.
No word on how any of this affects the dog park.
It only has to do with the respect with which we regard one another, the dignity of men, our love of culture. It has to do with those things…It has to do with: Are we good painters, good sculptors, great poets? I mean all the things that we really venerate and honor in our country and are patriotic about.
In that sense, this new knowledge has all to do with honor and country but it has nothing to do directly with defending our country except to help make it worth defending.
I love this idea. Why does knowledge and discovery matter to a country? This is a question we face repeatedly when we are forced to defend basic research.
Basic science serves not to make us more powerful or aid in good ol’ National Defense™, but to make a country worth defending. Knowledge = pride.
So I’m on the front page of the Austin paper today …
… and you’d think I’d be a little more excited. I wasn’t on the front page because of this blog, or as part of a feature about my YouTube channel, or to celebrate getting a AAAS Fellowship to work at Wired Magazine in San Francisco this summer, or to talk about my generally unquenchable thirst to share awesome science with people. This article was about the uncomfortable intersection of science and politics. Yuck!
I’m glad I got a chance to talk about this issue, but I think the (not totally accurate) story of “me” takes away from the message. (click through to read my full response)
The Twisted Cultural Conflict of Duck Genitalia Research
What happens when a conservative website “discovers” a study that studies the explosive corkscrew nature of duck genitalia and how it relates to sexual evolution? Their commenters completely lose their minds at the idea that the government would fund such basic science research (srsly, read the comments … or actually maybe don’t).
Except that basic science research like this is the cornerstone of innovation and discovery. Carl Zimmer stands up for this kind of science in this must-read article, and I stand behind him. Besides, xkcd’s money chart reminds us that this isn’t why the budget is in trouble, maybe?
Science is a journey of unknowns, a slow and careful march into uncharted territories of human knowledge. We can not predict how research will benefit humanity, because those benefits might be years, or even decades down the road. Or they might not materialize at all.
You can’t fund the invention of an MRI machine, instead you fund basic research in the physics of magnetic resonance on living tissues. Likewise, studies of sexual conflict in ducks can unlock the secrets of our own evolution, and might even help us understand mysterious conditions like preeclampsia (which killed Sybil on Downton Abbey, an event I have not fully recovered from).
This is why it is so important to share science with your friends, and to make sure that scientists and science folks everywhere are connecting with the public. Because if you don’t communicate your science, then someone else will do it for you, and nefariously.
By this point, you probably want to see the slo-mo videos of those explosive corkscrew genitalia, right? Here ya go.
Perhaps most tragically, the critics seem to be missing the easy opportunity to make “stimulus package” jokes … which is funny, I don’t care who ya are.
I hate waking up to bad news.
Thanks to Congress and the White House failing to agree on budget cuts, and the subsequent “sequestration” (across-the-board, slash-and-burn, top-to-bottom money-trimming), NASA has announced that they are suspending all education and public outreach activities. It’s a suspension, not a cancellation … but uggghhhh.
NASA knows this sucks. But they’ve been put in a place where they have to choose whether they can support their actual missions with the money they have been given, and no matter how much they value the extras (and they do), it’s rock-and-a-hard-place time for space folks. It’s hard to put presents under the tree if you’re struggling to keep the lights on.
Projects like the Mars Curiosity Twitter account and NASA’s Twitter socials will continue. So what could we be saying goodbye to? These are the outreach programs that put Mars science in underprivileged classrooms, turning science into smiles. The programs that publish free ebooks of our Earth as art, erasing borders and instilling wonder in one fell swoop. Programs that allow us to travel beyond our planet in a single click. These are programs that plop down space telescope mock-ups in the middle of downtown Austin so the kid in me can do cartwheels with sciencey glee.
Today, online, there are so many wonderful places that can take up the slack (blogs and websites like this). But will we be able to do this effectively if NASA can’t even do it themselves? I don’t know. But we will try.
Because if we do try, then we can remind people who vote and people who make budgets of what NASA already knows: Whenever we look up, we are inspired to make new things possible, in sciences terrestrial and astronomical. And when we look back down at Earth, and those borders disappear, doesn’t it make you want to make this chart a little more even?
The Anti-Science Left: Equal Opportunity Science Denial
We know that far-right Republicans have a long-running reputation for, well … not exactly embracing good science when it comes to things like climate or evolution. This doesn’t mean that all Republicans deny science, or that any of them are “dumb” or “stupid” (because very intelligent Republicans deny very good science).
But just as no one has a monopoly on truth, no one has a monopoly on untruth. The far left can be just as unscientific in their own ways. There is equal opportunity science denial out there, whether it’s vaccines causing autism or wind farms causing cancer or the blanket dismissal of GMO foods.
If you’re looking for something that might challenge your preconceived notions of what it means to be a science denier, take some time and watch this hour of great conversation.
Those of us trying to fight for science shouldn’t succumb to the labels and polarization that create an “us vs. them” tribal battle. We should remember that one of humanity’s great talents is being wrong. But that talent is only exceeded by our ability to learn why we are wrong, and figure out what’s right.
The reason we have smartphones, the reason we have television, we’re able to talk on opposite sides of the continent, the reason we have smoke detectors… the reason we have these things is because we understand the reactions - the nuclear reactions - that take place in elements, in protons and neutrons and so on. Without that deep understanding, we wouldn’t have everything you can touch and see in our environment. So this claim that [the age of the Earth] has nothing to do with the economy is just wrong.
- Bill Nye, talking about Sen. Marco Rubio’s claim that he wasn’t qualified to answer a question on the age of the Earth, and that it didn’t matter to the economy anyway.
Of course, you might be surprised to hear that President Obama’s answer to the same question hasn’t been much different in the past.
Barack O-Bobblehead Flies To Edge Of Space!
He won, now he’s just rubbing it in. :)
(Depending on your politics, you’ll either love the part where he’s next to space or plummets in a spin down to Earth. Also, depending on you musical politics, the Coheed & Cambria soundtrack to this will either make you very glad or very mad.)