Science in Retreat

It is remarkable that in the Western Developed countries that are looking for innovation to bring economic advantage and prosperity, there is such a recoiling against Science. The US has an evangelical wing attacking many aspects of Science including  creationism over Evolution plus stem cell research stymied by draconian restrictions.  And  George Bush has gutted the governmental scientific community by muzzling any research or analysis that would expose/jeopardize misguided policy be it in Iraq, energy conservation or global warming. Worse still, the President and his minions have reached into the federal  intelligence, regulatory and research communities and censored/edited reports and demanded partisan loyalty of key officials.

Not to be outdone, Prime Minister Harper in Canada has shown the same proclivities  – firing a Nuclear Regulatory Commisioner who dared to hold  a Reactor Team to the government’s own safety standards, disregarded research on global warming bowing to the pressures of  Alberta and British Columbia oil and gas interests, and now dismissing his National Science advisor.

But also vested, large scale  corporates have also been doing concerted anti-science in ever more deliberate fashion when their immediate interests are at stake. Look no further than the cigarette companies concerted action to disguise the ill consequences of smoking on people’s health whether as direct smokers or second hand effects. Or the funding of anti-global warming “research” by oil and gas corporates who are still remiss after 30 years of promising energy independence (lets not speak of the hundreds of billions of dollars they have received in tax breaks for their efforts). Or the slipshod or short changed works of big pharma in getting drugs properly tested across all age and susceptibility groups – rather rushing to market only to find adverse reactions  and major recalls in these special cases as the drug companies strive for “blockbuster market wins”.

Yet clearly  150-250 years of political and economic history has shown that countries that have not invested in Science have been economic and technical subservients. So why is Science in Retreat ? Clearly the costs are high. Just take a look at the the new CERN Collider or the International Space Station or the ever advancing cost of university education and research. Also the benefits of science now take ever longer to bear fruit.  Nanotechnology,  Gene Therapy, and alternative energy research (to name but three), have all had great promise, huge investments and also paucity of major results to date.

But clearly, there is a Science clash taking place. The US Evangelicals have their counterparts in Muslim countries. But also among the population there is caution and skepticism. Science has been marshalled but not been able to deliver on major problems. Cancer and other genetic diseases continue to fester and fell. Environmental problems appear to be on the edge of spinning out of control. And scientific solutions – and not just from the drug companies – appear to backfire catastrophically at times. The result is that there are many who now regard science as not the bringer of unmitigated good. Science is no longer equated with Progress.
This malaise if not outright malignancy towards Science has other fundamental roots. Being able to understand science has become ever more complex. And science inspired technology has been calling for all professionals to maintain a torrid pace of  continual learning. Science and technology along with unbridled capitalism  are beating all the social and economic slack and social support out of systems and society. They are forcing such phenomena as two earners in the family being just enough, constantly on the job 24/7, and now less benefits and pay regardless of increased productivity – the spoils go to a hyper-compensated and risk shielded very few at the top. So social stress, economic treadmill-ism and moral trade-offs induced by science and technology have started to take their toll. And so it should not be a total surprise to see that politicians feel they have their lectorates tacit blessings to “Defy Science”.

I am going to take my 5th grade Science and see I can get a 5th graders job with it. Wish me rots of ruck.

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