Thursday, April 12, 2012

"Crisis" for US science

Have you considered studying physics?

If you said "no," you're not alone.
I remember when that was my initial undergrad major.  I complained a bit about the subject's difficulty to a professor of mine. problems with the discipline had far more to do with my ineptness at math and my destiny (such as it is) to write than it did with how the course was taught or my perception of its worthiness.  The professor I commiserated with said, "Yeah, physics is a bitch.  Why study that and make $25,000 straight out of college when you can study marketing and make $38,000?"

Why indeed.  In fact, five scientists shared their concerns on this matter at a recent convening of the American Physics Society.  Fewer and fewer American students are graduating with degrees in science, math, engineering, and the allied subjects.  Coupled with that is the fact that funding dollars for scientific endeavors are being cut on a regular basis.  The case in point that the linked article offered was how the Tevatron at Fermilab (right here in my back yard, by the way) has been closed down.  Therefore, researchers in nuclear physics are headed for CERN in Switzerland.

That's right.  Forget about research for curiosity's sake...and the multiple inventions that have come about by accident as a result thereof.  My favorite example of curiosity-centered research has to do with cows.  Someone noticed that cows tend to line up in the same direction while grazing in a field.  A clever researcher determined that this is the case only when the cows are near high tension wires.  The action is likely the result of electromagnetic waves from the wires.  Cows, just like us, are organic creatures.  If these wires are having this affect on cows, what are the electromagnetic waves doing to humans?  Oh let's just let "who cares" win, shall we?  After all, how much money is in it?

This line of thinking would pretty much eliminate entire fields of knowledge, like say, astronomy for one.  Times are tough, the economy is bad, get with it.  If it can't make money for our greedy little selves, then why bother?  Then hack apart public school science classes lest they offend the Christian right.  What, you got worries about the world?  Forget them.  Turn on Jersey Shore or another steaming, stench-filled slice of reality TV and your mind will soon go blank.  You'll eventually forget any notions you once held of the world being a complicated and macaronic place.  And what's it matter anyway?  The Jeebus is going to bring The Rapture any day now so turn to prayer over science.  Someone wrote a book about this once.  They said it was like ancient Rome.  Bread and circuses...

So the United States will likely one day be overtaken in the arena of scientific development.  Probably someday soon, even.  But something tells me we just won't care.
Wave that flag.  Thump that Bible.

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