Obama inaugurates the return of science
Barack Obama was just sworn in, and he mentioned science within his first few hundred words as 44th President of the United States. To be specific:
Our health care is too costly; our schools fail too many; and each day brings further evidence that the ways we use energy strengthen our adversaries and threaten our planet. These are the indicators of crisis, subject to data and statistics.
Here, here! At last we have a national figure who realizes how important it is to work with facts. He didn’t just mouth platitudes about how important science and technology are to America’s power, he actually used the word data. He used the word statistics in reference to knowledge and precision, instead of the hillbilly’s definition as a folly of ditherers and eggheads.
We will restore science to its rightful place, and wield technology’s wonders to raise health care’s quality and lower its cost. We will harness the sun and the winds and the soil to fuel our cars and run our factories. And we will transform our schools and colleges and universities to meet the demands of a new age. All this we can do. All this we will do.
Now, that’s what I’m talking about. We can’t compete with the EU, Russia, China or the Pacific Rim economies by teaching creationism in our schools, or by abandoning stem cell research because of atavistic taboos, or by allowing political power to muzzle discovery. Science, or more generally imagination and creativity working toward impossible goals, has defined our national identity for more than a century, with one important and direct result being our present superpower status. If we can’t get back to that mindset, where education is a virtue and exploration is worth doing for its own sake, we will fall behind and never recover.
This country desperately needs to support strong and comprehensive science education at K-12 levels and in our colleges and universities. We need to teach kids how to think as well as what to remember for their tests. We need to reach further into space, and we need to modernize our energy infrastructure toward a more sustainable future that doesn’t leave us vulnerable to Medieval thugs and despots on the other side of the planet. A culture that can allow creationism, anti-intellectualism, science denial, faith-based health care and anti-vaccination advocacy to be taken seriously in the public policy arena is a culture in serious decline. We need to stop that decline and start progressing again.
Now, there are some who question the scale of our ambitions — who suggest that our system cannot tolerate too many big plans. Their memories are short. For they have forgotten what this country has already done; what free men and women can achieve when imagination is joined to common purpose, and necessity to courage.
Just so. We didn’t get to the Moon by hiding in a bunker.