They say that politics and controversial statements are ways to encourage traffic on a blog, so here’s some. Comments welcome, of course.
I have cause to celebrate the future potential for science in the U.S. Here’s a bit of simple history (Update – added the “War on Poverty” to the list 20070810):
1964: Lyndon Baines Johnson declares a “War on Poverty” Today: the gap between the Rich and the Poor in the US is widening and economic mobility is stagnant.
1971: President Nixon declares a “War on Drugs”. Today: “Drugs” are widely used, even among kids, who appear to be losing their fear of drugs. Market innovations (blatantly illegal and of questionable morality, but innovations nonetheless) such as crack cocaine, MDMA (“ecstasy”), and “ice” (crystal meth) seem to be in the news a lot. People growing illegal plants in their closets and basements or brewing up complex chemical stimulants in the backs of minivans seems to be an almost daily topic of the news.
2001: President George W. Bush declares a “War on Terror”. Today: A majority of Americans feel that there is a greater threat of terrorism than before, which seems to be true, at least as far as “Jihadist” terrorists go, if the declassified portions of the government report paint an accurate picture of the situation. Heck, when the president invaded Iraq in 2003, major terrorist organizations didn’t even seem to be there. And now, it seems like EVERYONE we’re fighting in Iraq is Al Qaeda, and we’re treated to frequent vague but earnest-sounding warnings of impending terroristic doom.
Given these historical precedents, if there really is a government-run War on Science, then we’re in for a huge increase in scientific activity here.
I’m picturing a virtual underground Scientific Renaissance, where, like much of the late 1700’s and 1800’s, “citizen science” becomes a fashionable pursuit. People secretly building science labs in their basements and attics and performing legitimate, useful scientific research in them. Kids hanging out in abandoned parking lots at night, doing complex calculus problems in chalk on the ground and experimenting with broadcast power. Anonymous rebel scientists developing methods to cheaply and effectively convert lawn clippings into fuel ethanol and plastic grocery bags and soda bottles into biodiesel. Ignorant politicians assume home biology labs are marijuana-growing operations, that home chemistry labs are making methamphetamines, and that home physics labs are building radioactive “dirty bombs”. A multibillion-dollar new agency, the Science Enforcement Agency is hastily assembled and laws are badly written to restrict scientific activity to carefully-regulated government-controlled settings only.
Public science devolves into (when Republicans are in control) attempts to “debunk” global warming and evolution, “cure” homosexuality, develop ridiculously expensive military-grade weaponry, and silly projects that just plain won’t work but happen to be run by buddies of a senator or (when Democrats are in control) multimillion dollar projects to study “self-esteem”, research on “psychic powers”, development of homeopathic “medicine”, and silly projects that just plain won’t work but happen to be run by buddies of a senator. Disgusted underground scientists are only egged on by this state of affairs.
Within a few years, a cautious exchange of money in a public restroom will buy disease-curing doses of novel, effective, but non-FDA-approved antibiotics that cure drug-resistant Staphylococcus aureus or Tuberculosis. A backyard moonshiner-like biotech lab somewhere in the rural west secretly sets aside part of their flock of chickens, genetically engineering them to produce HIV vaccines with billions of dollars in “street” value. Someone with a closet chemistry lab develops an illicit catalyst that facilitates hydrolysis of water to produce hydrogen with no more energy input than ordinary body heat, while another develops an illegal strain of cyanobacteria that turns atmospheric carbon dioxide into a plastic substance which can either be used for building or is easily converted to biodiesel at such a rate that the developer has to rapidly build a huge, secret underground complex to hide the vast quantities of material produced overnight….
In the end, as always, government goes utterly insane and bankrupts themselves (more, I mean) trying to stamp out Illegal Science, but in the meantime, anyone who’s scientifically inclined ends up making a fortune. On the other hand, the efforts drive a lot of the science out of the country and Mexico becomes the new world superpower with their fleet of antigravity flying armored space cars, zap death ray guns, and clusters of quantum-supercomputers. (Note to self: get back to learning to speak Spanish!). This doesn’t really slow the flow of science into the US, though, and “science tourists” can sneak to Mexico to undergo age-reversing and/or intelligence-boosting medical treatments or to obtain cures for cancer or obesity that actually work. People end up in jail for recovering from leukemia or losing weight.
Meanwhile, on a more personal note, people like me who actually think doing science is fun get a few publications in underground science-journal ‘zines, spend a few years developing something useful, make a huge pile of money, and then retire before The Man catches up to us, to live a life of luxury somewhere. Maybe living in a giant mansion in Mexico between stints as lab techs for Mexican scientists once in a while, done just for fun and extra pocket-money…
It’ll be glorious. So – write your legislators today, and tell them we NEED the “War on Science”. For the Children.
(My political opinion? Lets just say that my political fantasy right now is that the 2008 presidential race will come down to a run-off between a Bloomberg/Paul ticket and a Gravel/Kucinich ticket….)
There, is THAT enough controversy to get some new traffic here?…