25 April, 2008

There exists a generation in America who has not seen a man on the Moon. The Apollo program exists to anyone younger than thirty years simply as history, as if those born in the final quarter of the 20th century have only known the dying echo of that which once was a thunderous roar. Of the many reasons NASA abandoned the Apollo program in the mid-1970s was a lack of public interest. For those who can only faintly recall a time without computers, a national space program consists of varied probes, satellites, and telescope images, of which the public as a whole is only temporarily aware, if at all interested.
As a member of “Generation Y,” Americans born in the 1980s and 1990s, I have been very fortunate to enjoy the fruits of our nation’s boisterous economic success — particularly in the previous decade — for much of my life. Indeed, many Americans of all walks of life, as well as millions beyond our shores, have benefited from the American scientific and technological innovations of the late 20th century.
These great leaps over the previous half-century are doubtlessly attributed to the “Sputnik Generation,” who came of adult age beginning in the 1970s. At the height of the Cold War, the federal government—not to be outdone by Soviet achievements— heavily invested in both basic research as well as science education. These investments later manifested themselves primarily in (1) the American victory in the “Race to the Moon” (which subsequently produced much-needed computer miniaturization and empowerment), as well as (2) a generation of Americans whose enthusiasm and training in science and technology fostered characteristic American innovation, invention and discovery, pushing the bounds of both our civilization’s knowledge and ability.
However, in recent years the United States’ governmental and public interest in the sciences has waned. Although a definitive point when the Cold War-fueled interest in sciences began to lose momentum is difficult to ascertain, some of the largest blows to the American scientific community have occurred since the dismantling of the congressional Office of Technology Assessment in 1995. Moreover, science has suffered greatly over the past eight years, particularly in the form of a dearth in funding for basic research and science education. Indeed, this can be easily shown by a plateauing for NSF and DOE funding (only DOD and NASA saw an increase) in recent years, as well as dropping test scores in science and mathematics.
Indeed, with the current state of American science and science education, the republic finds itself at a precipitating crisis; given the rapid investment in these fields by rising 21st century powers, such as China and India, America’s cultural, political, and economic standing for future generations is in jeopardy. The global centers of learning have begun to shift away from our shores—such an example is the Large Hadron Collider in Europe, which will provide groundwork for the next step in physics, was originally planned to be built in Waxahachie, Texas over ten years ago until this plan was abandoned by lawmakers. While a generation ago, NASA was a sparkling source of pride for all Americans; the space agency today is regarded on the whole with ambivalence, if not ridicule. The United States must lead again.
To use history as a guide, one may draw parallels with a nation’s investment in science and technology with later economic and political success. This pattern begins to emerge in antiquity among the Greeks and later Romans; and is followed in world history through the Enlightenment in British advances in the physical sciences seeding global dominance in the 19th century. Indeed, this is continued in the American story through scientific and technological investment the early- to mid-20th century to today’s unparalleled achievement at the dawn of the millennium.
Of a nation borne of Enlightenment principles, the very idea United States rests upon an informed citizenry. It is only the knowledgeable citizen who will question authority, it is only the conversant citizen to will hold their leaders accountable, it is only the well-informed citizen who will consider the impact of their vote, their purchase, and their very life. America deserves no less than an enlightened community of informed, active citizens.
In the coming decades, the must be a renewal. To re-present science to the population is no small undertaking, yet as a people, Americans are defined by their incredible capacity to be at their best in the worst of times. This revolution of thought will require enormous resources, time, and investment in an incredibly American channel of discussion: public education. American students routinely rank far behind those of other developed nations, and with a slipshod, piecemeal approach to invigorating American schools; these rankings are bound only to slide further. Yet, in a time of an educational nadir, Americans do have the mountain-moving capacity to launch a New Deal for schools, an Apollo program for learning. This is our strength, and we will show that a strong America will be built through strong schools.
Our leaders must be pressed as to how they will show their support for basic research. American science will push the bounds of our collective knowledge and show the world new horizons. Today, many scholars from abroad are being drawn back to their homelands, and bringing their vital American-acquired talents and knowledge away with them—let us build an America where study and exploration are held to the highest standards of public discourse and admiration.
As the world seeks to define itself in the twenty-first century, challenges appear to all mankind which were unimaginable a generation before—an ever-shrinking world through globalization and the Internet, the hegemony of a single superpower, economies as entropic as the weather, and spectre global climate change. Our nation must hold a leadership role in solving some of the most complex and severe problems in human history. This task requires no less than the enlightened republic which the Founders hoped it would be.
This year, we find ourselves in an opportune moment to take our nation where it must be. During this presidential election, the advocacy of science in the American psyche can hold a unique place to be able to spread its message to the voters as well as the candidates. Should science be pushed into the top priorities of the next president, America will have the leader it needs to inspire a new generation. Nearly a half-century ago, President Kennedy asked Americans to go to the Moon; this feat was not only accomplished by the Herculean advances of NASA, laboratories, and in the bravery of the pioneering pilots, but also in the enthusiastic backing and will of the American people, who dutifully and excitedly watched the liftoff of every spacecraft. We, as a people, are capable of so many things…. Americans need only to be challenged.

07 April, 2008

Posting because I feel like I should this evening, without all that much to say right now.

Only thing really on my mind lately is the fact that Meg and I are looking into buying a house. The whole process is awfully bewildering and unreal. It would be easy to assume that I'm doing the immature thing and am just afraid of growing up (which I did, in fact, battle with last year). It's more the idea of purchasing something with a price tag of a quarter-million dollars. In particular, with the horror stories of the foreclosure market (let's just call it that already), it's unnerving.

Hopefully they'll be more later

05 April, 2008

Did I post this week? Monday seems like such a blur...