Tuesday, October 16, 2012

On Top of the World: The Importance of Science and Innovation

By now, you’d have to be living under a rock (one without WiFi, no less) to not know that on October 14, 2012, a man named Felix Baumgartner traveled by balloon to the edge of the earth’s atmosphere, then stepped out of his capsule and jumped, free-falling 128,097 feet and reaching speeds of Mach 1.24. In addition to breaking a number of other world records, he became the first person to travel at super-sonic speeds without the aid of a jet or space shuttle.

Let’s pause and just think about how cool all of that is.

Seriously, stop and think about this. If you need some help, watch this video.

We live in an age where this kind of thing is possible. Think about how far we have come as a species. Centuries ago, diseases, like the bubonic plague, that were a death sentence can be treated with antibiotics. Which is why it disheartens me when people do not see the value in scientific achievement.

We have become so comfortable in our existence, thanks to these scientific achievements, that some spend all the time saved us by technology crusading against these life-saving achievements, like modern medicine and vaccinations that have increased our life expectancy by decades and eradicated once-common diseases, computers and the Internet that have made information accessible to billions, and the trains, planes, and automobiles that have allowed us to explore our whole world and not just the little piece in which we happened to be born.

Yes, I recognize that I’m speaking about the “first world”, and that there are many parts of the world these innovations have sadly not touched.

And that’s something that needs to change. Because the quality of life to which we have become accustomed is brought to us by scientific achievement and encouragement of innovation. Of questioning why we have always done things a certain way and trying to introduce a new way of approaching a problem.

That’s right, today’s quality of life is brought to you by the letters S, T, E, and M.

Without scientific achievement, our quality of life will stagnate. Or worse, backslide. This is why, whoever wins in November needs to be supportive of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. They need to support, and incentivize, innovation, through basic research in all of these fields. This means funding this research and/or making it easier for private investors (such as Red Bull, which funded Baumgartner’s jump) to fund this research.

And they need to support and encourage quality scientific education, because even the most amazing scientists will not live forever, and their ideas won’t live forever either if they are not passed on to the next generation of thinkers.

As a government employee, I can’t comment on political campaigns and therefore, can’t say who I think would be more supportive of science and innovation (just letting you know, in case you share your thoughts in comments – whether I agree with you or not, I really can’t say). But the issue of science and its importance is non-partisan. It is something we should all care about, even if adding two numbers together fills you with a dread similar to playing Twister with 50 snakes.

Because believe me, they are in it to win it. 

I read an interesting post recently about the phrase “I’m entitled to my opinion” that you should definitely read (here). I won’t reiterate what it said, but will add that you should at least be aware that the reason you or I are “entitled to our opinions” is because we live in a society that has become so comfortable due to technology that we have time to think of our ridiculous, ignorant opinions (or write our ridiculous blog posts) – rather than spending our time trying to avoid the bubonic plague.

~Thoughtfully (and scientifically) yours,

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