Monday, January 29, 2007


Sittin' in the Corner

There is an opinion piece in the Los Angeles Times by Lawrence H. Summers that makes a very sobering point. After noting that the 20th century was an American century in no small part because of American leadership in the application of the physical sciences, Summers goes on to rightly point out:
If the 20th century was defined by the physical sciences, the 21st century will be defined by life sciences. Lifespans will rise as cures are found for chronic diseases, and healthcare will come to be a larger share of the economy than manufacturing. Life-science advances will lead to agricultural revolutions, profound changes in energy technology and the development of new materials. The "drugs that help you study" that are pervasive on college campuses are just a precursor of developments that will alter human capacities and human nature in profound ways.
It is only prudent, then, to wonder:
As of now, based on investment levels, research output and the prestige of our research institutions, the U.S. is the world's life-sciences leader.
But past performance is no guarantee of future success. In the first third of the 20th century, Europe and Europeans were the dominant source of important discoveries in physics. Yet, for various reasons, Europe became less dominant as the U.S. asserted its leadership.
Summers' first prescription for maintaining this vital lead is the easy to say but perhaps hard to impliment suggestion that we, as a nation, respect the scientific method. But, as he notes, the U.S., unlike other industrial nations, is actually moving away from science.
Polls demonstrate that in the United States, up to a third of high school biology teachers have as much faith in "intelligent design" as evolution. Some surveys suggest that as many as 70% of the American people agree with them. Matters are not helped when the president advocates the teaching of intelligent design alongside evolution as a "different school of thought."
Is it too late to start learning Cantonese?
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