Friday, June 29, 2007

A Culture of Science

I've got a lot of reasons to promote a culture that embraces science. My father suffers from a terminal disease for which the treatment is still experimental. I like breathing and eating fish, so I'd like cleaner transportation and more responsible fishing practices. I'd like my kids to live in a better world. I'd like my great-grand children to live on another world. Some of my reasons are personal, others a bit farther reaching.

Thankfully, I'm not the only one thinking about the place of science in our larger culture. Discussion of a "two culture" split as originally proposed by CP Snow, can be found on sites like Serendip, like this one. It's all well and good to discuss the cultural divide between scientists and non-scientists, but I prefer a more engaged approach. When Alexander the Great defeated Persia, he not only allowed a lot of local autonomy, he encouraged his soldiers to marry the locals. Seems that newborn grandchildren have a way of quelling rebellious notions. No, I didn't change subjects.

If science is ever going to be embraced by culture, it has to be a cultural element in and of itself. Very little of any culture is defined by what happens in a lab or at an academic conference. (OK, maybe some of the culture is defined by what happens at the after-hours hotel party at a conference, but that's not the point) In order the thrive in our culture, science has to be a part of our culture.

Culture is expressed in the ways we interact. In restaurants, at company picnics, community fairs, and family birthday parties, we express our culture. Even the television shows we watch or the blogs we write in; active or passive, it's all about communicating culture. So what I find really encouraging is seeing science in things like the poetry and art of The Evolutionist's Prayer,
or the music of Emerald Rose in We Come From Monkeys.
I'm not forgetting the hazard of culture contaminating the objectivity of science. It's a concern that already colors research. I recently read an article about the problem with circumcised scientists researching the benefits of circumcision. But I'd rather risk the possibility of culture having a bit of influence in science than risk the theory of "intelligent design" having to much influence in public schools.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Let's outsource to Mars

Noted physicist Lowell Wood recently outlined a bold plan to terraform Mars. He defines humanity as a terraforming species, pointing to the alterations of our own home planet over the last 10,000 years. He makes some really good points, but the real key phrase he uses when predicting our terraforming future is: "if-and-as" humanity becomes a truly space faring civilization.

A lot depends on whether humanity gets a foothold in space before we push Earth's biosphere past the point of being able to support human civilization. Building a space program, whether private or public, requires a complex infrastructure. If environmental change advances faster than our ability to adapt to the changes, we may no longer be able to mount a space program over and above our struggle to survive. Ironically, we still seem to lack an effective motivation. Even the promise of space tourism on the horizon isn't exactly taking off like a rocket. Maybe the real secret is to tell big business they can emit all the greenhouse gases they want on Mars.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Technorati here we come

In the change or die spirit I do my best to embrace, it's high time I got with the program at Technorati...

Technorati Profile

Friday, June 22, 2007

Out of the petry dish and into irrelevance

So once again, dear old George W. Bush has vetoed stem cell research. No big surprise there. Bush and his ilk seem content to allow our culture to sink into technological irrelevance. Or, maybe the Republican elite is simply content to outsource the research to other countries while pandering to the most conservative portion of their political base.

But he has left a small back door open. While he has denied researches access to important federal funding, he hasn't outlawed the research. The next best thing to federal funding might be a charitable organization like The Stem Cell Research Foundation to support stem cell research. This group provides public education and funds research. They also accept tax deductible charitable donations.