I was recently pursuing a book store and happened across a book with a particularly provocative title, “What Darwin Got Wrong”. After reading the synopsis, I found myself quite agreeing with the book’s hypothesis: there’s more to the creation of organisms than just the process of natural selection. Indeed, natural selection is just one of a whole host of explanations that are be valid.
You can find a helpful summary and review of the book here: http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2010/feb/06/what-darwin-got-wrong
Consider this: why can’t pigs fly? Under the theory of natural selection alone, pigs probably should fly. Under natural selection alone, somewhere over the course of millions of years, pigs would have mutated to the point where some would have wings, and those wings would help winged pigs survive better than others without wings. Thus the pigs with wings would be more likely to procreate, and soon the whole species would have wings. But pigs don’t have wings. The explanation: laws of statistics, physics, and chemistry, according to the article. Pigs don’t have wings because these laws entail pig bone structure is ordered in a very precise, organized fashion that does not allow for wings, but works fine for pigs otherwise. (unfortunately, the article does not make mention of how these laws contribute to pig bone structure).
Furthermore, the process of mutation and transmission of genes is more random and complicated than originally thought. So, it is probable that there are many other reasons as to how animals became so organized and complex. Truly random mutations cannot account for the ultra-complexities of the human brain, for instance. There must be other factors that contribute in addition to the process of natural selection, factors that more or less guide in the process and disallow for things like, pigs with wings.
I’m a conservative. So, naturally, I’m usually very apprehensive about big government programs. I usually promote private sector solutions with profit motive instead of bloated, clunky, inefficient government ones.
Science, I have learned recently, is a different story.
After reading a very extensive report on science and science journalism, I have come to know how necessary government funding for science is.
But, first, some background.
For the last few decades, science has increasingly found itself funded by the private sector. Before, in the Cold War, science was mostly funded by the government–and founded generously. However, with the fall of the Soviet Union, Western governments have less reason to spend oodles of money, and are under greater pressure to save money. Consequently, many government science programs have found themselves axed. Meanwhile, the private sector, is quickly taking the government’s place in science funding. Now a vast majority of science funding comes from the private sector. But there’s a problem.
Because it’s driven by profit, private enterprise mostly focuses on applied science as opposed tobasic science(for those who do not know, basic science is science that seeks knowledge for its own sake and seeks to answer general questions, while applied science focuses on the solution to a very fine, specific problem or goal. For example, a question of basic science might be ‘what is the Earth composed of?’ while an applied science question might be ‘how does the composition of the Earth on a certain construction site hinder or help us from building a structure?’).
Now, here comes the important part: applied science is fueled by basic science.
Do you see the problem? The private sector is centered around applied science, whereas it needs basic science to continue its progress. So who’s going to fund basic science? It seems like the private sector won’t, because there’s no immediate source of revenue in basic science.
I now think it’s the government’s place to fund basic science. Like in its construction of infrastructure, the government’s role is to support the basic necessities of private sector (if the private sector cannot provide them itself.)
So, what does the Internet think? Should the government fuel basic science? Or do you think that private enterprise will come to fund basic science anyway?
By the way, the link to the report i read is here: http://www.freedomforum.org/publications/first/worldsapart/worldsapart.pdf
I’ve always been more a pessimist when it comes to the knowledge of the general public. I’m pessimistic in that I have little faith in the knowledge of an everyday American when it comes to knowing even basic science.
According to a survey done by the National Science Foundation not too long ago, my pessimism is well-founded. The survey simply asked basic science questions to over 2,000 random households nationwide. Among the questions were the following:
- The center of the Earth is very hot. true or false?
- The continents on which we live have been moving their location for millions of years and will continue to move in the future. true or false?
- Which travels faster: light or sound?
- How long does it take for the Earth to go around the sun: 1 day, 1 month or 1 year?
This originally frightened me. After all, how can the United States continue to lead the world scientifically if our public is so ignorant?
But then a thought struck me: why do we even need a well-informed public? Sure, it’s nice to have a public that knows basic science, but is it even necessary? The public doesn’t doesn’t exactly influence the work of scientists, after all, so where’s the harm? I’m increasingly prone to the belief that a public that doesn’t know basic science does just as much harm as a public that doesn’t know basic accounting. If ignorant people keep out of a professional community, why should we care if they know or don’t know basic knowledge of that community?