Category Archives: Science

An Open Letter to My Children

Dear Nathaniel and Hannah,

I am sorry that my generation has failed you.

We have bequeathed you a world that has too many problems, too much fear, and too much hate.

Dad and I tried to raise you to see the good in people, to understand others’ perspectives, to argue for fairness in the face of injustice, to respect the earth, to treat others with respect no matter the god(s) they worship or the size of their bank account or the shape of their bodies or the origin of their passport, and to feel hopeful about the future. Our nation has just elected a man who embodies the opposite of all these principles. He will set the tone from above–but in the end, he’s just one person.

As Bertolt Brecht once wrote, “Because things are the way they are, things will not stay the way they are.”

Our nation is, like all others, a work in progress. Right now, it feels like we haven’t made any progress at all. With Trump’s election, we’ve set back the clock on women’s rights, minorities’ rights, environmental protection, civility, predictability, respect for science, and the acknowledgment that (like it or not) we all inhabit a globalized world.

But it’s not the end of the story. There’s always a next chapter to be written, and your generation will write a very different chapter.

Your generation understands the urgency of combating climate change. Your generation embraces difference of all sorts–sexual, religious, racial, you name it–because your online engagements show you every hour how diverse, and how interconnected, the world is. Your generation absorbs knowledge because you know how easy it is to find your way to facts, and, with a little research, to separate facts from fiction.

Dad and I so wished that today could have been a day to celebrate. Instead, it’s a day to reflect on the work to be done. It’s a day to dig deep and strategize about how to create the world we want to inhabit. With a president who revels in abusing his power, mocking his opponents, and ridiculing the disabled, the disenfranchised, and the poor, the rest of us will have to work harder than ever to protect the vulnerable and oppose the bullies.

If Dad and I raised you to be optimistic, we also raised you to be resilient in the face of setbacks. I apologize that those skills in resilience will be called for more than ever in the next four years. But we are confident that you have what it takes.

I love you.


Science and the National Interest

Who should judge what counts as “worthy science”?  Who should judge what counts as “in the national interest”?

New legislation just passed by the U.S. House of Representatives would require that all scientific projects receiving federal funding be approved by elected politicians according to criteria they set out as measuring “national interest.”

Is it just me, or should we be worried about shades of national socialist science in Hitler’s Germany?

Nazi Race Scientist, 1935

I’m not saying that our current elected officials have Nazi sympathies.  I am suggesting that once we empower politicians as the arbiters of scientific research, we empower them to make decisions in arenas in which they have no special expertise–arenas that can have enormous consequences for the well-being of our citizens and our planet.

And it turns out that the well-being of our planet is just what the politicians passing this legislation have in mind. Archaeologist Rosemary Joyce has investigated all the research projects protested by Republican legislators last year as being a trivial waste of taxpayers’ money.  Guess what?  In one way or another, they all explore historical, geological, economic or other implications of climate change in earlier eras, and how humans dealt with such changes.

Do these legislators really have no grandchildren?