Wednesday, November 24, 2004


Science on the retreat

Matthew Yglesias has it pretty much exactly right:
A Bit Rich

I don't know if John Derbyshire is being factually accurate when he states that certain kinds of genetic research are impeded by a chilling effect that can basically be laid at the door of liberals. He says researchers worry that if they do something that turns up race-correlated differentials or whatever, that they'll be pilloried. I can't say if that's true or not, but it has a certain plausibility to it. What doesn't have much plausibility is the notion that this sort of thing is really a bigger deal than the right's effort to expunge the main bit of science underlying all of contemporary biological research. But conservatives elites could hardly complain about that sort of thing.

In case this was unclear, by "the main bit of science underlying all of contemporary biological research" I mean the theory of evolution, and not anything as mundane as embryonic stem cells which, though certainly promising, are tangential to a lot of what one might want to do. If we don't teach evolution to the next generation of kids, it's hard to see how any biological or medical research could possibly go forward in this country.
[Emphasis added]

This is kind of analagous to eating one's seed corn or perhaps killing the goose that lays the golden egg.

However, it is actually part of a larger process, of not understanding what has made this country so economically dominant in the first place. Morality is fine, and I understand the impulse to want to believe that God has "blessed" us in the past and will continue to do so - but how do the "moralizers" think God has blessed us throughout our history? What do they think that "blessing" entails? Could it not be that we have been "blessed" with incalculable natural resources, with a favorable geographic position (two enormous oceans), a hospitable climate? Could it not also be that we have been "blessed" with a population of enormous entrepreneurial spirit, probing curiosity, a willingness to enjoy and exploit our freedom - and also the genius of our scientists and engineers?

We are in serious danger of losing our edge on the rest of the world, and if and when that happens, we are in deep deep shit. Already, there are signs that young technical students from other countries are choosing not to study in the United States, due to our cumbersome visa procedures. Given that fewer and fewer Americans are going into scientific and technical fields - probably in some part because of the assault on science by the religious right wing - this is going to lead to a weakening of our scientific research establishment. Not training our youth in true scientific methods will make things worse. Twenty or thirty years from now, we will find ourselves falling behind the rest of the world and wondering why we are no longer enjoying the kinds of breakthroughs we used to routinely expect. Those of us paying attention will be able to say, I warned you, I told you so - while we are coughing up our guts or otherwise suffering the consequences we were afraid would occur.
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