Growing up in the 1960s at a time when the space race was on, JFK was pushing science and technology initiatives through Congress, and a thing called “new math” was permeating schools across the country, I came to believe as a grade-schooler that American society would inexorably advance and prosper according to scientific principles. I figured that decisions about the economy, health care, energy production and the like would be made on the basis of science, and as such, life in the U.S. – and perhaps the world – would improve vastly.
As a kid I was truly awed by the Gemini and Apollo moon missions, and the first heart transplant. And let’s not forget Jiffy Pop.
I imagined super-sonic commercial air service, cordless phones, driverless vehicles and cancer cures – ideas that came not just from science fiction novels but from actual R&D that was taking place in the heady 60s. I had every reason to believe at the time, given that man had stepped on the moon in 1969, that a mere 32 years later we’d watch astronauts travel to Jupiter (as portrayed in “2001: A Space Odyssey”) on our wrist TVs.
I loved watching a TV spot in the mid-60s called “The 21st Century” where host Walter Cronkite presented lofty possibilities for which an anxious populace awaited.
Check out some of Walter’s previews of the future as seen from a 1960s lens:
Good stuff from such a hopeful time. But today – with nearly 20 percent of the 21st century gone – it’s clear we’ve instead entered a dark, extended period of anti-science. Members of certain tribes in America vehemently adhere to positions that are demonstrably incorrect and deny the findings of settled science. More and more, people understand natural phenomena from what they’ve read or heard about from the fanciful writings of ancient civilizations.
Who would have thought in 2018 that 4 in 10 Americans (and at least one addled lawmaker) believe the earth is less than 10,000 years old? Or that all humans are descendants of Adam and Eve (who frolicked with dinosaurs in the Garden of Eden); and that Noah somehow gathered pairs of all creatures including penguins from the Antarctic and cockroaches from the Lower East Side onto an ark constructed somewhere around Asia Minor?
We once had as the heads of the Department of Energy – the premier organization responsible for atomic research and the nuclear arsenal – physicists holding PhD’s and Nobel prizes. Now we have a shallow Rick Perry at the DoE helm; a man Trump once derided for his stupidity, saying, “he put on glasses so people will think he’s smart.”
We got to witness the spectacle of Sam Clovis, a one-time radio show host nominated to be the chief scientist (!) of the Department of Agriculture who withdrew from consideration after he had to admit he’s not a scientist. Details.
Scott Pruitt at the EPA is making it hard for scientists to do their jobs, the CDC has limited what researchers can report on, and the Census Bureau is planning to use bogus statistical methods to count the population in 2020.
Climate change denier James Inhofe of all people chaired the U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, and a retrograde congressman named Mo (short for Moron) Brooks continues as a member of the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology.
Consider this embarrassing charade led by Mo at a recent meeting of the House Science committee where the subject of inquiry was the effect of so-called climate change on so-called rising sea levels. Giving testimony to the skeptical Republican Luddites on the committee was Philip Duffy, president of the Woods Hole Research Center in Massachusetts and holder of a PhD in applied physics from Stanford University.
While Duffy tried to blame rising sea levels on melting ice, Mo exercised the unqualified egg-head PhD from the “left coast” on an alternative explanation. Here’s the verbatim retardation:
“What about erosion! Every single year that we’re on Earth, you have huge tons of silt deposited by the Mississippi River, by the Amazon River, by the Nile, by every major river system — and for that matter, creek, all the way down to the smallest systems. And every time you have that soil or rock whatever it is that is deposited into the seas, that forces the sea levels to rise. Because now you’ve got less space in those oceans because the bottom is moving up.”
Duffy tried to interject, perhaps out of a sense of duty to protect Brooks from making a complete horse’s ass out of himself, but the empty-headed congressman from Alabama (yeah, I know) would have none of it.
“What about the white cliffs of Dover? California, where you have the waves crashing against the shorelines and time and time again you have the cliffs crash into the sea. All of that displaces the water which forces it to rise, does it not?”
A ranking member of a congressional “Science” committee thinks that the seas are rising because rocks are falling into the oceans – kind of like how your pool overflows when you drop your cell phone into it.
Damn. By that logic, every time Mo the Moron farts, it pushes the atmosphere further into space.
How far we’ve fallen from the idealistic years of the 1960s. If Walter Cronkite were around today to host “The 22nd Century” he’d probably be showing us diesel-powered AM radios, pencils made from charcoal, prayer-based gun-control, and how dancing in a circle will halt climate change.