Science: so what?

By Phil Plait | September 30, 2009 2:44 pm

BABloggee Steven Duckworth just pointed out to me something very cool: the UK government has a campaign running to promote science! It’s called (and I love this) "Science: So What? So Everything", and their website has lots of info about science, its impact on society, examples of everyday science, news, science events, and interviews with famous scientists.

It’s rare for a government to have such a nice program promoting science, and it’s even rarer when they seem to have an actual ability to make it fun… for example, sponsoring a green race car (there’s a picture for proof, too)! Of course, it helps when the person who owns the company making the car is Lord Drayson, the UK Minister for Science and Innovation.

All in all, very cool. I’d love to see my own government doing something like this…

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Science
MORE ABOUT: UK

Comments (23)

  1. Sili

    That’s not a green car.

    This is a green car.

  2. TomInAlaska

    “All in all, very cool. I’d love to see my own government doing something like this…”

    Instead, they’re doing something like this:

    http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2009/sep/29/workers-porn-surfing-rampant-at-federal-agency/

  3. tacitus

    I’d love to see my own government doing something like this…

    I would too, but I can just imagine the hissy fits the so-called fiscal conservatives would have about it…

    SOCIALISM!!!!!!!!!!

  4. jasonB

    Yea tactius, we could make the prize a million dollars, or a billion, gosh even a trillion! What the heck, we’re so far in debt let’s just keep digging. But heaven forbid the stupid people that actually pay the bills have a “hissy fit.

  5. tacitus

    Well I would be right in line with you if it was billions :-)

  6. tacitus: You should know by now that the only science conservatives approve of is the kind that helps you blow people up. Everything else is frivolous.

  7. IVAN3MAN AT LARGE

    Iason Ouabache:

    You should know by now that the only science conservatives approve of is the kind that helps you blow people up.

    That’s very ‘conservative’ of them! ;-)

  8. Michael Kingsford Gray

    The only science that conservative whackos believe in is that which extract taxes from the public, and funnels them toward their elite friends in various ‘defense’ & fossil fuel industries.
    That this then results in useless boondoggles such as ‘missile defense’ systems that are broken from the outset, or even more useless nonsense such as the ISS, they don’t give a tinker’s toss.

  9. AR

    Well, I wouldn’t say “So Everything.” Scientific rationalism, while essential for modern prosperity, is only one of several traits an industrial society must have, the others including property rights and effective capital markets.

    In any case, the examples given are pretty weak. “So 4 billion people can eat,” would have been a good one, especially given the relatively recent death of Norman Borlaug, someone who, thru science, has made it possible for hundreds of millions, if not billions, of people to be alive today who would otherwise have starved or not been born.

    Compared to the greatest works of science, the listed applications make the site feel like a disrespectful parody of science’s contributions to humanity.

  10. Cory

    Lol, just sounds like standard Parliamentary corruption that tilts in favor of science.

    Really, Phil, if an American Senator who owned a car company was using government funding to push a “global warming is a myth!” agenda, including a race using his gas-guzzling vehicles, you would make an outraged post about it, despite the situations being, outside of the topic, identical. You can’t just excuse people for unethical behavior because they also happen to agree with you.

  11. Pieter Kok

    “Compared to the greatest works of science, the listed applications make the site feel like a disrespectful parody of science’s contributions to humanity.”

    Not really. There is a difference between making an academic point and engaging the general public. I think they related science to pressing socio-economic issues pretty well.

  12. As Peter Kok says, they have to appeal to the general public. At least this is the UK. If a program like this were to be started in the US (after the cries of some socialist, atheist propeganda campaign to mind control the children) they would have to use such simple(ton) language that it wouldn’t be recognizable as science. Think “Barney the Dinosaur” level of grammar and intellectual stimulation…

  13. #8 AR, #10 Pieter:
    While AR’s comment may be valid, I agree with Pieter that doing it this way is necessary. The vast majority of younger people today know absolutely nothing about the greatest works of science, and care even less. As evidenced by my recent Apollo-related post, about my intelligent and educated younger friend, who had never heard of Buzz Aldrin or Yuri Gagarin!!!!!!
    Going even further, many of them know absolutely nothing about even the most fundamental, basic scientific facts; consider that recent poll which showed that 19% of people don’t even know that the Earth orbits the Sun!!!!!
    Combine this with today’s idiotic “celebrity culture”, which has led to the belief that it’s actually fashionable, or “cool”, to be thick!
    So the only way that we can hope to get kids ( or most adults, for that matter ) interested in science is to relate it to the things in which they are interested.
    We have an entire generation of kids now, who think there is nothing more to life than TV, mobile phones, iPods and mindless computer games. As stupid as it seems, they actually need to be told that it’s science which makes all those things possible!

  14. #11 Larian:
    I hate to have to say it, but the UK is heading very much the same way.

  15. Nigel Depledge

    Cory (9) said:

    Lol, just sounds like standard Parliamentary corruption that tilts in favor of science.

    Really, Phil, if an American Senator who owned a car company was using government funding to push a “global warming is a myth!” agenda, including a race using his gas-guzzling vehicles, you would make an outraged post about it, despite the situations being, outside of the topic, identical. You can’t just excuse people for unethical behavior because they also happen to agree with you.

    OK, I have a few questions for you:

    In what way is your analogy, of a car-company owner pushing antiscience to protect profits (which you don’t outright state, but is implied by your choice of example), a parallel for the owner of a “green” racing car promoting good science? Where is the profit? The “green” racing car? How does that make a profit?

    How can you define this as “corruption”? Or “unethical”? What’s unethical about promoting humanity’s best understanding of reality?

    Do you define the use of government funds for a minister’s “pet” project (no matter the benefit to the tax-payers) to be unethical? If this is the case, how is it ever possible for government spending to be ethical?

    Personally, I think it’s great that my government is promoting science and technology, as well as sending the message that we need to come up with alternative technologies for energy and transport if we want to maintain our way of life. I guess it helps that thousands of square miles of England are close enough to sea level that they’ll be in real danger from a mere 1 m rise in mean sea level.

  16. Keith (the first one)

    Racing cars are also extremely fuel efficient, something that is often ignored. The problem is most people confuse fuel efficiency with fuel economy. Racing cars use a lot of fuel, but they waste very little of the energy contained within it, because it’s beneficial to race with a smaller fuel load.

  17. Steven Duckworth

    @9 & @14: I don’t think a penny of “government funds” went into his race car. Lord Drayson is a wealthy individual, and started a GT2 Aston Martin race team and moved to P1 at this last race. The “Science: So What?” is Drayson’s pet project rather than the other way around.

    @15: The American Le Mans series is big on the whole “green” thing. They’ve been running cellulosic ethanol (not from food), and at the last race, Dyson Racing was running an unclassified car to demo bio butanol. While they’re not popular here in America, diesels are HUGE in Europe… and both Peugeot and Audi are racing diesel prototypes in the ALMS and at Le Mans. I’m not sure how it works, but they also have a “Michelin GreenX Challenge” to reward the most efficient teams that you might be interested in. http://www.americanlemans.com/index_green.php

  18. Michael

    Americans are criminally and horribly ignorant of science, the scientific method, and the contribution of science to their general well-being. One of the myriad reasons for that is science does not provide for the fame and fortune that seems to be part and parcel of the new American dream. Dancing With The Stars, American Idol, and rambling, ranting blogs and Youtube videos do feed that desire.

    Having said that, I dislike the idea of ‘popularizing by dumbing down’ that seems to be inherent is so many of these attempts at spreading the ideas of science around. Give the kids a challenge, and not some watered-down pablum.

  19. Adam

    Oh I don’t know,…put a rope swing three trees into the woods, and some kids will discover an ecosystem.

  20. mike burkhart

    I think this should hapen in the us!!!oh and I agree with Michael but he forgot this scientist are seen as nerds and most kids want to be jocks even some collages spend more on athletics then science labs and courses its a shame

  21. Stargazer

    Others have already pointed it out, but it’s true; If your government did this, the ignorant morons would hate it for two reasons: 1. It’s science, and 2. It’s funded by the government. And nothing should be funded by the government, except corporate welfare and the military. This would not only be Commie-Nazism, it would also be an affront to God Almighty since it’s about science. And science is evil, since it seeks to describe and explain the universe. And that is far more evil than killing people. Apparently.

  22. mumfie

    It’d be even nicer if they told people about it. If it’s been here for a year, they’ve kept very quiet about it.

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