I just came across a wise piece at Huffington Post about modern Sputnik analogies that substitute China for the Soviet Union:
The 1957 Sputnik launching kick-started American progress in education and technology, but it also deepened an enmity between the world’s two super powers. Today’s Sputnik moment epidemic can serve to redouble our efforts in the teaching of math and science (though I’d hope not at the expense of history, literature, art, music, and the classics) and in the pursuit of new sources of energy. But let it not make China our 21st-century Russia. Let us not fall into the simple mindset that we’re playing a zero-sum game, where there is a clear winner and a clear loser.
Fair enough. I support the sentiment fully.
To me, though, just as troubling as the Sputnik analogy is the Sputnik dis-analogy. When it comes to investing in education and innovation, we aren’t responding to the current competitiveness challenge in anything like the way we responded in 1957.
As we explained in Unscientific America, following the Soviet launch of Sputnik this country poured a massive investment into scientific research, science education, space exploration, and much else. And that set the U.S. on course to dominate the world in science for the next half century.
Right now, by contrast, partisanship and ideology are preventing us from doing the same when it comes to clean energy innovation. We’re holding back our domestic clean energy industry because we can’t agree to put a price on carbon–and we’re doing that because we can’t even agree that global warming is our collective fault. Meanwhile, solar heads to China, and no wonder–that nation is now investing massively more than we do in renewable energy.
To me the real question is this: Can partisanship and ideology become so powerful that they prevent the ability to respond to a Sputnik moment? Unfortunately, the evidence suggests that they can.