DISCOVER's Science Policy Project: Phil Plait

By Melissa Lafsky | September 12, 2008 10:58 am

What are the most important things the next U.S. president needs to do for science? To cut through the jargon and find an answer, we bring you the DISCOVER Science Policy Project, in which we give a group of the country’s most celebrated scientists and thinkers the chance to respond to the following question:

What are the three most important things the next president can do to positively impact scientific research in the United States?

In the November issue of DISCOVER, we compile and analyze the results. In the meantime, we will be posting each response in its entirety here on Reality Base. Today’s entry is by celebrated astronomer—and fellow DISCOVER blogger—Phil Plait. Feel free to offer your own ideas and analysis in the comments section. All past responses can be found here.

PHIL PLAIT
Astronomer, author, popular blogger

• Stop standing on its throat.

The current administration has spun, folded, and mutilated science and scientific research since practically day one, letting ideology trump reality. If the next president does nothing but let science do its thing unfettered, then the situation will be dramatically improved.

• Work with Congress on actually funding it.

Seems simple and obvious, doesn’t it? But it’s hardly ever that way to politicians. Look at NASA: mandated to retire the Space Shuttle in 2010, but with no ability to build a new man-rated rocket until—at best—2014. It’s too late to throw money at that problem now, but had it been thought through better just five years ago, things would be a lot better for the space agency. Still, if NASA had better funding now and in the immediate future, the impact on space science would be profound. Instead of having to choose one amazing mission over another, both could fly. Just so’s you know, right now NASA gets much less than 1 percent of the national budget.

Where would this money come from? Well, we’re spending $20 million per hour in Iraq. That’s a good place to start looking.

• Encourage young scientists.

And by young, I mean *young*. Elementary school, middle school, high school. We need to make sure we have enough scientists going into the profession, of course. But I also mean this in a more general sense. Our world is ruled by science right now. Medical science, computer science, military science… If people don’t understand the basics of science, how can they be educated voters? And it’s clear a lot of people don’t make good decisions about science. They don’t vaccinate their children, they turn their backs on well understood and rock solid basics of reality (I’m talking evolution here), and more. An educated populace will be one better fit to make important decisions later in life.

Science is cool, it’s fun, it’s awe-inspiring. With a real pro-science president, a lot more people would be able to understand that.

Comments (45)

  1. CynicalinOregon

    In an system where presidents do not look more than 4 years in their policies, it is difficult to have faith that politicians will support science.

    We need another JFK, we need another “space race”, we need to prove to humanity that if we do not work hard to expand humanity and life to other planets, billions (or thousands if you are a creationist) of years will be wasted should disaster strike.

    While we wait out financial crisis, the next war, the next “lipstick on a pig” smear attacks, and “drill baby drill” slogans, our world is burning up and becoming a wasteland.

    Like an big bird with it’s head stuck in the sand, it is more beneficial to keep the American public scared, clueless, uneducated, and ready to fight any war.

    I worry daily on the fate of the children of America and of the world. Won’t someone please take leadership?

    Does anyone have the money or the power to challenge the status quo?

    Does any politician actually have the guts to show the American public China could be the next Space leader?

    Probably not.

    Please prove me wrong.

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