Thursday, August 11, 2005

Innovation In America: Why Are We Falling Behind?

We are a country that is falling farther and farther behind every year. In science, math, computers, innovation. You name it, we’re falling behind. For most of the 20th Century the United States was regarded as the unequalled leaders in scientific innovation, medical advancement and a place where inventors abounded.

Whether it was Jonas Salk who cured polio, or Wright Brothers who invented the airplane or Henry Ford who invented the assembly line manufacturing facility, ours was a country with the can do spirit about everything it set its collective mind to. As conservative (though recently sounding very moderate) commentator and columnist George Will said on ABCs This Week with George Stephanopolous, our country was founded during the time of enlightenment thinkers. Our nation was designed with the spirit of the enlightenment in mind.

Then why is it that our country has turned so sharply away from the spirit of discovery and progress? Let’s look at some of the issues. Stem Cell research; in 2001 the President changed the federal rules regarding funding research that uses human embryonic stem cells. This was in line with his Christian fundamentalist beliefs on when life begins. It is interesting that as this debate roars on in this country, a debate that is not taking place anywhere else in the world; our scientists are being left in the dust. In Korea last week, scientists cloned an Afghan hound. In this country we can’t even decide if this type of research is ethical.

Now there are few that would deny that a serious ethical debate needs to take place in this country. I firmly support that. Many want to create guidelines for stem cell research so that we don’t start walking down a “slippery slope.” But, as George Will also pointed out, life is lived on slippery slopes. As an example he raised the specter of taxation. Well, taxation could easily become confiscation, Will said, but we are relatively confident that we would be able to put a stop to that. Likewise, I believe that we should be confident that we could put a stop to all forms of inappropriate cloning. It is time to get off the sideline.

It is not only in controversial areas of science that we are falling behind. It is true that American universities are still the most sought after institutions in the world to pursue the study of scientific knowledge, but that is becoming less and less the case. Invariably students are opting to go to Europe, China and other Asian countries. More and more innovation is taking place outside our borders, and even the innovation that occurs in the United States is being undertaken by foreigners.

Most distressing to me is the news that the Kansas board that has been reviewing the “Intelligent Design” issue now stands poised to recommend changing the State’s educational guidelines to include this in the curriculum. I am not going to go into the tenets of intelligent design. If you want to read further you can find Paul Krugman’s August 5th Column in the New York Times. What is distressing is that our solution for our falling behind in innovation and scientific exploration is to educate students INCORRECTLY about science. Intelligent Design, like Creationism before it, is a pseudo-science that has absolutely no place being taught in our schools.

If you need evidence that American science is faltering you need look no further than the areas where only American scientists exists. NASA is a great example. We still explore space in that nearly 30 year old jalopy of a space shuttle when we could easily find new means for getting our astronauts and our supplies into space more quickly and for far less money.

Shame on the state of Kansas for such backwards lunacy! Shame on President George W. Bush!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Very good musings. I hope that many Americans understand what you say, and also agree. No one realizes that many foreign students are learning at our universities, but take their knowledge back to their countries. It is disadvantage that will hurt us down the road.