By now, you’re probably aware of the Rightful Place Project, which is collecting text, images, audio, and video from scientists, engineers, and others involved in conversations about science in response to the question, What is science’s rightful place?
I’m still thinking about my own response to this question. To help me think, I consulted with the Free-Ride offspring, and we recorded the audio of our conversation. If you don’t feel like downloading the MP3, the transcript of our conversation is below.
Dr. Free-Ride: So, you remember in January when President Obama was inaugurated?
Younger offspring: Yeah?
Dr. Free-Ride: He made a speech — I don’t know if you guys talked about his speech at all in school –
Younger offspring: But we watched it.
Dr. Free-Ride: You watched the whole …? Well, you watched him get sworn in. I don’t know if you watched the whole speech, did you?
Younger offspring: We didn’t watch the speech, but we watched him get sworn in.
Dr. Free-Ride: OK, but I want to talk about something he said in the speech. He said one of the things he wants to do, now that he’s president, is to return science to its rightful place in this country.
Younger offspring: Where is that?
Dr. Free-Ride: I was going to ask you what you thought about where science’s rightful place is, or what it means to return science to its rightful place.
Younger offspring: I think I know where science’s rightful place is.
Dr. Free-Ride: Tell me.
Younger offspring: Everywhere!
Dr. Free-Ride: Everywhere? That’s – that’s actually a pretty good answer. So what do you mean that science is everywhere, or that it ought to be everywhere?
Younger offspring: Well, I mean everyone has a right to do … to be a scientist if they want to.
Dr. Free-Ride: That’s true. Also, do people who aren’t scientists have a right to think about science and to understand it and have fun with it?
Younger offspring: Uh huh!
Dr. Free-Ride: Like even if they’re not grown-ups?
Younger offspring: Yeah!
Dr. Free-Ride: Like even if they’re kids?
Younger offspring: YES!
Dr. Free-Ride: OK, so you think the rightful place of science is everywhere.
Younger offspring: Uh huh.
Dr. Free-Ride: That’s very cool. So how do we put science back in its rightful place, then?
Younger offspring: Well, you should change the rights. If George W. Bush had science only in America, nowhere else can have science, then Barack Obama could change it ’cause he’s president now.
Dr. Free-Ride: Oh, OK. Well, you know, he sort of also has to work with the Congress and the Supreme Court and stuff. He’s not a king.
Younger offspring: Oh, he’s not like the King of England.
Dr. Free-Ride: That’s right. We fought a war to sort of get a government that worked a little bit more complicated but in a way that we thought actually protected people’s rights and also helped people have the government they wanted, even if people change their minds about things. So, OK — so as long as everyone who wants science can have science, that’s good enough for you?
Younger offspring: Uh huh.
Dr. Free-Ride: That’s a pretty good answer. Thank you very much.
* * * * *
Dr. Free-Ride: So I asked your younger sibling and now I wanted to ask you. You remember — I know you saw the inauguration on TV at school, right?
Elder offspring: Right.
Dr. Free-Ride: Did you guys also see the inauguration speech? At all? Do you remember?
Elder offspring: [mumbles]
Dr. Free-Ride: What?
Elder offspring: Yeah, I think I did.
Dr. Free-Ride: Do you remember the part where President Obama said that one of the things he wants to accomplish as president is to return science to its rightful place in this country?
Elder offspring: Mmm-hmm.
Dr. Free-Ride: I wanted to ask what, in your view, the rightful place of science is in this country.
Elder offspring: Ummm. Well. [Long pause accompanied by deeply furrowed brow.] Without science, there probably never would have been math, or the economy —
Dr. Free-Ride: Ah!
Elder offspring: Or even zero.
Dr. Free-Ride: Well, OK, so math and science are related, and … yeah. So … and the economy is related to math and related to science. So … so, what does that mean in terms of returning science to its rightful place?
Elder offspring: If you get rid of science, you’re just getting rid of all the things that you can use to communicate and that are probably important.
Dr. Free-Ride: Huh. Can you give me an example?
Elder offspring: Like … if you give up science, you would be giving up math and reading, so then you wouldn’t know how much to water your tomatoes.
Dr. Free-Ride: Hmmm.
Elder offspring: Then, the tomatoes might come out bad, and then you wouldn’t have any tomatoes.
Dr. Free-Ride: Well, OK — and I like tomatoes as much as the next person. We might — there might still be stuff to read about without science. Goodness knows that enough words were generated in the last eight years in this country, even without science in its rightful place. So I guess — I guess I’m asking, if you were president and you were trying to put science back in its rightful place, where would that be?
Elder offspring: I’d say …
Dr. Free-Ride: Like, what role should science play in our public life in America?
Elder offspring: I think science should be an everyday study. Science of all kinds — life science, computer science, …
Dr. Free-Ride: Uh huh. Physical science?
Elder offspring: Yeah. Even wallpaper science.
Dr. Free-Ride: Even what? Wallpaper science?
Elder offspring: Yeah.
Dr. Free-Ride: I don’t even know what that means.
Elder offspring: I just made that up.
Dr. Free-Ride: OK, but — so you’re arguing for science sort of wherever it could be useful?
Elder offspring: Mmm-hmm.
Dr. Free-Ride: OK. Is there any part of our public life in America where you think science doesn’t belong?
Elder offspring: [Long pause] That’s a hard one.