Ringing in the Year of Science

My latest Science Progress column is about the "2009 Year of Science" efforts underway--centered in significant part on the twin Darwin anniversaries and the 400th anniversary of Galileo's invention of the telescope. I juxtapose these events with the likely role of science in Washington over the next year, and worry about culture war divisiveness as the anniversaries bring up the bad old science-religion battle. To wit:

It's totally Bush era to argue endlessly over how science clashes with religion; and it's absolutely critical to use science to get us out of the energy and climate mess we're in.

My answer: Don't refrain from celebrating Darwin and Galileo, but focus on the importance of science to policy today, and add another anniversary--a fifty-year one--to the mix:

On May 7, 1959, a British scientist and novelist named C.P. Snow delivered a now-famous lecture entitled "The Two Cultures and the Scientific Revolution." Snow wasn't nearly as important a researcher as Darwin or Galileo--in fact, his early scientific career involved a publishing-related scandal that may have helped push him on to literature--but his delineation of the broad disconnect between the scientific and humanistic ways of thinking has resonated powerfully across the last half century, and describes a problem that's very much still with us.

The COPUS "Year of Science" advocates want to communicate about science--they want to bring science to the rest of America, seizing upon this year's auspicious timing to do it. It's a noble goal, but Darwin and Galileo alone don't necessarily get you there. You need a lot of Obama--and more than a little bit of Snow--as well.

You can read the full column here.


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Excuse me, Galileo did not invent the telescope.

It's nice of you to invoke Snow. His discourse was important indeed and it rings as true now as it did then. Even today many intelligent people who have a good appreciation of the arts know little about any scientific details.

And SLC is right. although Galileo did make advances in telescopy. From our Wiki article:

"The earliest evidence of working telescopes were the refracting telescopes that appeared in the Netherlands in 1608. Their development is credited to three individuals: Hans Lippershey and Zacharias Janssen, who were spectacle makers in Middelburg, and Jacob Metius of Alkmaar. Galileo greatly improved upon these designs the following year. Niccolò Zucchi is credited with constructing the first reflecting telescope in 1616. In 1668, Isaac Newton designed an improved reflecting telescope that bears his name, the Newtonian reflector."