Sunday, November 05, 2006

I Vote for Science!

The 2006 US elections are just about here, and gizmo looks almost as stressed over it as I am. Maybe we should both cut back on the coffee for a bit.

"I vote for justice!" is the battle cry of SuffraJet, a rocket propelled, equal voting rights advocate and member of the Decency Squad, from the too-short-lived cartoon The Tick. I assume everyone who goes to the polls this Tuesday is voting for justice, at least their own interpretation of it. We could argue all day over how to vote for justice, so my battle cry is "I vote for science!"

I had hoped that the newly established, nonprofit Scientists and Engineers for America (geez, don't you hate those vague "up with goodness" organization titles that seem mandatory these days) could help me by compiling information about candidate positions on science issues. But as you can see for yourself, their page listing key races is blank. So I had to figure it out all on my own.

I'm nonpartisan and registered independent, but it's pretty clear this year when you look at important science issues that a vote for science is likely to be a vote for a Democrat. In Maryland, where I live, Michael Steele(Republican) is only in support of stem cell research that doesn't destroy an embryo, while Ben Cardin(Democrat) supports stem cell research in general.

OK, it's only one issue, and the positions of the candidates are nuanced enough that voting for science in this case is not so clear. But if you look at the record of the Republican congress and administration over the past six years, a vote for the GOP is a vote against rational science. The best way I see to change course is to change congress. Although I like Steele for lots of reasons, I'm voting against him to get his party out of power. I hope the Democrats can do a better job on science in the US.

In case you're wondering which issues matter the most to me, here's a partial list.

Space-based science: We are spending WAY too much money sending humans to space as part of the administration's agenda to put people on Mars. Robotic probes do a fine job exploring space for a hundreth the cost of risking humans. The International Space Station in particular is a waste of hundreds of billions of dollars with no sign of ever giving us interesting or valuable data. Let's cancel the trip to Mars and keep sending probes into space instead.

Stem cell research: I'm for it, with as few restrictions as possible. I'm an athiest, so I'm not distracted by questions of embryo souls and such superstition. When you rely on rational thought rather than primitive mythology, it's easy to support stem cell research.

Intelligent Design: The president expressed his support of teaching "both sides" of the debate over evolution. The fact is, there is hardly another side to the debate - there's the scientifically accepted theory of natural selection, and there's (barely) a handful of intelligent design supporters who are really out to teach religion in science class. I'm pretty sure someone just caught the president off guard with the question about teaching the alternatives. But the Republican party seems more inclined than the Democrats to support the psuedoscience of creationism and intelligent design.

Education: Rewarding the best performers and punishing the under-achievers is a great way to operate a free market, but an awful and irresponsible and short-sighted way to raise our children. No Child Left Behind leaves all sorts of kids behind, if they happen to live in lower tier school districts that will lose ground every year with this policy.

I am also concerned with our current energy, environmental conservation, higher education funding, and other policies that have gone awry in the past six years.

The bottom line - I'm voting for justice (i.e. science and Democrats) this year.


  1. Hi Buzz. My name's Tim, and I'm a masters student in semiconductor microelectronics. I'd like to disagree with the way you characterization that the "vote for science" is the vote to support destruction of embryos for stem cell research.

    You said that you're an atheist, so you're "not distracted by questions of embryo souls". That's rather obviously not the issue. If we were discussing euthanizing unwilling elderly, disabled, or infants to gain developed human bodies for research, you wouldn't defend the practice by saying that you're an atheist, so you're "not distracted by questions of souls". You would still believe it's wrong, without reference to "souls". So it seems disingenuous for you to use that rationale in this case.

    Whether or not it is ethical to destroy embryos for research is is not a scientific question--it's, well, an ethical question. It is not determined by the amount of promise in embryonic stem cell research (ESCR), or by our desire to perform that research. It should be informed by the entire body of scientific knowledge concerning what an embryo is and how it relates to developed human beings, and you can argue that it makes no sense to regard embryos as deserving the protection afforded people. You can argue that on the basis of the number of cells, or the lack of nervous system, or the ability to split into twins, or whatever other scientific details you think indicate the relevant ethical distinction. I don't doubt you have thought about some of those arguments. Just be careful not to suggest that the basis of your opinion has anything to do with embryos not having souls; you don't believe anyone has a soul, but you would still see ethical problems with killing me to get my body for research. The best way to ensure fruitful public debate is to be clear about the actual arguments.

    I consider myself a generally conservative Christian. That fact does not determine my views on ESCR. This is not because I'm setting anything aside; I firmly believe in basing all my views on rational thought, whether those views lie in religious, political, or scientific spheres. I don't have a strong opinion on ESCR, because I don't have a solid enough grasp of the factual and analytical issues involved. I may one day decide to support it, and that embryos are not "persons" in a meaningful sense. If I do, however, I will not have the damnable arrogance to suggest that it's "the" scientific position, or that anyone who thinks rationally must agree with me.

  2. Hi Tim,

    Thanks for the note.

    I don't equate stem cell research with euthanizing the elderly etc. In fact, stem cell research will likely improve and extend the lives of all the people you mention.

    Stem cells, on the other hand, are undifferentiated cells that are not even organs, much less human. A stem cell inserted into another human becomes part of that human. It's not murder, it's medicine.

    Stem cell issues are both ethical and scientific. Science strongly suggests that stem cells can help treat disease, and extend and improve life. Ethically, we are obligated to pursue those things.

    In the absence of religious objections to stem cell research, I can't see any argument that justifies valuing an undifferetiated cell over a human being.


  3. Do physicists understand physics?

    All the sources of physics are created on abstract ideas:
    inertial motion, inertial reference system, ideal gas,
    absolute black body,
    negative four-dimensional ( Minkowski) space,
    "a method of renormalization", etc.
    G. Galileo has shown that natural motion is 'inertial'
    but nobody knows what is ' inertial motion'.
    G. Maxwell aspired to explain electromagnetic processes from
    mechanical point of view, using cogwheels and wheels.
    L, Boltzmann admired the equations of Maxwell and he tried
    to improve Maxwell’s mechanical model.
    H. Hertz practically discovered electromagnetic waves
    but he has declared in writing that the electromagnetic
    waves have no practical importance.
    Later, he wrote about the equation of Maxwell:
    "...that they are wiser than we ourselves,
    even wiser than their first-discovers..."
    "We did more than have understood".
    M. Planck almost for 20 years searched arguments
    against his theory of the light quanta.
    "The more successes the quantum physics gains,
    the more senseless it looks".
    Everything is getting along, but the deep grounds remain unclear".
    / Sommerfeld /
    "I think I can safely say that no one understands quantum mechanics".
    What the fine structure constant 'a' means nobody knows
    and on Feynman’s expression this quantity is
    'by the god given damnation to all physicists'.
    Robert Milliken told, that he knew nothing
    about "last essence of electron".
    This remains unknown also today.
    How do the physicists want to solve these problems?
    They try to create new theories.
    But if the base of the first floor (classic)
    and second floor (quantum) of physics is abstract
    what can we expect from the new theories?
    They try to find the first, initial particle.

    In 1906, Rutherford studied internal structure of atoms,
    bombarding them with high energy a- particles.
    This idea helped him to understand the structure of atom.
    But the clever Devil interfered and gave advice to physicists:
    ' Bomb them stronger'.
    And physicists created huge cannon-accelerators of particles.
    And they began to bomb micro particles in the vacuum,
    in hoping to understand their inner structure.
    And they were surprised with the results of this bombing.
    Several hundreds of completely new strange particles appeared.
    They lived for a very little time and do not relate to our world.
    Our Earth needs another constants of nature.
    But physicists are proud of their work. They say:
    we study the inner structure of the particles.
    The clever and artful Devil is glad. He again has deceived man.
    Physicists think, that an accelerator is first of all
    the presence of huge energy. And the Devil laughs.
    He knows that an accelerator is first of all the Vacuum.
    But this, he has withheld from man.
    He has not explained that the Vacuum is infinite and inexhaustible.
    And in infinity an infinite variety of particles is contained .
    And by bombing the vacuum, one can find centaurs and sphinxes.
    But my God, save us from their presence on Earth.
    E. Rutherford was right.
    His followers are mistaken.
    Imagine, that I want to plant a small apple- tree.
    For this purpose I will dig out a hole of 1 meter width
    and 1,20 m depth. It is normal.
    But if to plant a small apple- tree, I will begin to dig
    a base for a huge building (skyscraper),
    or if to begin to drill ground with 10 km. depth,
    will you call me a normal man?
    Imagine a man who breaks watches on a wall.
    And then he tries to understand their mechanisms by
    collecting the cogwheels, springs and small screws,
    that have been scattered everywhere.
    What are his chances of a successful reconstruction?
    As many chances as there are scientists who aspire to understand the
    inner structure of electrons by smashing them in accelerators, perhaps?
    If, by not taking into account the initial conditions of Genesis,
    the fantasies of the scientists may well be unlimited.
    Great physicists didn’t ashamed admit that they
    couldn’t understand the base of physics.
    The 'small' physicists understand the physics on 100%.
    The 'small' physicists teach physics as dogmatically
    as the priests teach theology.
    There are a few men who understand that we already
    live in Orwell’s '1984' world.
    ========= =====.
    Best wishes.