This morning, I watched with tears in my eyes as the last flight of the space shuttle pierced the clouds above Cape Canaveral. After the joy of watching four human beings rise above the atmosphere carried by little more than a few thousand tonnes of metal, plastic, and ceramic safely and in less time than it takes me to drive to work, I started to look back upon a week that has been, if I may put it bluntly, disastrous for NASA, and for the American space effort.
Christ, this has been a difficult post to write. I’ve had to delete and start over a couple of times, so I apologize if this still isn’t quite the quality I would like it to be. I just finished the truly excellent Mars Trilogy by Kim Stanley Robinson. One of the great joys of reading science fiction is the ideas it puts in my head about society and where it is heading. The idea I’ve been pouring from hemisphere to hemisphere in my brain over the last few weeks is the idea that technology, rather than political/cultural/religious ideology is the primary driver of social change.
In response to the shocking revelation of comments by Canada’s Minister of State for Science and Technology on evolution.
(see here for some great response from the research community)
To the office of the Prime Minister of Canada:
As a student in scientific field, I wish to express the deep concern I felt reading about Minister Goodyear’s comments on a central fact of scientific knowledge – evolution. I was disappointed to learn that the man in charge of scientific development in this country is so deeply ignorant of his domain. The fact is that evolution is a central pillar of many avenues of scientific research today – from biomedical advances which increase our ability of understand and fight diseases, to even seemingly unrelated fields such as my own – artificial intelligence – where concepts of evolution have been adapted into successful computational techniques. Far from being a controversial issue, as some dishonest partisans imply, there is no controversy amongst scientists; Evolution is a fact, and an important one.
Moreover, it is confusing that the Minister would frame the question as a matter of belief in the first place – evolution is the result of overwhelming evidence and consistent data from a wide array of research avenues. To frame the issue as one of personal belief or even as a matter of religious freedom is to miss the point entirely, and suggests a frightening lack of understanding on the Minister’s part.
To have the Minister of Science be so ignorant of a central fact of scientific knowledge is absurd – as absurd as if the Finance Minister did not “believe” in supply-and-demand, or if the Minister of Defense did not “believe” in the existence of Iraq. How can Canada hope to remain relevant and competitive as a location for research if those in charge are so incompetent? As a student looking towards graduate school, such revelations about our country’s leadership make me seriously question whether I wish to continue my studies in Canada, or go elsewhere.
I sincerely hope that further clarifications will be made on the Minister’s stance on this issue and that, if it his found that he is as ignorant as his previous comments suggest, a more suitable replacement will be found.
Beyond the comments on evolution, I am further concerned that the minister hinted at an approach the research focusing on commercial applications. Such a focus on research that will sell will harm the research community in Canada; pure research is important and valuable, and it should not be the domain of the government to decide which avenues are likely to be the most profitable.
Normally I work Saturday mornings (thanks for the help Adriano), but today I had something much more important to do: protest bill C-61 at Jim Prentice’s Stampede Breakfast. I had some good conversations with passer-bys (especially those who didn’t already agree with us), had some delicious pancakes, and was witness to some of the most hilariously excellent alley-positioning ever: Continue reading