I’m addicted to the internet. I read news obsessively. I check the same websites multiple times each day, looking for the latest news and information. That includes basic news sites, but it also includes various science websites, such as ScienceDaily, Phys.org, or some of the big journal sites such as Science or Nature. I’m always fascinated to read about the latest discovery, the latest experiment, the latest medical trial, or other science-related information.
Evidently not everybody gets so jazzed about science and discovery. One site I check quite a bit is TheVerge, a site focused primarily on technology. They also have interesting science stories from time to time, and I recently read this article entitled “No Thanks to the New Science Thing“. The author clearly isn’t a scientist…that’s fine…but I do find the article, and the lack of interest in science, to be a bit distressing. It’s a microcosm of what seems to be happening to a broad swath of Americans, where science, where discovery and awe, are no longer an important part of what makes us Americans.
I “get” some of the sentiment in the story. The author, Elizabeth Lopatto, focuses on a few science-related stories, beginning with a story of the discovery of “Zealandia”. Zealandia is a 5-million square kilometer area in the south Pacific that includes New Zealand and New Caledonia, but the rest of the region sits under the Pacific Ocean. Because of the geological characteristics of the area, it rightfully could be called a continent. As the scientists state, “If you could pull the plug on the world’s oceans, then Zealandia would probably long ago have been recognized as a continent.”
The author of TheVerge story is having none of it. To her, the discovery of Zealandia would only potentially be of interest to geologists. To her, because the new potential continent only is about 1/10th land, it’s NOT a continent, and the story of its discovery isn’t very exciting. She goes on to mention other discoveries that don’t meet her standards for “scientific discovery”, specifically, the “downgrading” of Pluto from planet status, or the discovery that mesentery is truly a “new” human organ. To the author, each of these stories are minor discoveries, not worthy of awe, not worthy of the general public’s attention. To her, they are stories manufactured by the scientists themselves, and aren’t major standalone news stories.
What happened to the America that was caught up in discovery, in scientific achievement, in the simple AWE that comes with new knowledge? The space race that captured the imagination of the world, the awe and wonder of watching Jacques Cousteau’s adventures (something I LOVED as a kid!), the excitement over the first Space Shuttle launches? What’s happened in the years since? In a world where the combined knowledge of the entire world is just a keystroke away, have we become so completely numb to scientific achievement that we can’t appreciate discovery for the sake of discovery?
The existence of the mesentery, tissue in the intestinal area, has been known for centuries. However, it wasn’t considered an organ by definition, until recent research on the tissue. I personally find it fascinating that there are still things we don’t know about the human body. I find it fascinating we can find a whole new continent under the seas, in the year 2017. This author evidently doesn’t feel the same way, nor evidently do many Americans, given the anti-science mood from many of those on the right.
So here I sit on an uncharacteristically warm South Dakota winter’s evening, sitting at a desktop computer that’s a technological marvel, periodically checking my even more incredible tiny-computer-in-a-box in my iPhone, the warm glow of a LED lightbulb in the lamp by my computer, blogging about people who evidently have no appreciation for the marvels around them. For me…PLEASE, scientists…tell me about the mesentery! PLEASE…tell me about a new underwater continent that’s been found! PLEASE…tell me the reasons why you don’t think Pluto qualifies as a planet. I find it all quite fascinating.
And am also a little sad to see so little appreciation for science by so many of my fellow Americans.