Anti-Science Threatens America’s Innovation
The biggest threat facing the future of America today is not the economy. It may be going through a bad spot. But it has done so in the past and will do so again in the future. It is not the growing divide between the rich and the poor. It is not the socialist president. As anyone who has ever experienced socialism knows, the current administration is far from that (indeed, by European standards, President Obama’s policies would put him in a conservative party). No. By far the biggest threat facing America’s future is the anti-science movement which is growing rapidly.
The anti-science movement is an unstructured but growing population of people who fail to understand the scientific method and, because they do not like a particular concept, choose to refute it. They are swayed by the beliefs of less than knowledgeable celebrities yet refuse to believe scientists who have spent years formally researching the concept.
Examples include creationists who claim that evolution is not true, conservative politicians who deny climate change and a growing body of people who believe vaccinations cause autism. Incidentally, I am not going to argue any of these points here. You can find far more intelligent arguments in any reputable science journal or web site. And if you are part of the anti-science population, you are doubtless getting ticked off with me as you read this! So there is no point in trying to change your mind.
If the anti-science movement simply wanted to believe their nonsense, it would be bad enough. But many are going out of their way to have their misinformed nonsense placed in school curricula, forcing entire states (the educational curricula in America is largely decided at the state level) to equip children with false knowledge and an utter lack of understanding of the scientific method.
What’s the Danger?
You may well wonder what is the danger of this. Surely, there are more pressing concerns in the United States today than people who “do not believe in” science. The danger is that they could destroy America’s economy in a way that is far bigger and more permanent than the collapse of the housing market, Lehman Brothers and the US financial industry in 2007-2008.
For more than a century, America has arguably been the most innovative economy in the world. From about the time that Thomas Alva Edison invented not only the light bulb until today, America has unleashed a wealth of new technologies and has commercialised them into profitable businesses.
Many of the world’s leading Universities for scientific study, research and learning are based in America: Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Stanford University, Harvard and University of California at Berkeley are but four of the top.
Silicone Valley in California is a region that has become the envy of the world for its ability to create new businesses to market new technologies.
Technology Comes from Scientific Research and Discovery
And that’s the problem, you see. All this wonderful technology that has made America wealthy and powerful; all this technology that has made our lives easier and richer; all of this medical research that ensures more people live longer and healthier, is all the direct or indirect result of scientific research, much of it originating at US universities.
Now, if the close-minded (who, ironically use the result of technology: the Internet, computers and their iPhones to communicate their disbeliefs) have their way and remove scientific theory and the scientific approach from school text books and ensure that science teachers preach politicians’ beliefs rather than teach the scientific method, America will create a generation of people who do not understand science. America will make itself a dearth of scientists and researchers.
And when that happens, there will be many other countries ready and willing to take America’s lead as the world’s most innovative economy. India and China, in particular, would be happy to do so. They are already establishing world-class universities and filling them with professors, many of whom learned in America’s best institutions
Long Term Implications
If science continues to be systematically removed the American learning experience, it will be disastrous for the economy. Over the long term, we could see cutting edge research occurring in Europe, China and India. We could see China and India becoming global leaders in commercialising new technologies. And America? Well, it will presumably have a large population of hard working, if poorly educated, workers in a post-developed economy. Doubtless, India and China would find it economically advantageous to off-shore labour intensive drudgery work to sweatshops in the United States.
It will never happen, you say? Well, I expect the ancient Egyptians, Greeks and Romans felt the same way about their innovative and once globally powerful states.
Note: unless indicated otherwise in the bi-line above, this is an original article by Jeffrey Baumgartner which was first published here.
The Way of the Innovation Master, my book on implementing an innovation process in an organisation like yours.
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Erps-Kwerps (near Leuven & Brussels) Belgium