Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Science and Other Stuff

Agnostic Mom has been putting out a call for greater support of the sciences. Gregg100 laid out a great challenge to her and others detailing what he believes it will take. The task is formidable. Gregg also sets out a rather daunting scenario as regards the difficult future anyone looking to engineering or other sciences is likely to face. It can be a hard and uncertain road. I certainly don't dispute his assertions.

However, I think it should be said that it's tough all over. The only areas of study which seem to pretty much always promise a bright future are business management and marketing. MBAs seem to generally write their own ticket. Otherwise, finding good and steady work is generally difficult for about everyone. It's even tough for graduating doctors, dentists and attorneys.

I have a nephew who has a PhD in English Literature. Over the last 3 years or so he has sent out several hundred resumes in response to available teaching positions at colleges and universities all over the country. He has taken dozens of interviews. He can't get arrested. He is hardly alone.

Things do change. Who knows, maybe someday there will be an administration more friendly to the sciences. Perhaps there will be a shift in attitudes. Maybe astronomers will detect an asteroid on a collision course with earth, and there will be a call for scientists of all kinds to figure out how to save our bacon.

Maybe not.

As I note above, business seems to be the only area which consistently offers a rosy future. Of course, business at any level is competitive, even cut throat. But it is consumerism that rules the roost in this country and much of the west. A few months ago I was perusing a rack of novelties at a truck stop on the way to Chicago. Prominently displayed at the top of the rack were several packages of plastic vomit. Yeah, plastic vomit! A closer look at the brightly printed package revealed to me that it wasn't just plastic vomit. It was "New and Improved" plastic vomit. New and improved? Who improved it? How? Why? How good does plastic vomit have to be?

I immediately conjured an image of a group of r&d people spending months, perhaps years, of their professional lives researching how to improve plastic vomit. Imagine all their efforts. All the mis-steps, the disappointments, the blind alleys, the taking one step forward, only to wind up taking two steps back. Then, that eureka! moment. Perhaps, just as the young chemist is settling in for a long winter's nap, it comes to him in a flash. By jove, he's got it!!! He rips the covers off, and barely dressed, his shirt mis-buttoned, his pocket protector askew, he speeds off to his workplace in his '79 Plymouth Volare, excitedly calling his colleagues beseeching them to drop everything and make haste to the lab while repeatedly pushing his bottle lensed glasses back up the bridge of his nose. After they mull over hundreds of complicated mathematical equations and various chemical formulae, they mix the proper polywhatevers, and voila! THE PLASTIC VOMIT FOR THE 21ST CENTURY. Oh, the glory!!!

I often wonder how good many products we use have to be? Razors? Toothbrushes? Detergents? How much time, effort and money are going into continually improving these and other products? How many talented and well educated design engineers, chemists, geneticists, even physicists are involved? What more useful things could they be doing with their time, education and talents? Do we really need improved razors or toothbrushes or detergents? Or plastic vomit?


PS - To Agnostic Mom - You Arizonans got our splendid running back. The Edge is now a Cardinal. A Cardinal for crying out loud! Oh, Edgerrin, we hardly new ye! And Peyton? Watch your back!


jazzycat said...

Your asteroid comment reminds me that I was watching a science channel a while back and there is a huge asteroid that is supposedly on a collision course with earth for the year 2820 or thereabouts. It is probably going to cause some serious global cooling.

BTW have you and Agnostic Mom ever considered how much scientific progress has come from the U.S. because of our system of government which can be traced to Protestant Christianity. Not only has our free enterprise economic system brought scientific development, but the commitment to education, from the Christian founders of this country, has been monumental. As you know the oldest colleges and universities in this country has Christian roots.

Since I have an engineering degree, (uh, I mean my servant W.H.) and am interested in science this is something else we agree on. Did you check out my hiking photos?

Jazzy Cat

noell said...

Terry, I am sorry we stole your man. As I am not a follower of sports (unless it's my son's team), I would gladly hand him right back over to you. It seems our teams aren't that great out here, isn't that right? I can't figure out why he'd join the Cardinals?!

Jazzy Cat, the great Benjamin Franklin, who was a die-hard believer of education, was not a Christian, but a Deist. As was Thomas Jefferson. There is also much evidence that, while publicly encouraging religion, in his private life, George Washington was a Deist as well.

What makes it confusing is that while they didn't feel they themselves needed religion, nor that Christianity was completely true, they did think the average person was weak and would make more moral choices if they had religious fear and beliefs to guide them. For this reason they encouraged religion.

While a majority of the U.S. is Christian, I do not see that it was Christianity that promoted free enterprise, the commitment to education, nor scientific progress. It was instead, inspired by the not-so religious thinkers of the Enlightenment.

Either way, I am glad to see religious folks who embrace science. What is your take, Jazzy Cat, on Evolution and the teaching of ID in Biology classes?

jazzycat said...

Noell and Terry,
I hope you do not mind my answering Noell on your blog. I was also agnostic for the first 50 years of my life so I think I can identify somewhat with ya’ll. I am not really that much into the evolution debate. I think evolution theory takes some huge leaps of imagination like the time on ETV I saw a group of scientists take one tiny little bone and extrapolate a dinosaur out of it. I don't mean to deny dinosaurs existed, but that did make me a little suspicious of the leaps they take from their data. I have no problem teaching evolution in classrooms as a theory and I certainly don’t see a problem with mentioning the possibility of a supreme being involved in creation or I.D. I think micro-evolution has been proven, but I do not believe macro-evolution has been proven. Please read my Feb. 25 Jazzy Cat post for more including the political implications of the evolution debate. The following is from that post: (I find it hard to believe that a very complicated organ that is necessary for an animal to live has to evolve for millions of years to become functional. What would make a fantastically designed organ keep evolving to that perfection while it was worthless. Can you imagine an airplane flying while it is evolving wings?")

I think the more important question for atheists to ponder is: “why is their something rather than nothing.” The same Feb. 25 Jazzy Cat gives the reasons that logic points to a supreme being as the answer.

I think the foundation of this country by Protestant Christians is a documented fact.

Jazzy Cat

Terry S said...

First to Noell,

Money. That's why The Edge is now in Arizona. The Cardinals needed a running back, and they had the most money to spend on one. Voila!


I must agree with Noell. Virtually everyone who set foot on the shores of North America prior to the Revolution was a protestant christian. There may have been a few catholics, fewer jews. But the overwhelming majority were protestants. Athiests? Forget about it! Who else was there to build a country?

I don't believe that the development of free enterprise and democracy can be laid at the feet of the church.

It is true that the first colleges were sponsored by the church. They evolved from the seminaries that developed during the dark ages. The sole purpose of early seminaries was to envelop their charges with the teachings of the church. It was only at the beginning of the renaissance and the concomittant expansion of the world, and, of course, commerce; the beginning of the middle or merchant class, which put pressure on some of these seminaries to begin looking outward, and to offer secular studies. Actually, there is a certain irony in that, if you think about it.