The video above was taken in 2012 and features the scientist Neil deGrasse Tyson speaking to the a Senate committee on the funding of NASA. While this site is mostly devoted to entertainment-related subjects, it’s worth noting the very real issues that face our world in terms of scientific illiteracy and the need to continually push the boundaries of knowledge.
In this particular video, two points become relevant to both Americans and nations in general. The first point is that America’s heritage and birthright is discovery on a level that can only be fulfilled by scientific inquiry. He notes that America’s arrival to the moon occurred in a time of great turmoil (the cold war, fears of nuclear annihilation and so forth). Despite this, a huge investment was made in advancing NASA’s interests in science in technology, leading to a long-gone national optimism due to the sense of ever-approaching landmark achievement. It also made great strides in the form of economic growth and international respect as the rest of the world stood in awe of what Americans were able to achieve. These great strides and the respect they earned reinforced American optimism, continuing the cycle until about the 1980s when American began to coast on prior achievements. Then the other nations began catching up in terms of scientific infrastructure and achievement and America’s GDP began to suffer, to speak nothing of the general dissatisfaction among its citizens today..
The second point that Mr. Tyson makes is the economic benefit of funding NASA. Funding space exploration requires manpower, which in turn requires hiring. Further, by being funded more thoroughly, NASA can continue to push the boundaries of science making America the go-to destination for the brightest minds. This in turn yields scientific discoveries which in turn are used for the public benefit, from lasers to microwave ovens to the very pavement we walk on. This in turn means products, services and ultimately profit that can raise the quality of life for everyone.
It’s a somewhat sad and cynical move that Mr. Tyson must make to tie the development of science with the development of capitalism. He makes the valid point, however, that framing the argument in any other way means failure. Talking about the thrill of discovery does nothing for the man in the soup queue, while talking about economic development does a great deal. He mentions in another video thathe came to this realizing while talking with Republicans and realizing that their biggest fear is to die poor. Unfortunately, he seems not to have encountered any of the Tea Party Republicans whose “win at all costs” mentality means engaging in behavior that is detrimental to themselves if it means victory.
It’s hard to say where things will go. The thrill and adventure of science is in the charting of undiscovered countries, but not many seem to feel it is relevant to their lives any more. With the rise of anti-science pundits, Neil deGrasse Tyson’s plea for more funding may be too little too late. Of course, you can’t have an adventure without a bit of challenge to go with it, can you?