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What effect will NASA cutbacks have on public perceptions of science and religion?

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In a story filed – ominously – under U.S. Science and Austerity, Yudhijit Bhattacharjee asks “Will Tight Budgets Sink NASA Flagships?” (Science, November 11, 2011):

The 2012 budget request for NASA paints a far less rosy picture of the next 5 years than did the president’s previous budget, and the outcome for 2013 is expected to be even worse once Congress completes its work. NASA’s situation is aggravated by the rising cost of the James Webb Space Telescope. One casualty may be the $1.5 billion Wide-Field Infrared Survey Telescope. The future is not bright for planetary scientists, either. (You have to pay to read the article, at present.)

We’ve been seeing a decided drift toward crackpot cosmologies in recent decades, and – despite disappointing crackpot results from the Large Hadron Collider – we’re not sure if anything will change.

To understand, you had to be alive in the 1960s, when exploring the universe meant going somewhere and doing something, not sitting around wondering if we live in a giant hologram.

The latter fits in with the new perception we noted earlier: “Science” now means “Maybe we live in a giant hologram.” “Religion” means “It turns out that even water is fine-tuned for life.” Good thing the ID community is said to be firmly on the side of “religion.”

Turned out “religion” ended up in charge of facts, if facts matter.

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3 Replies to “What effect will NASA cutbacks have on public perceptions of science and religion?

  1. 1
    ScottAndrews2 says:

    I know all sorts of great stuff comes from the space race, and I am especially fond of satellites.

    Their mission statement is noble but vague: “To reach for new heights and reveal the unknown so that what we do and learn will benefit all humankind.”

    The old sci-fi cliche is that we deplete and pollute the earth but are saved because we are able to colonize new planets. I wonder if people actually take that seriously. Have we given up on putting the brakes on pollution and sucking up every ounce of natural resources, and are we really kidding ourselves that a few hundred plucky families are going to touch down on a planet that looks suspiciously like Yellowstone Park? Are they going to take my great grandchildren?

    Or are we afraid that the Chinese will make contact with E.T. first, get all the cool toys, and occupy our seat at the Federation table between the Vulcans and the guys with the blue antennae?

    Part of me says that all exploration is good, and you don’t know what you’ll find until you get there. The other part is ticked that FedEx planes reach every corner of the earth to deliver god knows what crap while people are watching their children starve. I know the two have nothing to do with each other, but it just seems wrong, especially when one problem is so immediate and defined while the other is vague and open-ended.

  2. 2
    News says:

    Many of us miss the space odysseys because they focused attention on real exploration. About starving people, yes, and the scandal is that almost all modern famines are political. That is, the barriers to getting food to people are principally other people, not natural barriers.

  3. 3
    ScottAndrews2 says:

    I know. They give the food to their armies, try to make a profit and get rich, etc. How to feed everyone is not technically a problem, or rather not a technical problem.

    But it still doesn’t sit right with me. (I realize how very little that means.) NASA’s self-proclaimed purpose is to benefit all humankind. How does some half-dead kid who never heard of a space shuttle benefit from any of it?

    This demonstrates that technology is no substitute for wisdom, leadership, and compassion. This is a problem without a solution. You can let them starve, or you can take out their government, which means a war, which leads to even more problems including more starvation. And there’s no reason to hope that in 20 years we wouldn’t be back where we started. If we knew how to fix it we could prevent it, and vice versa.

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