Dear Mr. President
There is a weighty apprehension that scientific issues in general have been marginalized in your administration. We could detail our specific causes but the impact is lost if the very nature of scientific pursuit is not appreciated. Should we first advise you of the significance to our country and the world of our broader scientific aspirations?
It is a compelling human story. From genetics, to cognitive science, to physics we can patch together a view of the world, our place in it, our power and powerlessness. We can describe the mad animals we are in the middle of a range of phenomenon from the microscopic to the mind tauntingly vast. The fruits of this vast scientific enterprise are of pressing importance to our survival—a survival that is not currently assured.
I have heard, to my persistent surprise, that people kill each other for land, money, oil. Our petty gripes and vicious aggression as insignificant as a dog fight kicking up dust and dirt in our squabbles as the earth rolls us around the sun. And although so many of us despair over the newspaper accounts of our more barbarous traits, Tuesdays are always a good day as we get the special Science Section in The New York Times and the pessimism lifts.
The articles are not about territory or struggle or financial gain they're about strange crystal growths, rocks from Mars, the human genome, an accelerating universe. These things we do out of purely human curiosity. We are driven by inquisitiveness and a belief that the world is beautiful and true and reaffirms our brand of faith which transcends race and gender and national boundaries. Nature speaks to all of us and any of us.
No one can guess the shape or size or language of the next genius but we can all participate in the knowledge that is woven of all of our contributions. Through a well-supported scientific initiative we could develop energy sources to better protect our planet, cure AIDS, and understand the origin and fate of our entire universe. No small aims.
Reaching these aims demands vision beyond our short-term ambitions. When a Congressional Committee asked how scientific research would advance defense of our country, Robert Wilson, the founding director of Fermilab said, "it has nothing to do directly with defending our country, except to make it worth defending". Our scientific culture helps to make ours a world worth defending.
Author of How the Universe got Its Spots.