Science is Not War

For fifty years the United States dominated the rest of the world with its scientific advances, Nobel prizes and life-saving drugs. We were the king! We ruled!

But now, Tom Daschle sees “disturbing” signs. “America’s dominant position in the scientific world is being shaken,” he says.

Quake! Hold on!

We are in decline and “it’s frightening,” intones Dr. Armbrecht from the Industrial Research Institute.

“They’re catching up to us,” warns Jennifer Bond.

Run, run for your lives!

Funniest statement is from the aforementioned Jennifer who is a vice-President at something called the Council on Competitiveness, an organization in Washington that seeks “to promote industrial vigor.”

We must not lose our precious bodily fluids.

All of this is from a hysterical and hysterically funny article in the NYTimes, U.S. Is Losing Its Dominance in the Sciences by William Broad. One of the brief nods to sanity in the entire piece is this sentence:

Even analysts worried by the trend concede that an expansion of the world’s brain trust, with new approaches, could invigorate the fight against disease, develop new sources of energy and wrestle with knotty environmental problems.

Of course, the next sentence begins with the word “But…”

Now, the U.S. system has its share of problems. The university system is not a market and as a result price signals don’t allocate labor very well so we have too many English and history majors and not enough natural science and engineering undergraduates. (See Paul Romer for the academic argument and the Invisible Adjunct for the life lesson.)

The basic point, however, is that science is not war. So let us turn away from the mediocrities like Tom Daschle and the New York Times and turn instead to Thomas Jefferson who wrote nearly 200 hundred years ago:

He who receives an idea from me, receives instruction himself without lessening mine; as he who lights his taper at mine, receives light without darkening me. That ideas should freely spread from one to another over the globe, for the moral and mutual instruction of man, and improvement of his condition, seems to have been peculiarly and benevolently designed by nature, when she made them, like fire, expansible over all space, without lessening their density in any point, and like the air in which we breathe, move, and have our physical being, incapable of confinement or exclusive appropriation.