Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Hope and science.

Photo by Cayusa (Bart). {Flickr photostream}

For myself and for many others, yesterday marked the not only the end of the Bush Administration and eight years of failed policies and politics that I mostly disagreed with (the HIV/AIDS program in Africa is one of the few, overlooked succeseses of George W. Bush), but also the hopes for redemption and renewal with the inauguration of Barack Hussain Obama to the presidency of the most powerful nation on Earth.  

This election was special, yes, for all the reasons I'm sure you've read in a million other blogs and news articles, but also, on a personal note, because it was the first election I voted in while living outside of the United States.  And I witnessed first hand how people from all over - even here in powerful European Union nations - look to America for leadership and, yes, for hope.  

I started voting when President Clinton was in office but never have I seen such thirst and fervor for change, such high hopes, aspiriations and perhaps expectations placed on the back of one man.  

And while many cynics have prognosticated that this Presidency is bound to disappointment and failure precisely because no one person can hope to live up to such high expectations, I, for one, feel that these dreams can fuel "The Push" that Tavis Smiley commented is necessary to propel the President to become a Great President and achieve great things.

I hope it is not hubris to say that in some ways, I think that people who have not had the desire, the opportunity, or the education and the training to do science and engineering look to us scientists and engineers for leadership and hope when it comes to national and global policies that touch upon our respective research disciplines.

Science must not be political, but politics should be part of the scientist's life.  

Our logical and evidence-based investigations into and our intuitive understanding of scale-spanning phenemona from the smallest mechanisms of biology to the grandest nature of the physical universe puts us in a unique position to elucidate and explain in lay terms to the general public and to policy makers how and why certain things work the way that they do, and why some things should be different.

So often, I've seen friends and colleagues perpetuate a sort of isolationism, blaming politics and politicians for bad policies but not doing anything about it, resigning themselves to simply concentrating on surviving in their little corner of the world.  

Yes, "it is the politicians' job" to sort out these things, but we, in addition to being scientists and engineers, are citizens of our communities, of our nations and of the world.  Simply complaining about it all the time really is just a waste of energy.  

We have to weigh our desires for change against the sweat and tears that it might require, and then, if we so choose, work to create the change that we want to see.  It won't be easy and may require untold sacrifice, but if it's what you want, then the journey will be worth it whether you succeed or not.

I hope.

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