America Is No Longer Attracting The Top Minds In Physics
“We find ourselves, today, at the very beginning of what could be the end of America’s greatness in the realm of scientific research and education. Science has always been touted as the great equalizer: the scientific truths underlying our Universe know no borders and do not discriminate based on race, gender, or religion. We still have time to reverse this trend, and to welcome the brightest minds the world has to offer into our country.
But if we fail to do so, that intellectual capital will thrive elsewhere, leaving America behind. If we do not change course, “America First” will be the downfall of scientific greatness in our country.”
In the decades leading up to 1933, Germany was second-to-none in the fields of physics and mathematics. Yet all of that shifted extremely quickly. In April of 1933, Germany terminated the ability of Jews to engage in public service; over the coming months, 18 mathematicians were removed from their position at the University of
Göttingen alone. When the minister of education asked David Hilbert, the pre-eminent mathematician there, how things were now that the jewish influence had been removed, the sober response was simply, “There is no mathematics in Göttingen anymore.” We are witnessing an unprecedented drop in international students applying to physics in the United States, and politics are to blame.
If we don’t do something to reverse course, the scientific greatness we’ve taken for granted in our country will come to a screeching halt. It’s already happening.
Yes, Science Is For The Religious, Too
“Religion is for anyone who wants it in their life, and science is as well. They are neither fundamentally incompatible, nor are they mutually exclusive. Knowledge, education, self-improvement, and the bettering of our shared world are endeavors that are open to everyone. We don’t have to (and likely won’t) always agree with one another, but we can always work to understand a perspective that differs from our own. Perhaps, someday in the near future, that will be the story that makes headlines, rather than attempts to sow discord between two of the most influential forces for good in our world.”
It’s common to have litmus tests to determine whether someone is worth listening to, learning from, or allowing into a “group” we belong to. They’re often based on someone’s beliefs, values, ideologies, or worldviews. We accept the people we deem are like us, and reject those who are different, and, hence, 59% of Americans believe that science and religion are often in conflict. But, at the same time, more than 2 out of 3 American’s don’t see any conflict between science and their own religious beliefs. Religious people do tremendous good in the world: they are more likely to volunteer, attend local government and community meetings, and to participate politically, with over 85% identifying as pro-science in a great number of important ways.
The wonders and joys of science are open and available to everyone, regardless of religious beliefs. It’s a story we don’t tell often enough, but it’s true, and the evidence backs it up.
Sorry America, We’re Not Going Back To The Moon
“America is home to some of the greatest scientists, engineers, astronauts, administrators, and organizations in the entire world. With the people and facilities we have today, we could put a human on the Moon or even on Mars within the next 10 years, if only we invest in it. But grandstanding, lofty promises, and a dearth of funding will yield the same results they always have: a nation whose greatest dreams go unfulfilled. What we can accomplish as a species is limited only by what’s physically possible and what we invest in it. Our ambitions to venture beyond low-Earth orbit are achievable, but only if we make it so. Unless there’s a plan to increase NASA’s funding to sufficient levels to send humans to worlds beyond our own, America is never going to get there.”
Last week, President Trump signed Space Policy Directive 1, declaring America’s ambitions to return to the Moon with a crewed mission. This is in line with the vision laid out by the Trump administration earlier this year, but with no additional funding provided for the endeavor, it’s all but a certainty that this won’t happen. When we went to the Moon the first time, we were investing approximately 5% of federal expenditures in NASA; today, that figure has declined to just 0.4%, the lowest figure since 1959. We have the people, the technology, the facilities, and the will to take humanity not only to the Moon, but to Mars or even beyond. All it will take is full federal funding and an ambitious timetable. This vision offers neither, ensuring that it will never happen under the current plan.
Sorry, America, we’re not going back to the Moon. And even if we chose to, the Moon shouldn’t be our goal, anyway.
Repealing Fuel Economy Standards To Cost American Households Nearly $1000 Per Year
“Across the board — cars, crossovers, SUVs, minivans, and pickups — the fuel efficiency of vehicles have continued to climb steadily, even just during the past decade. An economic analysis details the impact that the impact that this can have on the typical American household. For middle-income families, defined as households making under $100,000 in 1980 and under $120,000 in 2014, transportation costs make up a total of approximately 20% of total expenditures, a figure that rises to 30% for low-income families. Yet the increased fuel economy alone has saved families a tremendous amount: an estimated $17,000 over the 1980-2014 time period.”
Earlier this year, EPA administrator Scott Pruitt and the Trump Administration announced their plans to roll back the Obama-era regulations on fuel economy standards. Since 1975, the first year that fuel standards were enacted, the savings to Americans has been tremendous: a total of 1.5 trillion gallons of gas have been saved, resulting in a direct cost savings of approximately $4 trillion to US consumers. Meanwhile, the costs have been borne by the automotive industry, not passed along to customers, resulting in a huge boon to the American economy across-the-board. It’s the low-and-middle income American families that benefit the most, and a rare case where the science and math support a universal conclusion, regardless of political affiliation.
So why are we talking about repealing the regulations? Don’t let this issue fly under the radar; get informed today!
How America Is Breaking Public Education
“The most important goal of an education is something we rarely talk about: the set of skills and the capabilities of thinking and problem solving that a student acquires. Part of what makes an adult successful in this world is the unique toolkit they have for approaching, attacking, and defeating the challenges they face in this world. A diversity of experiences and methods among the population is a great way to ensure that more problems can be solved; absolute uniformity is as bad for human society as monoculture is for agriculture. The greatest advances in science and society have come about because of the unique backgrounds and approaches some of the greatest minds in history possessed and utilized. Unless our goal is societal stagnation, we need to encourage creativity and excellence, not only in our students, but in our educators as well.”
Last week, I was lucky enough to attend the Frontiers of Fundamental Physics conference in Orihuela, Spain. There was a dual-track focus: on the frontiers of physics and on physics education. For the latter, it was shocking and sobering to learn that many of the practices we’ve put into place across the board in the American Education system in the 21st century, including increased standardized testing, scripted curricula, tying teacher evaluations and school funding to test performance, and enforced templates for what to teach and how to teach it, have been demonstrated to lower outcomes. Not only that, but it drives the best, most exceptional teachers out of the field entirely. Despite the clear research showing that this is the case, America continues to barrel down this path, despite a dearth of evidence supporting the virtues of this path.
America has been breaking public education for the last 15 years, and until we truly empower, respect, and treat teachers like professionals, we’ll never fix it.
America’s Previous Coast-To-Coast Eclipse Almost Proved Einstein Right
“While the Moon slowly moved across the Sun’s disk, a mostly cloudless sky heralded great excitement for the team, as many stars near the Sun would have been visible under those conditions. But the duration of eclipse darkness was to last just barely two minutes, and with totality approaching, thin clouds began to cover the Sun just prior to the critical moments where the sky grew dark. For about 15 minutes, including all of totality, the Sun was eclipsed not only by the Moon, but by clouds as well. Not five minutes after it ended, the area surrounding the Sun was completely clear again.”
On August 21st, a total solar eclipse will travel coast-to-coast across the United States, bringing darkness during the day to portions of 14 separate states. The last time such an event occurred was 99 years ago, back in 1918. Back then, Einstein’s General Relativity still had not been proven, and this eclipse not only provided that opportunity, but held an opportunity for America to rise to scientific prominence in the world. The U.S. Naval Observatory sent a team of physicists to Baker City, Oregon, to attempt to make the critical observations. If Einstein was right, starlight would deflect during the day the closer a star’s position was to the Sun. If nature was kind to those fastidious observers, the data could indicate which theory, Newton’s or Einstein’s, was correct. But at the critical moment, the Americans were defeated by nature itself, in the form of clouds.
Still, the last Great American Eclipse almost proved Einstein right. As the 2017 eclipse approaches, take a look back at a little-known slice of American history!
Humanity Needs Science To Survive And Thrive
“The beauty of it all is, therefore, what makes it so disconcerting to some. You can spend your entire life studying a problem, fascinated with the process of investigation and discovery. You can learn everything we know about a field and extend our knowledge within it. And you might have a beautiful idea, a preferred outcome, or a conclusion you wish were true as respects your studies. You may even put together a new theory that has the potential to revolutionize everything we think we know. But no matter how elegant, beautiful, compelling, or intuitive it is, your conclusions must be consistent with the entirety of the information we have. The most successful ideas in science aren’t successful because we love them the most; they’re successful because the evidence overwhelmingly validates and supports them.”
The enterprise of science is one of the most misunderstood in all of society. Some view it as its own religion; others view it as a political ideology gussied up in smart-sounding clothes; still others view it as open to interpretation. But science is none of those things, and is rather the full suite of knowledge humanity has accumulated along with our process of discovery, investigation, and ongoing hard work. When we look at why humanity is so successful as a species, it’s rooted in our ability to understand the natural world. We’ve learned how a variety of systems work, independently and together, and have figured out how various influence affect it. This has led to advances in everything from agriculture, health, safety, and medicine to Earth science, astronomy, and particle physics.
Without science, stagnation is the absolute best humanity can hope for. But with it, our success is limited only by how quickly we can move forward!