Friday, June 27, 2008

Chronicles in mollycoddling

I ran into some footage of a new scramjet type aircraft that NASA was developing using a propulsion technology called rapid pulse detonation. The newscaster on a news show was asking a NASA analyst to explain the engine and emphasized the following words:

"Can you explain in English and not in science-talk?"

I have heard numerous variations of the above. A common reaction to puerile requests like this results in the dumbing down of presentations to three word Powerpoints, explanations being made more palatable for mass consumption, acronyms that half explain the real thing being tossed around and a host of other flotation devices used preventing one from diving deeper to understand a concept more deeply. This necessarily raises the following question: Are we as a group too inept and stupid to deal with a little bit of science in our daily lives? Are we so coddled by the ready acceptance of lower expectations and availability of simpler explanations that we refuse to tax our brains even a little to gain a better understanding of concepts involved?

The larger issue is that the cultural malaise propagated by the newscaster’s outwardly innocent sounding question is slowly transforming us a very superficial, surface skimming group and in the long run will effect the nation's competitive and scientific edge. Just my view…

In an orthogonal reference to the above, I also read that eighteen percent of people in our country believe that the sun revolves around the earth. Not to mention of the legions who think that the earth was created about six thousand years ago

Kasimir Malevich, 'White on White', 1918, Image from the Museum of Modern Art, New York

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