America can't afford to lose its grip on science
A monitor shows the first ultra-high-energy collisions at the European Organization for Nuclear Research.
December 8th, 2011
10:29 AM ET

America can't afford to lose its grip on science

Editor's note: Lisa Randall is Frank B. Baird Jr. Professor of Science at Harvard University. A physicist, Randall is the author of "Knocking on Heaven's Door." She was among Time Magazine's "100 Most Influential People" of 2007.

(CNN) - On a recent visit to Barcelona, Spain, my local translator, who told me he was becoming increasingly interested in physics as he listened to my responses to reporters' questions, commented that he couldn't believe the biggest advances in my field will come not from America but from Europe - for him, an unexpected turn.

The Large Hadron Collider, the enormous machine that collides protons to study matter at higher energies and shorter distances than ever is in Europe (near Geneva, Switzerland) and not in America, where most important particle physics discoveries have taken place in the past. The European community has remained steadfastly supportive of this international enterprise and, unlike America of late, recognizes the importance of maintaining its scientific commitments.

If current political discussions are any indication, America is in danger not only of losing scientific leadership but also of losing respect for the scientific method itself. This is at a time when the type of clear and rational thinking that science teaches us is more relevant than ever. Given the challenging problems we face today, our country needs to embrace the scientific values that have served us so well.

Much of our economy, from the ever-tinier and more powerful products of our electronics industry to the most cost-effective manufacturing processes to the latest marketing and advertising tactics, has emerged from scientific advances and reasoning. So have many sensible government policies and programs, even if they are often also politically compromised.

Science features prominently in many current debates, including those over climate change, searches for alternative energy sources and progress in medical care. But other issues that aren't strictly scientific also involve the big numbers and complicated interwoven decisions for which scientific thinking can help. Yes science is difficult and some people feel disempowered by how much we need to understand. But so are such challenges as establishing stability in the Middle East, fixing the economy, restoring job growth and ensuring financial stability.

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soundoff (One Response)
  1. AGuest9

    I think you are too late. CERN has taken over for Fermilab. SLAC will be the next to fall. If you want to study physics, apply to Cambridge and Oxford. The US has failed its future scientists.

    December 13, 2011 at 12:07 pm |

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