What a Great Time to Be Teaching Science
The rapid race of technology development today is exceptional. It makes teaching both exciting and challenging. It also raises the question of responsibility: should the larger community place some guidelines on what is produced from science?
As a scientist, my initial reaction is "no." Historically, political and religious pressures thwarted the adoption of many key ideas for hundreds of years, resulting in jail or death for some. The need for independence from these pressures led to the formation of the world's foremost scientific societies which were founded to provide open communication among curious thinkers who valued facts and could share them in secret meetings and decide which to fund and explore. Technology evolved from these organizations and as the world gradually realized the value of science, the "scientific method" was established which provides guidelines for science research.
As a citizen, I must qualify my "no" to the above question. Rapid technology development certainly has improved our lives: longer lifespans, better health, comfortable living and good movies (of course). [Television used to be good, with programs such as Candid Camera, Puff the Magic Dragon, the Flintstones, and others, but today it is hard to watch sometimes.] But I must reflect on how much we pollute the environment, what tools eventually make their way into military applications (all the good ones), the health risks of novel drugs, and the cost/benefit of genetic engineering and other advanced health care developments that allow, for example, parents to select the sex and other aspects of their children through genetic screening.
Science is an integral part of a society's culture. As we make decisions about what is acceptable technology, it reflects and defines our culture. Certainly the advent of advanced genetic screening and engineering techniques will raise ethics questions that need resolution. All citizens need and deserve explanations of new developments in a language that is accessible to them and in an environment in which questions can be comfortably debated. This is important to voters, consumers, patients, and employees making purchase and managerial decisions.
I'd like to remind everyone of a speech made by John F. Kennedy at Rice University on Sep. 12, 1962 in which he declared it is entirely feasible that the U.S. could place a man on the moon within the decade based on the speed at which technology has advanced:
“The greater our knowledge increases, the greater our ignorance unfolds. Despite the striking fact that most of the scientists that the world has ever known are alive and working today, despite the fact that this Nation¹s own scientific manpower is doubling every 12 years in a rate of growth more than three times that of our population as a whole, despite that, the vast stretches of the unknown and the unanswered and the unfinished still far outstrip our collective comprehension.