The less-than-heroic scientific quest

Science is, to a great extent, pursued in the hope of large, heroic discovery. Never having made one of those, I can only say that I think they are highly overrated. I mean, what else would I say? I suppose this whole column could be considered sour grapes. 

But heroic discoveries can be good or bad. It all depends on who makes the discovery and what the discovery is used for. Marie Curie, Wilhelm Röntgen, and Robert Oppenheimer all made heroic contributions in nuclear energy, each used for different purposes. 

When one discovers the principles upon which nature operates, it is automatically a heroic step with large implications.

Most scientists are content with advancing knowledge on the fringe. In this way, science has served global mankind.

However, it is through the global contributions of science that the modern world has developed global climate problems, global banking difficulties, global business models, global financial markets, global food supplies, global energy needs, global energy solutions, and global pollution. 

Scientists like to say that this quest for discovery and exploration is basic human nature. There is no scientific evidence that this is true.

I suspect the compulsion to explore and discover is only basic to some humans. Maybe it’s a kind of birth defect.

However, I have no scientific evidence for that opinion either.

But by its very nature, scientific discovery has global implications and consequences.

For that reason, it is highly valued and funded. Because it makes corporations money and gives government power, science likes to think it is a benefactor of all mankind. 

However, it is not always a benefactor of man. The large, global application of science to many fields has harmed local communities and individual families. 

Actually, it is the global application of just about everything that has caused the global problems of just about everything. 

Just as an example, in the 1950s there were 23 million farmers in the United States. Each of those farms was a small business.

Today there only about 5 million small businesses of any kind in the United States, about 2 million of them farms. That is more than a five-fold reduction in small businesses in 60-some years.

This consolidation is a great deal due to scientific advancements resulting in large corporate farms and mass immigration into the cities.   

So while scientific advancement may have been a giant leap for mankind, it has been a step backward for a lot of individuals.

Working in a factory is not the same as owning a farm or business. Living in Chicago is not the same as living in Iowa. These changes occur because science is used to make money for corporations and support government agencies, not necessarily to benefit local communities and environments. 

Even environmental scientists are usually concerned more about larger ecosystems, not local communities.

Many environmentalists are more concerned about the globe than the town they live in. 

It seems that in any discussion about the well-being of the Western Slope, science plays a very small role. When science is applicable, it is usually about science that benefits the large global corporations involved in energy or mineral extraction.

These provide local jobs, jobs that leave as soon as the economy changes, often harming the local environment for future development. The big buck investors don’t live here. 

With the advancements in technology, I wonder if there might be opportunities in small, decentralized manufacturing, a resurgence of specialized types of agriculture, desalination and water conservation measures such as has occurred in Israel, or numerous small-scale water electric generation that would be more friendly to the aquatic environment.

There must be even more ideas than these. 

Wouldn’t it be interesting to see what scientists might come up with that would benefit local, rural communities besides corporate jobs and government agencies?

It would seem that, if all the small communities could organize themselves, the global issues would also be solved.

Gary McCallister, .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address), is a professor emeritus of biological sciences at Colorado Mesa University.


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