There have been two ‘great awakenings’ in US history: Pearl Harbor Day, of which today is the 73rd anniversary, and October 4, 1957, when the USSR launched the first artificial earth satellite. The former jarred the USA out of its isolationist mindset, and launched the mammoth government effort to spend the money and organize the resources to defeat the fascists; the latter jarred the USA out of its superior mindset, made science and engineering credible and primary, and the government committed the money and resources to win the ‘space race’. Science was recognized as truth, engineering became the career to have, and new curricula were created in physics, chemistry and biology. Many of us who were in high school in October of 1957 were part of the team on July 19, 1969 that landed men on the moon. (Evolution was restored to biology courses until teaching it became a religious/political issue in the late 70’s, and the PSSC physics course which I had in 1959-60 was still taught – with updates – to my son in 1994-95.) Necessity was not the mother of invention but rather the mechanism which turned on the lights in the Department of Truth and Reason.
If science still held a place of respect in our country, climate change denial would have zero credibility. What we need is another ‘Sputnik’ moment to turn us away from superstition and look for Answers in Science and Technology. Perhaps the melting of the polar ice caps is such a moment, but it remains out of the headlines, and ‘below the fold’ on a back page.