There's been a lot of talk recently about how science is defined and who does it best. I don't much care to follow that, because it makes me stomp around my room shouting at the walls, and that's a waste of time. I'd rather discuss science in a way that makes other people shout at the walls. So here are the ten things I would enforce, in the science department, if I ran a country. Any country at all.
10. Creationism is Only Discussed Publicly if it Involves a Randomly Selected Creation Story
This goes for all debates, articles, and talking heads on TV news shows. Anyone can talk about teaching Creationism as a scientific theory or advocate for it. The catch would be that, before they go into the debate, the city hall meeting, or the tv show, they would head to a computer, press a button, and one of the many creation stories would pop up on screen for them to use. So on any given day, or television set, you would see people advocate for teaching kids that the world was created by Odin and the human race emerged from between his toes, or that the Titans are trapped in Tartarus and the human race was created when Gaea the Earth banged Uranus the Sky, and so on. Not only would it add a great deal of variety and novelty to the debate, it would neatly separate out those who think Creationism has scientific merit and those who just want to teach their own religion.
9. Companies That Do Health Research on Their Own Products Must Disclose the Results to the Government
Hi tobacco companies! Hi! Companies do internal studies on their own products all the time. They use what they learn to find better ways to market their substance, and better areas of research. From time to time, though, those studies seem to indicate something sinister. Obviously, companies can't be forced to outright publish their results or their hard-earned data might be used by their competitors. It seems, though, that someone needs to be watching. And that someone watching, if they see something really troubling, needs to then turn the study over to the actual public.
8. Every Study That Uses Public Funds is Published Publicly
This is as much to help scientists as to help everyone else. A lot of public money is spent on a lot of scientific studies. Those studies, if they are judged (often by people who volunteer their time) to be worthy of publication, are published in journals far less widely read than the people who do the work, or the people who need the work, would like. Scientific journal subscriptions can be massively expensive, and a barrier to people having the scientific information they, kind of, paid for.
7. Scientists Must Come Up With A Different Word for "Theory" When Used in a Scientific Sense
Look, it's obvious that people simply can't handle this one. Oh, they're okay with gravity. Some start taking issue with relativity. And then? Then we get into other theories and people start saying, "Well, well, you know, that's just like, uh, your opinion, man." No. No it is not. I like the way 'theory' trips off the tongue, and I like, generally, when scientific terminology has everyday applications as well, because it lends richness to the language of both the scientific and the everyday. But this one's caused enough grief. Just make up a word and use that.
6. The Government Shall Always Be Building One "City of the Future"
Every few years in a magazine, or every time Disney builds a new theme park, people start showing off a 'City of the Future.' It's stylish and minimalist, sometimes with innovative new public transportation systems, sometimes with extraordinary vertical farms, sometimes with inspiring or insane cooperative ways to power the city, and always with building that look like soaring groups of white wings. None of those cities actually happened, did they? And why? Because no one built them. America has a growing population that has to live somewhere. It's time to just build one. Pick a place and really do it right. It could be a boon to research and a goad for other cities to modernize. If nothing else, it will make for a fascinating documentary in a few decades.
5. A Dead Body Belongs to the Whoever Needs it Most
Other than some taxes and the occasional school bake sale, people can, if they want, get through their lives with a minimal involvement with the country that supports them and keeps them safe. Fine. As long as they're using their bodies, they can choose to do what they like with them. But once a person is dead, they are not using their body anymore, there are a lot of ways the country, and the many people in that country, can use it. And death is officially time to stop being a selfish ass about things. If a person's corneas can help someone? They surrender their corneas. If their skin, their organs, or entire body can train a medical student to save people? To that medical student it goes. No crying about a funeral or asking to be cremated.
I will entertain religious or moral abstention from this policy, under the right circumstances. Religious people need to have a note from their pastor or priest or whoever that certifies that they have been leading the life of that religion for at least a year. No deathbed converts. And everyone who abstains will have to write, hand write, a ten page paper every decade of their lives. (Parents of minor children can write those papers for them until they're eighteen.) If you're not religious or moral enough to scrawl a page for every year you want to be off the body list, you're not religious enough to be exempt.
4. A Course in Understanding Scientific Studies Will be Mandatory
In high school, most people took courses in biology, physics, and chemistry. And those subjects are crucial, but they're background knowledge. A basic education in biology won't equip someone to be able sift through complicated studies. In fact, an advanced education probably won't either. What people need is an education in reading and understanding studies. If students can't get out of school without learning about how a bill becomes a law and how people get elected, then they also shouldn't be able to get out of school without learning how to assess the studies that the elected people wave when they want something done. Learning about pitfalls in methodology, statistical significance, and not overstating the consequences of a given conclusion, all have to be part of the educational system. And speaking of . . .
3. Every Government Worker Has to Discuss, In Detail, Every Study They Mention
You know how, over time, the education you received fades unless you use, or at least remind yourself by reading related subjects, regularly? And you how an official will airily come out with a, "There was a study that showed Blah Blah Blah causes Bloo Bloo Bloo," and then sweep on? This policy will kill two annoying birds with one stone. Anyone who pulls a government salary, or is running in hopes of pulling a government salary, and who speaks in their official capacity anywhere, has to describe the study, its methodology, size, any officially recognized flaws or deceptions in it, who conducted it, and give its final results in detail. And they have to do it every time they mention the study. We can't keep living in a world where every 'study' is just as good as every other 'study.' I'm tempted to say that, if they mention a study and it is discovered to have been thoroughly debunked, they have to admit that in a press conference no later than six weeks after they mention it, but that could get very messy. And besides, that's what the opposition is for.
2. Government Sponsored Public Labs and Workshops Will Be Everywhere
A lot of items on this list have been rather severe, and that makes science look pretty dour. People's lives are full of science and technology, but most people feel practically removed from a lot of it. That's because they are. Science often operates smoothly in the background without us participating in it. One of the reasons computer technology was such a revolution was it allowed so many people to contribute to its advancement, or at least play around with the different programs and ideas that were available. This lead to a new revolution, when people went online and created their own blogs, cartoons, songs, books, and satirical nostalgia shows (so many of those). Free play with science isn't as widespread. It's harder to pull off, but it's vital. Public parks give people a place to play. Libraries give them a place to read. We need to give them a place, staffed with professionals, to do science. If people are going to see science as something that they can personally take pride in advancing, or just take joy in playing with, it's going to be more highly regarded and less scary.
1. Every Year the Nation Gets to Vote on a Dream Science Project
One of the problems with scientific research, and why it often doesn't compare to the grand publicly-funded projects of the past (like Cathedrals and public malls), is that it doesn't have a place in the dreams of most of the people in the country. It may be vital research, but it doesn't necessarily stir people's hearts. I'm not saying the experts shouldn't push for facilities that are cutting edge, even if they're not popular. I do think, though, that public science should inspire and engage the public. There are probably a lot of ways of doing that, and one of them has to be the People's Choice of Crazy Science Projects. Not cures or technologies. Projects. Clone a mammoth? Fine. Figure out how to teleport objects? Fine. Lunar colony? (I'll say it.) Fine. Crazy projects, when they're done well, are both inspirational and, in their own way, practical. Throwing a ton of resources in a smart way, at a difficult problem is a guarantee of both scientific progress and a lot of good laughs. And when the whole thing is about chasing a great and popular dream, it becomes inspirational. Science and technology, especially lately, have gained a sinister tone. One of the best things we can do for science is start helping people see it as awesome (in the true sense of the word and the slang sense of the word) again.
Top Image: Tom Wang, via Shutterstock
Paper Image: Loty
City Image: Bearotic
Microphone Image: Andreas Praefcke