Science has granted wishes beyond ancient humanity's wildest dreams, but it's still treated like a genie: forced into narrowly defined spaces and forgotten about until people demand instant results. Science isn't everything, but it's a lot. And after everything it's done for us, there are some things it shouldn't have to. For instance ...
#5. Science Shouldn't Have To Compare Research To Fiction
Newspaper headlines insist on describing incredible scientific breakthroughs in the context of fictional movies. Every headline about light-bending metamaterials says they're just like Harry Potter's Cloak of Invisibility. I want you to pay attention to this bit, because it's important: If we ever build a cloaking device, it's not going to be cool because it's like Harry Potter. It's cool because it's a goddamned cloaking device.
I propose publicly imprisoning those responsible in invisible boxes.
I get that they're trying to help people understand the science. I use fictional references all the time, but that's to make jokes about the awesome achievements, not to undermine and replace them with topically trending bullshit. We're building brand-new materials that have never existed before. We're mastering the fundamental structures of reality to invent things it couldn't. And the best professional communicators can say is, "Oh yeah, that fictional whining orphan had something like that!"
Even worse is how the Harry Pottering sets up ridiculous expectations. None of the "cloaking" materials developed so far could render a person fully invisible. When people find out that fact, they get disappointed. The fact that we can bend light in previously impossible ways becomes a let-down because people can't use it to sneak through rooms in a child-filled school.
Chris Mansfield/iStock/Getty Images
And we're going to have to ask you to step off the broomstick and come down to the station.
Researchers write about bending spacetime itself and headlines don't think it's interesting unless they also mention a warp drive. Even though that's impossible for the mechanism they're talking about. And wasn't even the point of warp drive in the fictional show. A huge part of Star Trek is that their technology wasn't hard-science-fiction. It was magic boxes to make sure Kirk met new people to punch or screw every week.
"And the Universal Translator works because 45 minutes of shouting, 'WHAT?' is shit television, Chad."
Actually inventing and building something is more impressive than just making it up.
#4. Science Shouldn't Have To Promise Results
If we only researched things with guaranteed results, the world's most advanced technology would be a pretty sharp piece of rock. Not extremely sharp, because we wouldn't have invented any particularly smart way of sharpening them, just the sharpest one we could find while walking around, because we couldn't justify taking time off from "looking for berries that don't make you shit yourself" duty.
"You better invent fire before you go in there!"
When your track record is everything ever you don't need to prove yourself. Science and technology made everything material, and those materials supported all the arts and humanities. You can't compose a sonnet when you're scraping dirt from a farmed-out field because crop rotation hasn't been invented yet.
Fundamental research can't promise anything more than "we will understand the universe better than we do now," and the idea that it would even have to is terrifying. In the past people demanded to know what possible use there was for steam power or electricity. If we knew the answer to a question before asking it, we'd be wasting our time doing so.
"There isn't a single thing unimproved by science in my entire life, but why should I pay for research?"
People demand to know why scientists haven't cured cancer. As if the only reason they haven't done it themselves is a previous commitment to rewatching Breaking Bad. Asking, "Why haven't they cured cancer?" is like asking, "Why won't those traffic bollards sleep with me?" -- the question reveals that the real problem is the asker's serious misunderstanding of important concepts.
Finding a cure for cancer is like finding a cure for dog -- there are thousands of different types and it is in fact very easy to kill them. It gets tricky when they're inside someone you're trying to keep alive. Cancer isn't a disease; it's one of thousands of things failing to not go wrong with the process of cell growth. Most of which didn't used to happen, because we didn't used to live this long. Until science vastly improved our food production, medical technology, and quality of life.
#3. Science Shouldn't Have To Beg For Funding
Science and technology are responsible for every profit ever. Because people are now being motivated by a paycheck, rather than the desire to sleep inside of a cave rather than inside of a saber-toothed tiger. But even though research is what took us out of those caves and into tigerless homes (unless you're Mike Tyson) it's treated like an expensive hobby, like betting on tiger fights. Sorry, I watched a documentary on tigers recently.
Comstock Images/Stockbyte/Getty Images
"This solution moves charmed quark to 11th-dimension-pi. Checkmate."
We should have a government research division the way we have a military (or maybe instead of a military?). It's an organization that improves the world just by existing. Research leads to a net increase in wealth by generating new industries instead of stealing the exploded ruins of old ones. Besides, the last time anyone invaded America to slaughter and steal everything was the 15th century.
Funding concerns have already shifted the National Ignition Facility back away from researching power generating fusion ignition -- which you might imagine as natural fit for the facility -- to more nuclear weapons research. It was originally built for that, but you'd think that working on free power while they were at it was a good thing. Government agents are arguing that the system should spend less time researching how to generate unlimited power and more on the nuclear warheads. When you sound like a Bond villain you are not the voice of progress.
If the world spent half the effort on science as it does on its military, the X Games would be holding cyborg skateboard competitions on Mars by now.
And every orbit is a 360-degree flip.