Thursday, June 03, 2004

It seems like there's a lot of "public outreach" these days from professional astronomers, doesn't it? Every NASA mission has a snazzy education website, where you, too, can build a galaxy mobile or ask an astronomy a question. Sadly, half (75%? 100%?) the reason that all this "public outreach" is going on, is that astronomers have picked up on the fact that they cannot get grant money if there is no EPO (education and public outreach) component to their research. They've astutely managed to pick up on this because grant applications now specifically point out this requirement. I think it's great that funding agencies are stressing the importance in communicating science to the community, "giving back" after you've had this wonderful opportunity and money to, for example, build the Hubble Space Telescope. But it is disheartening that this would not be done unless people were forced. Oh, there are some people who would do it anyways, just like some kids don't need to be forced to eat their lima beans. But because most of them don't have their hearts behind it, we end up with mildly useful websites. Great. Except kids still can't read. There are no books in their libraries. They have never met a scientist.

To twist hoagieboy's post around, though, he is lamenting having to choose between Hubble and Mars. I am no fan of Bush's "moon base" or Mars plan. I think it's a collosal waste of money. I would even venture to say that the money used for Hubble could have been spent more wisely. Yes, we have learned so much from Hubble. It has changed the way we view ourselves and the Universe. It has made us feel tiny and big at the same time. It's beautiful. But how to reconcile that with the ugliness still on Earth -- polluting our land, water and air; watching children starve. If a small portion (less than 10%) of the world's yearly expenditures on war/military were shifted to humanitarian causes, we could change the lives of millions of people. We could start right here in America, with prenatal health care, three meals a day in every child's stomach, a home for every child. In fact, such actions would probably do more to close the "education gap" and increase test scores than this NCLB legistlation.

But of course that will never happen. That idea is too "out there," right? Nobody ever reads about ideas like this. Unless you're reading something like Mother Earth News. Ok, you'll also read about how yes, you too could live in a geodesic dome and raise wild guinea fowl and produce all your power from the wind. It's all crazy talk, right? Not really. There are people all over this country, and all over the world, making deliberate choices about how to live and what they will use their money for. Why can't we have as responsible a government? Want to hear more? There was an interesting article in Mother Earth this winter called Blueprint for a Better Planet.

- makigirl


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