Choosing idealism in the face of contrary evidence of what works is a recipe for disaster

October 10, 2013 by Joshua
in Blog, Education, Leadership, Nature

I posted the following in response to a bunch of articles I’ve read about a report co-authored by over a dozen science-related organizations describing how reducing funding for science has led to research and the benefits it brings to society leaving the U.S.

The writing on the wall became apparent to me with the 1993 cancellation of the Superconducting Super Collider, when I was getting my PhD in physics. I didn’t know the numbers for a cost-benefit analysis, but I couldn’t then nor can I now see cancellation as helpful to the U.S. The U.S. would have stayed way ahead of the rest of the world in particle physics and all the accompanying jobs, discoveries, and innovation. Instead we look to the rest of the world for leadership.

The articles paint a picture of a United States full of ambition and curiosity driving innovation. That part exists, but it has just as long been a country of puritanism, self-righteousness, and fundamentalism.

The articles point to politics as a major problem. That politics reflects this tradition among the people. A large fraction of the population here genuinely dislikes science, no matter how much they like the computers and cd players it brought.

I grew up liking idealism because I thought I was right about so many things. I since dropped my need to feel right before testing in favor of what works after testing. Politics in this country views the individual idealistically — each person should do for him or herself and anyone helping them will decrease their ability to achieve and lower their motivation — without basis in testing. Health care, welfare, education, and so on are viewed by a large block of voters as harmful to the nation. We, as a nation if not readers of this site, stick to this principle in the face of nearly the entire world providing evidence to the contrary.

We put down other countries for doing things against our ideals, saying they don’t work, even as they pass us in countless measures of quality of life and community.

Choosing idealism in the face of contrary evidence of what works is a recipe for disaster.

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