Monday, December 7, 2009

Where is our Einstein?

In the height of the Cold War in 1955, Albert Einstein and Bertrand Russell joined together to appeal to the world's most powerful nations to cease the nuclear arms race that threatened to spin out of control. The idea that scientists and intellectuals would have the moral authority to make such statements and influence public perceptions of issues as important today seems quaint. Where are those public intellectuals such as Einstein that had the power to influence people outside of their small specialty areas? Who do we look to from science and academia for leadership in helping to solve some of the most critical problems the world faces today?

Since 1955, there has been a clear erosion in the credibility of science and a downright dismissal of most intellectual pursuits in the U.S. This is highlighted in the recent "scandal" where email records were stolen from University of East Anglia servers and are now being used in an attempt to undermine the Copenhagen negotiations. But what are the fundamental reasons behind this public distrust in science? Perhaps more importantly, how can this rift be overcome in a world of polarized media? With such a huge laundry list of big, complicated problems humanity is struggling with at this moment in history, American society seems to be handicapping our prospects for finding solutions if those that have spent their lives in pursuit of ideas and truths (scientists and intellectuals) are dismissed or diminished.

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