Talking of leaving the old ideas behind, here’s a great blog post by Hilary Sutcliffe asking whether ‘nutters’ or those with extreme views have too much influence on policy.
While many take the view that we are living in a golden age of science, or second industrial revolution, progress towards a sustainable future is at risk from the twin threats of the anti science movement and knee jerk anti technology movements. Given that levels of scientific ignorance are as high as they have ever been, most technology is viewed as working as much by magic as much as through physics, chemistry or materials science.
As the Guardian points out, many scientists are terrified of the anti science lobby, and unfortunately there are plenty of political and commercial reasons why it could be advantageous to deny the science of evolution, or climate change, or modern medicine. But this behaviour is not limited to right-wing nutcases, left leaning pressure groups are equally well versed in promoting one study which fits their agenda and denying the rest of the science, as we saw with the MMR vaccine or GMO’s.
While the Chinese government is composed of engineers and technologist, many western governments are composed of politicians with little or no understanding of technology (as we see with every email or twitter based scandal) and as a result are far more susceptible to anti science arguments from both sides.
The current convergence of nanoscience with life sciences represents a real opportunity to address major global issues, from heath to food to energy. Fortunately the Internet is somewhat more robust than the Great Library of Alexandria so fears of a new dark age are rather exaggerated, but it would be a shame not to take advantage of the new opportunities. As an illustration of the consequences, China at the end of the Ming dynasty took a decision that internal trade was sufficient, and left the new global maritime trade to be dominated by Europe. Will we do the same with technology?