Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Post 82: Some Thoughts on the State of Technology in America


© 2009, the Institute of Applied Common Sense

Previously, in Post No. 79a, we posted an article discussing where we really are at this point in time, in connection with electric car technology. The Free Press article, which we referenced, also mentioned that the auto industry will need the long term cooperation and assistance of government to pull this off.

While we focused, in that post, on the debate between the competing “private enterprise/let the free market determine,” and the “government intervention/ regulation” factions, we later realized that we had failed to focus on the technology factor.

That realization came about when one of our readers, Robert, perfectly framed the issue, and brought some common sense back into the discussion about the state of technology related to batteries used in electric vehicles. We decided to generate this post to highlight the importance of his comment.

Simply put, Robert indicated that the technology is simply not there. Yet. (We invite you to examine it in its entirety toward the end of the comments to Post No. 79a.)

(Tangentially, Robert’s comment (along with its tone) so impressed The Logistician, who has an engineering and science background, that he suggested that we extend an invitation to him to join us here at the Institute for Applied Common Sense.)

We've often wondered, why it is that some "elements" in our society are always complaining about the failure of our nation (whether it be an attack on our educational system or private industry) to come up with technological advances in various areas, when they feel that we need them, or that it suits their purposes?

By "elements," we mean the non-scientific, non-engineer, non-inventor, political science and English majors, and the lawyers who run for elected office. For the most part, the members of these elements have not invented one single thing in their lives (with the possible exception of babies), and yet they have the gumption to preach about technological failures or miscalculations on the part of others.

Michael Crichton, shortly before his death last year, spoke of how we had, in this country, come to politicize science, to such an extent that it hurts our ability to have a realistic conversation about our technological needs and goals.

In a discussion, with a very well-respected scientist and leader in his field of research late last year, we asked this question: Why are we, the “general public,” not privy to scientific views and conclusions viewed as “givens” by the academic, engineering, and scientific communities, which significantly affect our lives and the quality thereof?

The Professor suggested one basic reason: the fear of being “Saganized,” or not being taken seriously because of one’s popular appeal, once the discussion enters the popular arena. (The term was coined in connection with Carl Sagan, who popularized science.)

We submit that there is a second: the fear of attack, from those factions (usually religious, financial, or political in nature) outside of their respective scientific communities, who have agendas unrelated to the advancement of science.

The conversation, at the national level in particular, has become perverted, and, as with many things in life, perversion of the analysis on the front end leads to perversion of the purported solutions on the back end.

If you have 300 cats in your large home or building, and you let them essentially do what they want to do on a daily basis, you can't exactly complain when, at the end of the day, your structure is not in the “condition” in which you would like.

Similarly, when a nation of 300 million lets its adult citizens pursue whatever educational and vocational interests they desire, and industry to pursue whatever legal goals it desires, we can not later legitimately complain about the state of our nation.

We're not saying that we necessarily need to change our current governance model, if it's what the majority of the citizens want. We're just saying that a responsible nation recognizes the consequences of its freedoms (aka actions), acknowledges them, and then figures out how to minimize the negative costs associated with the exercise of those freedoms.

Disingenuously blaming others does not advance that goal, or the long term interests of the nation, in dealing with scientific and technological issues (or any other issues for that matter).

© 2009, the Institute of Applied Common Sense

10 comments:

  1. It seems to me that there are only a couple of ways to approach scientific advancement. Unfettered, or free market style, or directed. Of the free market style we have advances made through such entities as universities and private research facilities such as Bell Labs. These are generally unfettered though the universities are heavily reliant on grants which tend to direct the goals.

    There is also something I like to call the "man on the moon" syndrome. This is where the proponent of some endeavor (or complainer in your article) talks about how "if we can put a man on the moon, why can't we build a pollution free automobile?"

    I think the loosely coordinated system of a combination of free market and, occasional, government directed (atomic energy, space exploration) has actually served us well.

    I have no idea what a responsible nation might be. I suspect that is some ideal which has not yet been attained by man.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Great thoughtful blog. I am stumbling it as well as going to digg it so it would reach to more people.

    ReplyDelete
  3. In the light of the latest economic depressing recession which has infected by housing and credit crunch. It has led to further demise of Car manufacuturers in Detroit and financial institutes along with bringing down individual families as consumers. In this situation, it is very important for America and its technical industry to take a pause and to look beyound next 10 years horizon. First and foremost, the technology industry should perform and improve on the most basic aspect is to develop strength of basic technology. Then to innovate on new technology front. Follow this with grand education plan which will educate this and next generation. While doing this adapt to new economic model which is building up now with better infrastructure, new energy grids and future enhancement which is happening in information technology and artificial intelligence. This economic model will definitely bring out stronger financial sector and may lead to more owning of Government.

    It is the fact that America has been super power due to its technological advancement and innovative vision of American leaders and faithful practice of American followers in past decade. To continue in future, in these present days of economic turmoil we all have to think that we have to embrace Science-Technology-Engineering-Mathematics once again. We have to dust ourselves and re-innovate the technology front inspiring the budding bright scientific adventurers.

    Fortunately the internet make it very easy for learning and our current generation is already adopted it very well.

    There are more brilliant people around here, who may throw more light on prospering technology industry for better future of America. But do consider on "common person" who is willing to complete his squirrel share of work.

    ReplyDelete
  4. I am tech handicapped in the extreme. More than three buttons on a machine terrifies me. But I believe we Americans appreciate and are drawn to new technology like ants to honey. We actually line up in front of stores days (and nights) in advance of any release of new technology. So we do aprreciate.

    Do we understand the gadgets? No, but that's okay as long as we know how to operate them. Are we critical of our inventors/engineers/ scientists/whatever? No I don't believe we are at all. We do hit at the automakers for being behind other countries with the vehicles they bring to market because we know the technology behind other countries more superior autos probably came from US research done in US universities and garages.

    Now as for scientists, well it seems to me the scientists themselves are their own worst enemies. They appear to be a bunch of prima donnas trying to outdo each other. When one says black, another says no siree, it's white. Global warming is a good example of this. It doesn't seem to be a difficult problem to determine if the pollution caused by man in the last 150 years has lead to the deterioration we see happening in our environment or whether it is a natural occurrence. When ice cores and earth bores can measure the environment of 10,000 or more years ago and all the years in between, then seeing if what is happening today has happened before should be easy. But this doesn't seem to be the case as the scientists battle each other in print causing we "challenged" individuals to take sides with nothing really to back our decision. And yet, if man is causing Global Warming then we must surely make the decision to stop doing what we are doing. This will of course be a difficult and very expensive undertaking so is it any wonder we would appreciate a bit of agreement from those who are advertising themselves as being knowledgeable and even experts in the field?

    Did I mention that my five year old neighbor comes over and trades me home made cookies for programing my VCR? BB

    ReplyDelete
  5. Thanks for paying us a visit E.C., and for the kind words. As long as we stimulate thought....

    ReplyDelete
  6. Brenda: Having spent a substantial portion of his life dealing with scientists, inventors, and engineers, the Logistician has a different view of battles between scientists which sometimes appear in the media. Clearly that occurs on occasion between scientists pursuing alternate theories to explain phenomena, and those individuals might be properly termed prima donnas. However, that characterization, in our opinion, does not apply to at least 95% of the scientific community. In fact, it has been our experience that scientists generally try to avoid becoming involved in legal / forensic matters, or those issues being volleyed back and forth by industry and politicians, so that it does not affect the integrity of their work.

    There are clearly some instances where science has been politicized, such as the case with global warming and stem cell research. We do not think that is the case with the science related to Alzheimer's, cancer, tuberculosis, asteroids and comets, geology, inert elements, metal fatigue, carbon filament research, etc.

    As for the export of our technology to other countries, this is one of the factors to which Yale Professor Paul Kennedy referred in his classic work, "The Rise and Fall of Great Powers, 1500-2000," as contributing to the demise of a great power.

    ReplyDelete
  7. I am tech handicapped in the extreme. More than three buttons on a machine terrifies me. But I believe we Americans appreciate and are drawn to new technology like ants to honey. We actually line up in front of stores days (and nights) in advance of any release of new technology. So we do aprreciate.

    Do we understand the gadgets? No, but that's okay as long as we know how to operate them. Are we critical of our inventors/engineers/ scientists/whatever? No I don't believe we are at all. We do hit at the automakers for being behind other countries with the vehicles they bring to market because we know the technology behind other countries more superior autos probably came from US research done in US universities and garages.

    Now as for scientists, well it seems to me the scientists themselves are their own worst enemies. They appear to be a bunch of prima donnas trying to outdo each other. When one says black, another says no siree, it's white. Global warming is a good example of this. It doesn't seem to be a difficult problem to determine if the pollution caused by man in the last 150 years has lead to the deterioration we see happening in our environment or whether it is a natural occurrence. When ice cores and earth bores can measure the environment of 10,000 or more years ago and all the years in between, then seeing if what is happening today has happened before should be easy. But this doesn't seem to be the case as the scientists battle each other in print causing we "challenged" individuals to take sides with nothing really to back our decision. And yet, if man is causing Global Warming then we must surely make the decision to stop doing what we are doing. This will of course be a difficult and very expensive undertaking so is it any wonder we would appreciate a bit of agreement from those who are advertising themselves as being knowledgeable and even experts in the field?

    Did I mention that my five year old neighbor comes over and trades me home made cookies for programing my VCR? BB

    ReplyDelete
  8. Thanks for paying us a visit E.C., and for the kind words. As long as we stimulate thought....

    ReplyDelete
  9. In the light of the latest economic depressing recession which has infected by housing and credit crunch. It has led to further demise of Car manufacuturers in Detroit and financial institutes along with bringing down individual families as consumers. In this situation, it is very important for America and its technical industry to take a pause and to look beyound next 10 years horizon. First and foremost, the technology industry should perform and improve on the most basic aspect is to develop strength of basic technology. Then to innovate on new technology front. Follow this with grand education plan which will educate this and next generation. While doing this adapt to new economic model which is building up now with better infrastructure, new energy grids and future enhancement which is happening in information technology and artificial intelligence. This economic model will definitely bring out stronger financial sector and may lead to more owning of Government.

    It is the fact that America has been super power due to its technological advancement and innovative vision of American leaders and faithful practice of American followers in past decade. To continue in future, in these present days of economic turmoil we all have to think that we have to embrace Science-Technology-Engineering-Mathematics once again. We have to dust ourselves and re-innovate the technology front inspiring the budding bright scientific adventurers.

    Fortunately the internet make it very easy for learning and our current generation is already adopted it very well.

    There are more brilliant people around here, who may throw more light on prospering technology industry for better future of America. But do consider on "common person" who is willing to complete his squirrel share of work.

    ReplyDelete

"There Are More Than 2 Or 3 Ways To View Any Issue; There Are At Least 27"™

"Experience Isn't Expensive; It's Priceless"™

"Common Sense should be a Way of Life"™

Opportunity to Serve as "Guest Author"

This forum was designed to be YOUR forum for the civil exchange of ideas by people with all points of views. We welcome the submission of articles by all of our readers, as long as they are in compliance with our Guidelines contained in Post No. 34. We look forward to receiving your submissions.