With Limited Budgets, Pursuing Science Smartly
President Obama and his challenger, Mitt Romney, each responded at length to a question posed by ScienceDebate 2012 about the nation’s goals in space. But while both emphasized the importance of space exploration, with Mr. Obama briefly mentioning the need for monitoring the Earth, neither candidate, and neither party, has addressed the scientific question of why we want to bother with exploring space.
The issues that were addressed explicitly — national pride, technological innovation, national security — may be interesting and relevant, but they are largely spinoffs of what is usually claimed to be a grand scientific adventure. This is not a new phenomenon. Tapes of John F. Kennedy in the Oval Office released last month made it clear that from his perspective, science was irrelevant to the space race he proclaimed back in 1962. What counted was beating the Russians to the Moon. Maybe scientists should simply face reality and accept that science doesn’t play a central role in the government’s equation.