October 2, 2008

Story ideas: NASA at 50 and Science in America

So how has 50 years of official U.S. space exploration helped or hurt our society?

October 1 is the 50th anniversary of the opening of the NASA headquarters.

To be sure the U.S. was doing rocket research before 1958 but it was the launching of Sputnik and the fear of a Red Moon that finally got the U.S. government off its backside and get serious about science and space.

And this takes us to the general question of science in our society and science reporting.

Now, according to more and more surveys, the lack of serious science education in schools is hurting America. Even as the rest of the world still admires our scientific research. (Or at least the freedom to engage in that research.)
  • What do college students say about the space program?
  • How about the standing of the U.S. in science development?
  • What do the professors in the science departments in our universities think about the past 8 years?
  • About the future?
  • How do students, business leaders, professors react to the challenges posed by growing science investments in other countries while the U.S. government investment -- in real dollars -- is falling?
  • Is there a fear of science among the public?
  • Is a new religion-science war brewing? Or has it already hit? (Think stem-cells, evolution -- see Pew survey of 2006 on right -- or global warming.)
  • Why do so many good general reporters just fail to grasp some of the concepts of basic science, and thus misrepresent scientific breakthroughs to the public?
  • Why is America unique in rejecting
It would be nice to see more reporting on science that explains the scientific process. Maybe training sessions with scientists who know how to speak English (instead of scientific jargon) to help reporters better understand the scientific community and why science -- not superstition or political ideology -- is important to understand.

It would be nice to see more science in the regular pages of our newspapers and in our news broadcasts rather than just one section once a week. (At least the New York Times still has a science section. How many other papers can say that?)

Look at the popularity of Science Friday on NPR -- one of the most listened to shows. There is a hunger and a thirst for good science reporting. Why aren't we giving it?


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