Readers duke it out over the fate of science and react to DISCOVER's interview with Newt Gingrich

Friday, December 01, 2006

Science Is Dead.
Long Live Science!

John Horgan ["The Final Frontier," October] offers very little to support his thesis that science must reach a conclusion—and that it is happening now. Scientific breakthroughs cannot be predicted, scheduled, or said to be overdue. Aristotle's mechanics survived for thousands of years until they were displaced by Newton's. Newton's theories of motion lasted hundreds of years until they were displaced by Einstein's. We've lived with general relativity for less than a century.

Rob Brown
Calgary, Alberta

As long as there's change—and there always will be—there will be original statistical and scientific research to be done. Science will end with man's extinction. Applied science is also endless. There will always be opportunities to apply findings to current and future problems. Horgan is a reporter looking to sensationalize.

Grant Stevenson
Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania

Horgan's affirmation that the end of significant science is approaching is predicated on the idea that current science explains most things. But before proclaiming that science is over, Horgan should consider that quantum theory still struggles to explain even the most basic phenomena of electron tracks, transparency, prismatic colors, polarization, and the operation of the cathode-ray tube (in terms of the probabilistic wave equation). The theory is still a grab bag of mutually inconsistent pieces of theories called on to explain particular phenomena. And even Horgan acknowledges the disarray among competing theories and the lack of empirical testability in particle physics. Let's not rush to judgment about the end of science when even physics is a such patchwork of inconsistent explanations.

Christopher Tyler
San Francisco, California

Although I enjoyed Horgan's article, I have serious doubts about his hope that "scientists will reject . . . fatalism and help us see warfare as a complex but solvable problem." Contemporary conflicts are caused by different answers to the question "What is the ultimate purpose of life?" This question is far outside the bounds of science and demonstrates why science should not be antagonistic to other fields, such as theology, that attempt to grapple with this question.

Charles D. Dern
Doylestown, Pennsylvania

Gingrich Gets Scientific

In the October Discover Interview, Newt Gingrich does give science some good mouth action when he isn't busy evading the questions. I suspect that Gingrich's supposed love for science runs far behind his commitments to whatever else is on his agenda. Paying kids to learn science doesn't sound bad, but I'll reserve giving him credence until he advocates something substantial like the reinstatement of the Office of Technical Assessment, which was widely respected and relied on by Congress and the U.S. government for thorough scientific advice. Gingrich's Contract With America did away with it.

David Blacklock
Waco, Texas

Thank you for your interview with Mr. Gingrich. I am pleased to see a politician interested in science and education, someone who values making long-term commitments and preparing for the future. However, I am disappointed that Gingrich's preparedness does not extend to global warming. I got the impression he doesn't feel there is much to be concerned about. This makes him appear blind and not like someone who looks at the long term. Fear will only increase as the evidence of global warming mounts. We need leaders who will stand up and take accountability.

Serena Keeler
Fort Worth, Texas

As much as I agree with many of Mr. Gingrich's ideas, I doubt that paying kids in 7th through 12th grades if they take math and science is the right policy. We need to relearn discipline and regain the passion for knowledge for the sake of knowledge, not the bottom line. Scientists and mathematicians are created when the curiosity of a child is provoked, not when money is thrown at them.

Meenakshi Srinivasan
San Jose, California

Our Bad

In the October Map [Data], we misidentified Bradley Huffaker of the Cooperative Association for Internet Data Analysis as "Brad Heffaker." DISCOVER regrets the error.

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