I often feel that we are losing the race for discovery and exploration because we care so much about noise, so much about optics, and so much about politics. Now, we have to make a choice. We need a commitment to achieve. And achievement in the areas of discovery and exploration will fuel our souls and power the democracy and our great American society for the next century.
Not two hundred years ago, America was a relatively unknown country. We had not yet presented our global community with the type of contributions that would go on to change our world such as vaccinations, propulsion, Internet communications, and space exploration. At that time, not all that long ago, America was a small and economically depressed country. And then that changed.
One hundred years ago, America began to discover and explore. We traipsed the globe and traversed the seas. We built great and amazing things that launched us through the air. We dove into the atom and the gene. And we did all this while creating beautiful music, powerful art, and meaningful literature that inspired and lifted up whole generations. We could do all of this because we were unafraid of truth.
The powerful beauty of science is that it is true regardless of if you believe it or not. And while we are always understanding it, we must never distort it. Throughout time, the universe will reveal more of itself to us that will allow human beings to travel extraordinary distances in moments, feed a world of people in need, and cure so many ills that threaten our lives and our planet. But truth is not always easy to accept. Yet, in spite of that, it is still true.
Over the past 15 years, I have lived in an America that has begun to fight truth. I have seen leaders politicize science, disregard fact, and demonize reality. Many on both sides of the isle have done this because it is politically expedient and effective to do so. But hopping up and down on scientists does not change reality — it only prolongs progress.
When people ask me why I support a tremendous increase in funding for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics over other priorities, I tell them it is because I believe we are all served in finding new truths that support all people everywhere. Those truths cure disease, promote sustainability, connect people and information, and will vault us into an age of discovery and then commerce that we cannot even imagine. Science feeds the soul. Technology tantalizes the mind. Engineering launches the spirit. And mathematics reveals great beauty.
An investment in discovery is an investment in the future of our human species. We must invest in exploration to travel the cosmos as well as preserve our own future. We must invest in research to build a new and important opportunities for achievement, to support the general well-being, and create new avenues for business. Therefore, we must invest in American ingenuity because it is an investment in ourselves.
What is difficult about science is that is not easy, it is not fast, and many times hypotheses are found false. But science is not a straight line. Failure in research is constant and success is inconsistent. But without this commitment to discovery and exploration through science, we risk not going anywhere at all. That is why, perhaps the greatest risk to discovery is politics.
I fear that we are spending so much time and opportunity addressing noise. Quibbling over such small drama such as who said what to who on reality television or in the gaudy arena that has become American politics only promotes an increasingly myopic view of what we are capable of. Worse yet, it wastes the time, talent, and opportunity of millions.
These superficial means of appeasement for the masses are the “bread and circuses” of today. But most threatening is to empower people who use politics to challenge science while all of us are distracted. That is why we must begin to demand more from our leaders and require them a commitment of them to science, to achievement, and to both discovery and exploration. Those in politics who fight truth are only scoring points to remain in power. But the real power is in championing the future.
People often long for the days of the Moon Race between America and the Soviet Union. And while that catalyst lit a fuze within us, it did not sustain. The real enemy is not communism — it is complacency. We need to imbue the values of discovery into our very culture so that when we get to the moon, we keep going.
Not long ago, America was the home of great achievement because we had a great commitment to it. If our society is to survive, we need a renewed commitment to discovery and exploration that is unbound by politics, immune to time, and supported by the very DNA of our nation. Now, we have to make a choice about our future.
We must commit to these things “not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too.” — President John F. Kennedy, Moon Speech