“…I have to remind myself that there’s a lot about modernity that’s awesome, too– the Internet, for starters, is vastly cooler and weirder and more fascinating than anything I would’ve dreamed of as a naive undergrad. And that there were a lot of things that sucked in the past– yeah, it sucks that powerful right-wing politicians make hay by claiming climate change is a “hoax,” but really, how much different are they than, say, James Watt back in the 80′s? Reagan asserting that trees cause pollution? (To pull a couple of examples from childhood memories.) When I was a kid, you could still find people denouncing the phaseout of leaded gasoline as a form of fascism (well, communism, because it was the Cold War, but one of those European -isms), and that didn’t fly in the face of business interests anywhere near as much as climate change does.
So, is science really in decline, losing the culture wars? When I can step back and look at it calmly, I have a hard time saying that it is. Yeah, we’re on the short end of a lot of rhetoric, but at the same time, a lot of things are trending the right way. More people are paying attention to healthy eating and responsible environmental practices, smoking in public is way less acceptable than it was. You see more efficient cars, and lights, and appliances of all sorts coming around and getting adopted. Home solar panels have gone from being a nutty hippie affectation to a home improvement service advertised on sports talk radio. And the picture’s even better at the level of basic science– the list of stuff that we routinely do now that was thought to be impossible when I was a kid is just mind-blowing. Mars rovers! Extra-solar planets! Feathered dinosaurs! Ten-meter atom interferometers!”