Funding Science Should Be A Priority


The car was parked but the engine was running.  Just like me – My body was idle but my brain was running.

As I’ve mentioned before, I love to accompany my husband to various stores, but prefer to let him run in to pick up whatever we need while I wait in the car.  I have another companion while he is gone – Public Radio.

I have a friend who is a talented stand-up comic.  She’s not in the “big time” but plays the circuit of comedy clubs across the country. One of her routines is about the time she and her then-husband (you’ll see why they divorced in a few moments) stopped at a convenience store for gas during a cross-country trip.

While husband was inside paying for the gas, my friend decided to go inside for a cold drink or a candy bar.  She wasn’t dressed formally, by any means – her hair was up in rollers to prepare for the evening’s performance, and she was wearing sweats.

When she went inside, her husband turned around and saw her.  To her embarrassment, he said in a thick southern accent (it would be impolite to say “hick”) –

“Get back in the truck!  Did I tell you that you could get out of the truck?  Get back in the truck!”

The laughs come when my friend reveals the reaction of the (female) convenience store clerk –

“My!  You got a GOOD one!”

I tend to think my husband is a “good one” and trust him to go into the store and not come out with TOO MANY impulse purchases. Meanwhile, my active brain is picking up interesting things from Public Radio, such as –

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The “Lancet” — a major British medical journal announced that 2 women, blind from macular degeneration now generally considered pretty much untreatable, have gotten at least a little sight back after an intraocular injection of eye stem cells.  Does not sound like fun, but if I were blind (and could not see the needle, I guess) I would try this.  Yessiree.

I love “The Lancet” so much I have somehow wondered if I were becoming British.  (I also love their journal of evidence-based medicine, “Bandolero,” which has a sketch on the title page of someone who looks a little like Pancho Villa.  I am sometimes called “The Renegade Doctor,” which makes me sound like I ran with Pancho Villa.  Whatever.)

Same newscast —

It isn’t news that times are tough.  Lots of states and counties and cities are hurting and suffering budget short-falls.  They respond to this by cutting services (like fire and police) and closing down facilities (like libraries, swimming pools, parks).

Part of the reason is a decrease in tax revenue.  Taxes fund a lot of things – and tough times mean making tough decisions about what stays and what goes.

Education and research are usually first on the chopping block.  The “No New Taxes” crowd feel that schools ought to be limited to the “Three Rs” and none of that art, music or research stuff is worth funding.

But the medical news on the radio kinda sorta means that science is still doing some amazing things — like sacred quality amazing — when taxpayers are giving less. Maybe about a third less in the last ten years.

I do not want to fuss over how or why or how much, just that our priorities are dead wrong.  Just thinking about this state of affairs makes me feel kind of sick.

I wonder how we get people to see that science — even controversial things like stem cells — is really important.

(So is art and music, but that’s another essay.)

Maybe it is hard to extrapolate from personal experience to general good.

If someone were primary caretaker for someone who had some kind of serious illness, maybe the hardest thing to do is to avoid listening to the doctor, who thinks only in the present reality of his or her practice, and says, “There is nothing we can do.”

That doesn’t mean the problem is not going to get any better.  Technology can and will advance, although the futurists who talk of this are not usually read or followed by physicians.

This did not occur to me until, after a couple of mishaps during the past year, I started walking with the aid of a walker (at first) and then a cane.

Suddenly, I became more aware of other people walking around with canes.

They were sad, ill kempt, and looked hopeless.

Then it occurred to me that their doctors had never told them anything about getting better.  They felt condemned to a life sentence of limited mobility.  And in many cases, it doesn’t have to be so.

Me — I have needed a cane for three extended periods in the last year; lingering idiopathic polyneuropathy from an old illness, a slip-and-fall, and nerve damage from adult chicken pox.

I am on the threshold of getting rid of this mobility aid.  I graduated from using it for support to using it for stability, but I find it invaluable on slippery and wet surfaces and when raising it as a threat toward someone who tries to crowd ahead of me in line for the ladies’ room.

Me — I believe in optimism and self-fulfilling prophecies.

When I use my cane, I am a woman who uses it as an emblem authority, like the late Queen Mother of England, or as a swagger stick or riding crop, like Alec Guinness in “Bridge Over The River Kwai” or General Patton.

Respect My Authority!  Speak Softly But Carry A Big Stick!

I strongly feel that in this “dumbed-down” world where people buy into simplified thoughts, where people think that all politics is either right or left, wrong or right, someone is slowly but surely deep-sixing science.

I have heard people talk about religion vs science too much.  I think anti-intellectuals believe they understand things that are simplified into “either or” by people who set themselves up as “pundits.”

The first time someone asked me about it, I was only seven, supposed to be some kind of “whiz kid” or something. A pleasant lady who was paying my father to write music for her cantata about “Creation,” derived from a series of Biblical verses, asked me the type of question one usually only asks a rabbi or a priest.

I still remember my answer.

“Of course. There is a God.  I thought it was obvious.”

I was already studying the Hebrew liturgy with the hope of becoming a cantorial soloist, so I was well-versed beyond my years.  “I think he made things very, very well.  I do not think that how things were made is a coincidence.”

She hugged and kissed me profusely, and my Daddy-Of-Blessed-Memory was happy, too — as she brought him two more cantatas to put music and orchestrate.

There are plenty of intellectuals who have room for both science and religion in their lives. I have spent most of my life in the company of doctors and scientists.  They were mostly just plain folks, taking their families to church on Sunday and/or synagogues on the Sabbath.  I do not think any of them saw any more controversy than I did.

Someone asked me recently about religion vs. science, and I was in pretty much the same place.

Now I say that “God” (or universal intelligence or whatever) does not reveal His (or hers or its) universal truth until people are ready to accept it.

It would have made no sense to reveal genetic recombination at the giving of the Ten Commandments at Mount Sinai, because nobody would have been able to understand it.  

I told pretty much this to my mother when she last asked me why I did not want to have a daughter who would be cute and smart like me.

I explained that because of genetic recombination, which is true and real, she probably would not be cute and smart like me, but more like some of the other folks in our family.

She understood about as well as Moses would have.

Please support science in any way you can.  

It really is good stuff.  It is essential.  It is what will keep the human race going – far longer than political bickering.



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