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I know there is a lot going on in the world right now. A lot of things that may feel more urgent. But you are here. You are here because you know that a functioning democracy is dependent upon a well-informed electorate. You are here because, despite everything that is going on, you know that science is about playing the long game. You are here for your children. You are here for your children’s children. You are here for your descendants that you will never meet.
You are here for whatever species your descendants have ended up turning into after they’ve genetically engineered themselve so as to be totally unrecognizeable and started assimilating other species in the galaxy. Just joking.
I don’t think we will become the Borg. Because you are also here because you know that resistance ISN’T futile. Jill Tarter, the astronomer that inspired Jodi Foster’s character in the movie/book Contact, says that “The story of humans is the story of ideas that shine light into dark corners.
” The story of humans pursuing science is a story of hope. It is a story of shining a light into the dark corners of our ignorance. The methods of science are evidence-based and self-correcting. It helps us to compensate for the fact that we have error-prone brains that evolved in an environment where pattern-recognition, superstition, fear, and in-group bias were an advantage that helped us survive. But it is science that will help us survive what (Contact writer) Carl Sagan called “a technological adolescence.
Your presence here–especially given the weather, but ESPECIALLY given the climate–is a radical act of hope. When you look back on this time, when the world seemed upside down, and democracy is shrouded in darkness, you will be able to say that you shone a light in that darkness. We are here today to declare that curiosity is a value. And as with any other value, we call for policy that reflects that value. We recognize that we cannot solve the problems of the world if we don’t understand them. We cannot solve gun violence without robust research on gun violence. We cannot combat terrorism without understanding how climate change drives mass migration and poverty in certain regions of the world.
We cannot feed an exponentially-growing and longer-living human population by pretending that global warming is not affecting crops, or ignoring both the innovative potential of genetic modification AND it’s complications. And we certainly cannot make smart decisions about infrastructure and healthcare without an electorate and a legislature that is both informed and scientifically literate. What I want to impress upon everyone here is the degree to which both community and federal support are foundational to the application of science and healthcare in THIS community. The Shaw Center for Children and Families at Notre Dame does innovative applied research where the research participants receive education that helps them reduce stress and parent more effectively. There is a project there that is totally dependent on funding from the NIH.
Every year, my undergrad professors at IUSB do community archaeological excavations that help us enrich our understanding of our community’s history–they receive government funding to pay students to help catalogue that data. I have friends whose children’s lives hung in the balance in Memorial’s Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, saved by science. Science is all around you in this community. And it depends on you. To understand it. To teach it. To support it. Today we will hear from community environmentalists, activists, chemists, and teachers. Every single one of these people are people who engage the community in learning and applying science right here in the community. From preventing lead poisoning, to fostering a deeper understanding of the natural world, they exemplify the power of science to improve and enrich our lives.
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