Science under Siege

Three centuries after the Enlightenment first linked human freedom with the progress of science and technology, both are under growing attack--despite their spectacular triumphs. Fundamental discoveries about nature expanded our creative power over the structure and transformations of the inanimate and living world. Breakthroughs in physics and chemistry enabled the extraordinary development of electronics and materials that dramatically shortened time and distance, ushering in an information age of fast, secure communication and transport. Advances in biological sciences and technologies, meanwhile, are increasing our ability to control disease and aging, boost food production, and manage pollution.

In short, scientific research--and its implementation through new technologies--made possible new freedoms, new ways of life, and new means of practical human action. But more and more we hear that our ability and willingness to manipulate natural processes is itself unnatural --an indictment that reflects our ambivalent relationship with nature. We are, as the French writer Jean Bruller-Vercors put it, animaux dénaturés , or "denatured animals," living in nature but simultaneously able to observe, investigate, and question it from a distance, conscious of our separateness.

This ambivalence gives rise to a diffuse anxiety: there are certain things that should not be touched, basic mysteries in nature that we tamper with at the risk of unleashing uncontrollable forces. The birth of electricity and automotive power was accompanied by this apprehension, and it has grown stronger the further science has penetrated the natural world, unlocking the secrets of the atom and of our own genetic makeup. Indeed, fear of our own awesome power explains the appeal of environmentalism, with its vision--particularly in its fundamentalist, quasi-religious variant, so-called "deep ecology"--of an intrinsically "pure" Nature whose harmony is supposedly disrupted by man.

To continue reading, please log in or enter your email address.

Registration is quick and easy and requires only your email address. If you already have an account with us, please log in. Or subscribe now for unlimited access.

required

Log in

http://prosyn.org/vYhuxiu;
  1. Patrick Kovarik/Getty Images

    The Summit of Climate Hopes

    Presidents, prime ministers, and policymakers gather in Paris today for the One Planet Summit. But with no senior US representative attending, is the 2015 Paris climate agreement still viable?

  2. Trump greets his supporters The Washington Post/Getty Images

    Populist Plutocracy and the Future of America

    • In the first year of his presidency, Donald Trump has consistently sold out the blue-collar, socially conservative whites who brought him to power, while pursuing policies to enrich his fellow plutocrats. 

    • Sooner or later, Trump's core supporters will wake up to this fact, so it is worth asking how far he might go to keep them on his side.
  3. Agents are bidding on at the auction of Leonardo da Vinci's 'Salvator Mundi' Eduardo Munoz Alvarez/Getty Images

    The Man Who Didn’t Save the World

    A Saudi prince has been revealed to be the buyer of Leonardo da Vinci's "Salvator Mundi," for which he spent $450.3 million. Had he given the money to the poor, as the subject of the painting instructed another rich man, he could have restored eyesight to nine million people, or enabled 13 million families to grow 50% more food.

  4.  An inside view of the 'AknRobotics' Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

    Two Myths About Automation

    While many people believe that technological progress and job destruction are accelerating dramatically, there is no evidence of either trend. In reality, total factor productivity, the best summary measure of the pace of technical change, has been stagnating since 2005 in the US and across the advanced-country world.

  5. A student shows a combo pictures of three dictators, Austrian born Hitler, Castro and Stalin with Viktor Orban Attila Kisbenedek/Getty Images

    The Hungarian Government’s Failed Campaign of Lies

    The Hungarian government has released the results of its "national consultation" on what it calls the "Soros Plan" to flood the country with Muslim migrants and refugees. But no such plan exists, only a taxpayer-funded propaganda campaign to help a corrupt administration deflect attention from its failure to fulfill Hungarians’ aspirations.

  6. Project Syndicate

    DEBATE: Should the Eurozone Impose Fiscal Union?

    French President Emmanuel Macron wants European leaders to appoint a eurozone finance minister as a way to ensure the single currency's long-term viability. But would it work, and, more fundamentally, is it necessary?

  7. The Year Ahead 2018

    The world’s leading thinkers and policymakers examine what’s come apart in the past year, and anticipate what will define the year ahead.

    Order now