What Are the Pressing Scientific Issues for the Nation and the World, and What Is Your Advice on How I Can Begin to Deal With Them?

By Douglas Rushkoff. Published in The Edge on 1 January 2003

A modest super-fund to explore alternative, non-resource-based energy sources could solve a great majority of the world’s problems. But it would need to be accompanied by an equally serious look at our commodities-based economic model. Our chief obstacle to sustainable energy technology might not be scientific at all, but economic. What would happen to the oil industry if we no longer needed oil?

The same could be asked about our chemically and genetically addicted agriculture. It’s not that high-yield, top-soil enriching farming practices are out of reach; it’s simply that our agribusiness industry doesn’t know how to profit off a paradigm that doesn’t rely on synthetic fertilizers and gene modification.

America’s great problems lie in our inability to change the models we are using to understand the challenges before us. And this is where a genuine science education—both in schools and through good use of media—would prove extraordinarily useful.

The scientific model acknowledges that it is just a model of our reality. It is not the way things are, but rather a way of explaining the way the way things are. Those of us who use the scientific model have great practice in reminding ourselves that our understandings must constantly be revised, evolved, even improvised.

To push a science agenda, we would have to promote the underlying premise of science: that none of the systems we use to understand this reality are pre-existing or true. They were simply the most useful at a particular moment—very often to a particular group. When they stop being useful, we must be prepared to discard them.