To make a second ‘Giant Leap,’ America needs science

A nine-year-old student keeps an eye on his science experiment at a Lancaster, PA middle school.
A nine-year-old student keeps an eye on his science experiment at a Lancaster, PA middle school.
AP Photo/Alex Brandon

Fifty years ago, President Kennedy declared, “We choose to go to the moon in this decade.”  In order to put a man on the moon we had to have a scientific revolution–and we had one. We heavily funded scientific research and development. We emphasized teaching evidence-based science in our schools.

Our moon landing was humanity’s first giant leap. Fifty years later, the Space Race is over and that scientific revolution has ended.

Scientific innovation has driven our country, from the light bulb to the microchip. We split the atom and made the airplane. And if we want to continue making cutting edge scientific discoveries, we must have a new scientific revolution.  We need a second Giant Leap for humankind!

To launch this second Giant Leap we need a new investment in science. America must also have a cultural shift: we must have fewer people deny evidence-based science.

According to the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), in “the past two years, federal nondefense [research and development] has declined by 5 percent, after a largely stagnant decade.” This grim picture will look even worse if the upcoming budget sequester happens. Science funding will be cut by at least 50 billion dollars over the next five years, according to the AAAS. The former director of the National Institute of Health said the sequester will “maim our innovation capabilities.”

Instead of slashing science funding, we need a massive new investment in science. President Obama said in his State of the Union address, “now is the time to reach a level of research and development not seen since the height of the Space Race.” We agree; our student movement for a second Giant Leap is calling for one trillion dollars in funding for new research and development over the next decade.

Some people question whether it is fiscally responsible to spend one trillion dollars on science while we are struggling to pay off our existing debts. Funding science is fiscally responsible and is a moral imperative. As President Obama noted in the State of the Union, every dollar that was spent on the Human Genome Project created $140 for our economy. The return on investment in scientific innovation is estimated by scholars to be “ranging from 30% to over 100%.” When Congress crafts a budget, we believe they should recognize return on scientific investment in it.

We also need a revolution in how America views science. Forty-six percent of Americans deny evolution. Sixty percent of American public school biology teachers do not teach evolution properly. Thirteen percent more teach creationism outright.

Millions in taxpayer dollars are being used to fund voucher schools that teach creationismLouisiana and Tennessee are teaching unscientific “alternatives” to evolution, the origin of the Earth, and climate change, and this is allowed by state law. Other states may soon follow suit.  Politicians like Rep. Paul Broun, who is a member of the U.S. House of Representatives Science Committee, recently called evolution, embryology and the Big Bang theory “lies straight from the pit of hell.”  Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee and others hosted a Congressional briefing called “Scientific Evidence of Intelligent Design and its Implications for Public Policy and Education.” North Carolina attempted to outlaw climate science.

We need a fundamental change in the American perception of science and an end to legislation that promotes science denial.  President Obama agrees; he has called on Americans to “believe in the overwhelming judgment of science.”

We will face unprecedented challenges in the coming years, from climate change to meteorites like the one that recently exploded over Russia. Science is what will allow us to overcome these challenges and create a brighter future of new technology like Evacuated Tube Transport and wave energy being harnessed on a massive scale.

Zack Kopplin is a 19-year-old student at Rice University, and one of the leading American voices against the teaching of creationism in schools. He was featured as an MHP Foot Soldier last March, and will be a featured guest on PBS’ Moyers & Company Friday night.