I even kept the headline from a NYTimes.com commentary by Dennis Overbye for today's post, I hope he doesn't mind [LINK]. The commentary is about important people being interested in science. The focus is on astronomy, which is Overbye's general beat. Yes, this is related to the NASA scandal, and yes, I seem to be a NYTimes.com sycophant more and more these days (don't worry, they'll drop the ball soon, and I'll be all over them like birdshot on a Texas lawyer), but I really do think this scandal has brought a lot of issues out into the open again. Of course, the most obvious issue is this administration's apparent neglect and even scorn for modern science, but there are other issues here, like the more general topic of what governmental organizations (e.g., NASA) are allowed to do independent of the very government that is funding them, and what the relationship should be between these kinds of organizations and the general public, for whom the organizations ultimately work.
Overbye brings up some important points about astronomers staying in the wings of the political stage while, for example, Kansas stopped teaching about the big bang in science classrooms. What? Yeah, it doesn't make a lot of sense, but we all know that Kansas has some serious troubles (see this BOOK and the Flying Spaghetti Monster). He touches on George Deutsch ordering NASA web sites to add "theory" after any mention of "big bang." Then he moves on to a less egregious offense at NASA: a sentence about observations of a white dwarf being similar to our sun's fate being removed from a new release.
The statement wasn't removed for being political or policy related, as it is common knowledge that our sun will die in about 5,000,000,000 years. Instead it was removed because it was too much "gloom and doom" to give the public. Never mind that it's true. Do governments, or scientists working for the government, need to sugar-coat findings for the public? What would this mean for avian flu stories? Is it inevitable that a pandemic will occur, and we're just being told about less gloomy scenarios? Is the public so spoiled, or so dumb, that we can no longer trust them to deal with hard realities?
Despite my innate cynicism, I don't think the American public has fallen that far yet. It is mysterious to me why the government and media seem to pander to the least curious, and intellectually laziest among us. A bad analogy: it's like keeping a population happy by slipping some sedatives into the water supply. I'll make it more extended: what happens when we find out the sedative is actually toxic? Maybe I took it too far. Well, that's what blogs are for.