*Note to readers: Enjoy this previous article by Dr. Jack Brown, who was unavailable this week.
On the evening of Oct. 4, 1957, a rocket would leave Gagarin’s Start, a Russian launch site at Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. The rocket would carry a small satellite, measuring 58 centimeters in diameter and tipping the scale at 84 kilograms. Big things can come in small packages, and this tiny satellite named Sputnik would have an extraordinary impact on our planet and science education.
The world changed as this satellite zipped around our globe at 8,100 meters per second, sending radio signals back to Earth for about three weeks before its batteries died. For many in the United States, the successful space program of the Russians exposed our shortcomings and gave the space race in the United States a swift kick in the bottom.
The National Defense Education Act of 1958, signed into law in September of that year, dumped $1 billion into the American science curriculum. The NDEA brought low-cost student loans to public and private colleges and universities and expanded higher education, especially in science and math, to a much larger audience.
Fear can be a powerful driver of change, and perhaps Covid-19 will be our generation’s Sputnik?
We have seen other countries act swiftly with this virus and flatten their curve by developing tests quickly, testing in massive numbers, contact tracing, quarantining based on the data, expanding the use of masks and social distancing. The U.S. has improved recently, but by March 8, South Korea was conducting tests on 3,692 per 1 million people, and the U.S. was conducting five tests per 1 million, https://ourworldindata.org/. We had shortages of personal protective equipment, leading to a massive expansion of homemade masks that are not as effective.
I can imagine Americans worried about Russia being ahead of us in 1957 and asking themselves how we are behind. I hope we are asking ourselves that very same question today. The experts on virology and epidemiology have called for these same steps if we are to open our country safely and without a massive spike in cases and deaths.
We can do this. We can lead the world in science and math, but that will require our population to trust the experts. Filtering through the amount of misinformation that comes from the online world, news media and social media is a massive challenge today. It is time to arm our citizens with the facts from science and not Facebook.
There is no way to get even a fraction of our population ready to sit down and critically read a scientific journal. Scientific journals are written for peer-review to other Ph.D.’s in the field, not for the general public. However, there are some excellent science education webpages that break the journals down into a more coherent story while providing links to the actual article if you are ready to read a scientific paper critically. Some of my recommendations are below:
Start Here: This is an excellent resource the Paris Junior College Library uses to help students find and evaluate credible resources online. Enables you to filter out the pseudoscience: https://www.accreditedonlinecolleges.com/guide-online-academic-research/
LabRoots: Trending science news from scientific journals, broken down into a story that often includes a video. www.labroots.com/
Science Daily: Always up to date, searchable, incredible science writers, and links to the source are always given. www.sciencedaily.com/