For the past few years I’ve been impressed with the Middleburg Eccentric’s editorial section. Recently, because I was concerned about how some things were presented, I wrote a note to the editor. The result was that I was invited to contribute a regular column to the Op-Ed page.
As one of my students recently pointed out to me, my “no” button seems to be broken. So here I am. I have a PhD in Astrophysics and have worked at the National Center for Atmospheric Research, NASA, and George Mason University. My experience ranges from theoretical atmospheric modeling, to building spacecraft and analyzing data from them, to teaching students about science.
In interpreting what I write, you need to understand that although I know quite a bit about science, I live in the real world just like you do.
When we scientists determine, for example, that polluting the atmosphere is a serious problem, I suffer with the pollution controls on my truck just like you do, but the congressmen, who provide our research funding, don’t provide more money to come up with what they consider to be bad news.
Scientists had much more research funding when our research produced what the public considers good news.
Sadly, the primary responsibility of scientists is to be honest with ourselves and with others. This is not always easy.
This week, my topic is Brexit.
From a science viewpoint, I see Brexit as very detrimental.
Science has now advanced to the point where most major research requires large amounts of money and many groups of experts with different knowledge and expertise. An example is the project I worked on at NASA, called SOHO, a spacecraft designed to study the Sun, solar storms, and their impact on Earth.
It was a joint project between the United States (NASA) and the European Space Agency (ESA). It cost approximately $2 Billion.
No individual country was prepared to spend that much money, but together we did it. I was the U.S. lead scientist. My European counterpart was from Spain. The primary European management came from England.
The world’s main nuclear research facility is in Switzerland. When the U.S. began to build one in Texas, Congress shut it down because of cost.
Europe and, to a lesser extent the U.S., joined forces to build the Swiss facility. It has yielded spectacular results.
My message here is that science has become an interdependent, international endeavor.
So, does Great Briton matter? My answer is yes.
The official language of our scientific interactions is English (not American, a slightly different language). Before WWII, German was the official science language, and I had to learn it before I could read the older Science Journal articles.
The British have a professional and personal style that makes them excellent leaders of scientific projects. They hold many of the leadership positions. The British also provide many of our top scientists.
With Brexit, they will be gone from our projects. I doubt that England will be able to buy their way back in to the major scientific projects.
The world will suffer from fewer advances in science.
Beyond science I see Brexit as a symptom of today’s societal move toward tribalism. People want no more of this world government, free trade, etc. Given today’s technology, not working together could lead to disaster.
What would happen if we did not work together to stop the spread of a deadly virus? Do we really want to get to the point where we have the country of Middleburg, the country of Warrenton?
Consider the big picture.