Science History

Was America at its greatest scientifically when academics made far less money and were politically representative? Not if science output, Nobel prizes and adult science literacy are the measures, because America leads in all categories.

Yet with six figure incomes for faculty and less diversity has come greater distrust. Conservatives, for example, once had the highest trust in science, and now they are near the lowest, along with progressives. The public regularly thinks that anyone who cashes a paycheck is unethical, people don't trust medicine, food or energy science on the left and the right thinks climate scientists are shills.

This article contains spoilers for Game of Thrones, Season 5, Episode 9, The Dance of Dragons.

Royal families in myths and legends are infamous for intrigue, murder and mayhem.

These very deeds are part of what make the stories epic and immortal. Indeed, the moral complexities inherent in the outrageous acts perpetrated by the characters of Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey or Aeschylus’ Agamemnon have engaged audiences for thousands of years, inspiring commentaries, debates, philosophical musings and reinterpretations.

At the Brisbane Writers’ Festival some years ago, novelist Peter Carey responded to relentless historical questioning about his True History of the Kelly Gang (2000) by sinking in his chair and saying “I made it up”.

But the thing is, he didn’t.

As his title declares, Carey was playing a game with “truth”. He had long been fascinated by Ned Kelly’s Jerilderie Letter and his book was both a reworking of a real historical person and a conscious extrapolation of a real historical document. The stakes were high.

With almost the same number of soldiers as the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) – 79,000 – and similar death rates – close to 10,000 – French participation in the Gallipoli campaign could not occupy a more different place in national memory.

What became a foundation myth in Australia as it also did in the Turkish Republic after 1923 was eventually forgotten in France.

Some of the reasons are obvious.

The Anzac landings at Gallipoli in April 1915 marked the beginning of another instance of conflict in the war-rich region's history.

There are few geographical areas that have seen as much military action as the Gallipoli region, the site of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corp (ANZAC) landings in 1915. 

The conflicts in the region include some of the most renowned wars from Greek antiquity.

Teaching any sort of academic program with religious content can be a tricky undertaking. Religious passions, whether pro or con, can be volatile; religion is a matter about which people can become upset.

My doctoral studies were in the relatively safe arena of Greek philosophy – no-one really cares what you say about Socrates and his mates these days – but I taught Religious Studies for many years and it was, by comparison, a minefield of sensitivities. In all those years, however, I managed to only really upset somebody once.

We sometimes have to wonder about the decision-making of government agencies. Senator Tom Coburn produced an annual list of waste and duplication that included science and it made sense to address those flaws, unless you actually favor National Science Foundation money being used so someone could play Everquest instead of doing actual science. Likewise, energy researchers were not thrilled that the Department of Energy funded the Human Genome Project.

But sometimes it makes total sense. Case in point: Dr. Ernest M. Allen, Chief, Division of Research Grants at the NIH, who once agreed to fund a rocket. For a 10-year-old.

Everyone has heard of Louis Pasteur - most people know that pasteurization is a process of sterilizing food to make it safer. (1) And today is Darwin Day, when Charles Darwin is fêted for his work on evolution and natural selection.

Fewer people have heard of Robert Koch, though he is responsible for keeping billions of people alive in much the same way Pasteur is.

Cavendish torsion balance and Cavendish Signature image via Wikimedia Commons. Composite image by Lalena Lancaster

Drawn directly from the flesh Public Domain Review/
Flickr, CC BY-SA

By Richard Gunderman, Indiana University-Purdue University