The Space Program

4 06 2008

Lately, I’ve increasingly been subjected to the verbal diarrhea regarding the money going into ‘useless’ scientific endeavors. Here’s a shocker: there is no such thing. A dollar going into furthering science will almost always be better spent in the long run than a dollar going anywhere else.

The masses bemoan that we don’t have time for “unimportant” things such as space exploration or stem-cell research, and instead want the public money diverted into supporting the growing brood of leaching army of lazy bastards whose sole purpose in life is to see if they can field a full battalion of children out of their pants.

Scientific advancement is often taken for granted by some, primarily by those who consider it a productive night if they can stuff Twinkies down their throats while watching non-stop CNN coverage on Jamie Lynn Spears. Modern science costs money. Modern science can also help society, in both direct and indirect ways. Just because there is no ‘cure for cancer’, that does not mean all other areas of inquiry should be put on hold. Science is often synergistic, and often involves diverse variety of fields before a solution can be produced. Worse, the need for quick solutions and instant gratification leads to bad strategies for science and forces shortcuts that harm everyone. Let’s look at something that seems to be the punching bag for everyone these days: space exploration.

First, the public’s pre-occupation with symbolic achievements (man on moon, the tin-can they call the Internal Space Station) causes real scientific progress to slow down. You go to the moon before you’re ready, after spending exorbitant amount of money, and then you stand still for the next forty years because you had no long term plan for the exploration of space. Everyone who knows anything about space travel knows that rocket ships will always be prohibitively expensive as not even Satan himself (or his minion, Karl rove) can alter the earth’s gravity, so there will never be long term consistent commercial exploitation of space. NASA is fine and dandy, but the human race will never see the real benefits unless it is cheap and easy for people to use the vast resources of space. Hell, mining one asteroid would provide billions of dollars worth of materials. But that does no good if it takes ten times that to actually get to the mining site.

The smartest way to move forward in space travel would be a plan such as the Space Elevator. Considering how much money we are throwing down the drain in government, the cost of such a tool would be miniscule. It may seem audacious but the cost of moving materials into space would become ridiculously cheap. We are giving up the prospect of access to virtually unlimited amount of resources because we are focused on useless steps like ‘Man on Mars’ instead of evolving a rational policy on the issue. If you could mine other planets or asteroids, the benefits for the global economy would be staggering. Trillions of dollars and millions of job would follow, and here’s a novel idea: that would do more to solve the social problems than simply throwing money into the black hole that is the inevitable endpoint of all social programs.

Another objection to science is that of religion. This is primarily evident in biology, and the ability to improve our genetic makeup. Soon, we’ll likely be able to modify our genes to make us stronger, healthier, better looking or one of a hundred other things. Spending a couple billion on that now would save us trillions, as we wouldn’t have to worry about treating genetic diseases that can be prevented. If everyone had the genes that ensured the best health, and the most resistance to disease, how much money would we save? But no, we don’t want to mess with the fucked up job that God did, so we’ll just leave it alone.

Finally, yet another objection is that of resources. You can’t say ‘well, so many people are starving’, so we won’t spend money on science. Unless you find a way to make a perfect human being, there is no way we will solve all of our social and economic ills, and you’re pretty much advocating a complete stand-still of all scientific progress forever.

Spot that pre-med!

1 01 2008

It’s a game I like to play while on campus, and I’ve gotten pretty good at it over the years. In other sciences, such as math or physics, the students often realize how little they know and how far they need to go. Pre-meds can be spotted by the flaunting of knowledge on the simple-folk, because as they often remind us, they are ‘pretty much doctors already.’ After all, I learned today that mitochondria are the ‘powerhouse of the cell ‘. Call me into surgery now – because the rest is just minutia.

Why do I see such behavior from only the biology majors (many of whom are pre-meds, even though 80% end up switching), and not from others? It’s pretty simple really – they believe that only the smartest people have the honor of being doctors and because they are certainly about to become one, they get the right to lord their infinitely higher intellect over everyone else. Coming from a different field, this is obviously untrue – the “smartest” people (if such a term can be objectively defined) that I’ve met were in my previous major and job (math and engineering). Really, if you can do an upper level math or engineering course at my school, there is no biology course that comes close in undergrad, in terms of remotely reaching the same level of complexity and application of knowledge. Memorizing the Krebs Cycle does not make you smart buddy – it just means you’ve memorized the Krebs Cycle.

Another interesting aspect of a pre-med is the level of backstabbing that goes on and the gunners that roam the hallways. Enter an introductory biology course, and you’d think that you’re playing political espionage in the court of a medieval Tsar. In classes that are graded on a curve, I’ve seen students pour exceptional energies into sabotaging the grade of their fellow classmates. Joining a study group and giving out incorrect answers? Messing up the labs of others? Refusing to ask questions in public so the rest of the class won’t hear the answers? I’ve seen it all. You’d think that if they put half that time into studying, they wouldn’t need to sabotage everyone else.

Obviously, now you are asking, “Why bust on all the pre-meds? How do you reconcile all this hatred with the fact that you are now one of them?” My answer is – go fuck yourself. Don’t you know that I now possess complete knowledge of the cell after learning about the mitochondrion, the powerhouse of the cell?

In other news, I really hope that I get into a PBL school because my motto is simple – One word, two syllables: intimidation.

The rituals of a pre-med

31 12 2007

One of the standard rituals that all pre-med students go through is the padding up of your application by cramming as many useless extracurricular activities as possible. I am sure it was once a useful idea, as you would ideally do things depending on your interests and demonstrate your well roundedness as an applicant. Unfortunately, now you need to pass out condoms or teach inner city kids English just to fit in to the applicant pool, and not doing it opens up a red flag. You are interested in something else? Too bad – feign sympathy and go help out that drug addict/inner city kid/old lady. Obviously, you will be so moved by this act of selflessness that you will devote at least two paragraphs of your personal statement describing how medicine is a calling and how you snub your nose at the selfish bastards in healthcare industry who are not in it solely out of the purity of their hearts.

Then, you have to file papers in the Emergency Department at a local hospital and pretend that such an act showed you how residents and attendings really feel and you are going into the career with the full knowledge of what it will be like. Obviously, you didn’t actually talk to anyone while you’re there and played Tetris on your cell phone, but at least you were thinking about the patients while doing it. Then you shadow a doctor in a specialty you care nothing about and feign excitement as he performs routine tasks. After sufficient amount of sucking up, he writes you a letter of recommendation, knowing that you were always in it for the letter, but because he did the same thing as a pre-med, he just writes it anyway. Finally, you pretend you want to practice rural family medicine in Podunk, Kansas because you really care about the under-served population, when everyone in the world knows you’ll end up in a major metro with more doctors than patients.

Ah well. Time to go to the Emergency Department.