From my home country, the US looked like the pinnacle of scientific research and technological innovation, the place to be for any scientist, the place where science was revered, abundantly funded, and rightfully seen as the number one tool for progress and advancement. It made sense that America would be the world leader - after all, this was the country with a vision for the future and an open-mindedness that allowed scientific research to thrive.
Then, I came over and was shocked. I realized that science was barely taught and learned in American schools. One could go through the whole education system and get a college degree without ever having to study physics or chemistry. I heard University professors quipping "I don't do math" and I learned that a significant percentage of the American population doesn't believe in evolution.
Then yesterday, October 24th 2008, I heard the vice-presidential candidate of the Republican Party deriding "fruit fly research" and proposing that the federal funding for such frivolous activities be cut so that money could be redirected to funding programs for special needs children.
Sarah Palin has absolutely no clue whatsoever what scientific research means and how it works to improve the quality of life and find treatment solutions for, yes, individuals with special needs, among others. She doesn't know that armies of MIT, Harvard, and Stanford graduates spend most of their time counting fruit flies and looking at them under the microscope - because the humble Drosophila melanogaster, together with mice, zebra fish and other creatures that Ms Palin has such a knack at dismissing - are the main research tools in thousands of laboratories across the US.
Ms. Palin is aggressively ignorant and displays the kind of anti-intellectualism that fueled Cultural Revolutions all over the world - from China to Cambodia to my own country, where about one million "elitists" have been killed in prisons and labor camps.
But what is more worrisome is that forty percent of the American population isn't startled in disgust and they are still considering her for the vice-presidential position. It is their ignorance and disdain for the intellectual elites, their willingness to consider this Mao-PolPot-Stalin approach to policy that made Palinism possible. Sarah Palin is just speaking her mind. Clearly forty percent of Americans do not possess the basic knowledge and critical thinking abilities to call her on it.
Education policy might be a boring, unglamorous topic. But it must be an absolute priority for the next administration - for this is the only way to render such shameful rhetoric irrelevant and ridiculous. It is not sufficient for the US leadership to step into the 21st century. The rest of the population must follow suit.
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