Dear President Obama,
Fifty years ago, President John F. Kennedy stood at Rice, my university, and declared that we would put a man on the moon, in that decade. He called for a scientific revolution.
Mr. President, we need another scientific revolution; we must have a second giant leap for Mankind.
My generation will face unprecedented challenges to our way of living and to our survival as a species. Our population continues to climb, but the amount of clean water and living space we have on Earth has been stretched thin. Our climate is growing increasingly extreme. A disease like the Avian Flu, which (currently) has a 60 percent mortality rate, could become transmitted by humans and turn into a worldwide pandemic in our age of rapid travel. The Earth is experiencing a rapid decline of biodiversity, especially in our oceans. We could be faced with a killer asteroid in the near future.
I know these threats sound like science fiction, but they are real and my generation will have to address them. The way to overcome these challenges and ensure the continued long-term existence of our species is through investment in rapid scientific innovation.
To make this second giant leap possible, the culture surrounding science in America must change. Too many have rejected evidence-based science. Nearly 60 percent of American public school biology teachers are not teaching evolution properly and another 13 percent admit to teaching creationism. Almost half of Americans believe that the Earth was formed in the last 10,000 years. Taxpayer funded schools in my home state of Louisiana are teaching that scientists and their scientific work are "sinful." At least 300 taxpayer funded voucher schools nationwide are teaching creationism. Teachers in public schools in Louisiana and Tennessee are teaching unscientific "alternatives" to evolution, the origin of the Earth, and climate change, and this is allowed by state law. Other states may soon follow suit.
Denying and misteaching evidence-based science like evolution and climate science will confuse our students about the nature of science and stifle future American scientists and scientific innovation.
The politics surrounding science also must change. A member of the U.S. House of Representatives Science Committee recently called evolution, embryology and the Big Bang theory "lies straight from the pit of hell." The former Chairman of this same committee believes that climate change is a massive conspiracy that scientists created to get more funding. He then tried to cut science funding. Another member of this committee suggested cutting down more trees as a measure to reduce global warming. Former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) attempted to sneak a creationism law into President Bush's No Child Left Behind Act. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas) and others hosted a Congressional briefing called "Scientific Evidence of Intelligent Design and its Implications for Public Policy and Education." Campaigns are being led against vaccines. The current cuts to federal funding for basic scientific research could prevent our country from launching the next Hubble Telescope or the next Human Genome Project. We would never have created the Internet or launched the Manhattan Project if we had cut science funding.
Instead of denying climate science, we need to we need to harness wave energy and invest far more in revolutionary, sustainable technologies like algae fuel. We must figure out how to turn off cancer cells. While protecting our own planet's health, we need to invest in the tools to live elsewhere as soon as possible so we are not trapped where a single disaster on Earth could wipe out all of humanity.
I remember your last State of the Union Speech when you said America needs to "out-educate, out-innovate, and out-build" the rest of the world. I was proud to be an American when you challenged those who "deny the overwhelming judgment of science" in your second inaugural address. You are absolutely right, and I hope you will reinforce this theme when you address science and innovation in this year's State of the Union Address. Please call for an end to science denial legislation. Please call on Congress to invest one trillion dollars in basic scientific research over the next decade. Please call for a second giant leap.
These are ambitious goals, but as President Kennedy said in 1962:
We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone.
This scientific revolution is one we cannot afford to postpone. Please take a page from Neil Armstrong and President Kennedy and call on America to take a Second Giant Leap for Mankind.