My little brother, Jim, once won a blue ribbon at a summer science fair. He played a pretaped screech of the opening of our old refrigerator door causing Franklin, his pet hamster to do double time on his hamster wheel, thinking some iceberg lettuce was coming his way. Jim proved Pavlov right, and inadvertently predicted some later family food issues. Nonetheless we were proud of him.
The summer of 2012 was one of the biggest science fairs ever.
When the physicists at the Large Hadron Collider in Geneva, Switzerland confirmed the existence of the Higgs boson, it was 3 a.m. in the Brown University Physics lab. My friend, the I.T. go-to-gal there, said they had a champagne fueled all-nighter to honor the discovery of the Higgs field and the long work of one of their own labmates, a particle physicist who had worked on the boson for fifty years.
The confirmation of the discovery will help particle physicists understand the basic building blocks of matter and could open up a “new” physics beyond current theories.
It was another early morning when the Mars Space Landing spacecraft robotically and safely landed a third payload on Mars. The Curiosity, twice as long and five times as heavy as the two previous payloads, successfully completed the seven minutes of terror descent into the Martian atmosphere and nailed its landing in the Gale Crater. The scientists at the Jet Propulsion Lab also popped some late night corks and rightly saluted their accomplishment.
What a pleasure to celebrate the achievements of real physicists and engineers!
The current state of anti-science is fact-free-and-proud, rife with assertions from the schvitzing climate change deniers, the we-only-go-back-4,000- years Creationist Theme park rangers, and the because-I-said-so social scientists.
Now I am not a scientist; I don’t even play one on TV (though for Halloween one year, I did dress up as Marie Curie). Though wildly excited by science news, I can barely grasp the implications of these mind-boggling discoveries. But one political science principle I do understand: For every scientific achievement there comes the inevitable opposite, but not at all equal, anti-science backlash.
The Higgs boson has been called, “the God Particle” and despite the fact that the phrase makes fact-based scientists’ skin crawl and blotch, expect recriminations from the I-don’t-need-no-stinking-beaker set: “How dare you reduce God to a particle? I and everyone in my church know that God is a big big Big Deal.”
Sunday’s sermon: Obamacare Makes God a Particle.
Descendants of conspiracy theorists who claimed the moon landing was some CIA shenanigans staged at a small studio in Torrance, California, will try to demonstrate thatCuriosity is a hoax. “See that shadow? Bigfoot.”
In the afterglow of Higgs boson and Curiosity, I wondered wistfully if they might be the last actual science we would ever see. Anti-scientists feel they already have all the fundamental answers to life’s questions. They are anti-curiosity and thus anti-life. Could it just be home-school baking soda volcanoes from here on out?
Meanwhile, you know that when the Earth’s heat gets even more unbearable, One Percent Airways will already have their summer schedule geared up for on-the-hour flights to Mars’s vineyard. They’re no dummies.