An end to war. A human colony on Mars. Novel cancer therapies.
These are but a few of the responses to the 2007 Edge Annual Question, 'What are you optimistic about?'
Every year, Edge, a website devoted to science, poses a question to its contributors. (Previous questions include 'What is Your Dangerous Idea? and 'What is the Most Important Invention in the Past Two Thousand Years?')
This year, 161 leading scientists and thinkers share what they are optimistic about _ and why. Some of their causes for optimism are simple (new children will be born); others, complex (hope that the longawaited physics experiments set to begin this year at the Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland will lead to exciting discoveries about matter, gravity and the world.)
Some write of their hopes for humanity: optimism that people will 'increasingly value truth (over truthiness), 'that they'll continue to display a 'core decency' and that they'll take advantage of the fact that, for the first time, the majority of humankind 'is connected and has a voice.' Others write of their hopes for science: artificial intelligence, treatments for diseases, ways to see beyond our cosmic horizon and learn more about the universe.
Almost all of the responses are compelling. (To see them yourself, go to http://edge.org/q2007/q07_index.html). Reading them made me think about how I would answer the question, as a layperson setting aside small, personal hopes for a moment to consider the big picture.
I'm optimistic about the future of medicine. Both the science and the technology to support it are moving forward with great speed. The Human Genome Project opened huge doors, stem-cell research holds tremendous promise, and there's no question that both will lead to new cures, better treatments, and ultimately, the chance for longer, moreproductive lives.
I'm optimistic about medical research even while I realize that as much as we learn and discover, we will never be able to cure every disease and solve every problem. There will always be new diseases and conditions, created by the evolution of our species, our environment and even our culture. We've nearly eradicated smallpox and polio, but we've got AIDS, obesity and the threat of a bird flu pandemic. We can't know what question will arise next, but I'm optimistic that we'll never stop looking for answers.
This work is complicated by the fact that sometimes, we eliminate one threat while unwittingly contributing to another. For example, public health efforts and our obsession with cleanliness have reduced or wiped out many infectious diseases in the industrialized world, but they may also have led to the increasing rate of autoimmune disorders such as asthma, Type 1 diabetes, multiple sclerosis and inflammatory bowel disease. Doctors and scientists are testing the theory that our bodies need certain kinds of parasitic worms, and without them, our immune systems can malfunction. New therapies for inflammatory bowel disease are already being developed based on this research, and scientists are hopeful that it will also lead to better treatments for other autoimmune diseases.
I'm optimistic that climate change and the need for alternative energy sources will soon become top priorities for the U.S. government. For the first time, it truly seems possible that things will start to change in big ways. Thanks to the movies, the media and high gas prices, people are more aware of these issues. Even conservative religious leaders are acknowledging that global warming exists. The prospect of a new president is further cause for hope. It's also encouraging to see so many scientists expressing optimism about these issues. Their ideas range from establishing a system of personal carbon credits to capturing solar energy using nanotechnology. I love the vision presented by neurobiologist William Calvin of a world where people travel by rapid transit system or in electric and hydrogen-powered vehicles; get their power from wind farmers and solar panels; and, instead of driving to brightly lit superstores, walk to neighborhood markets.
Mostly, I'm optimistic that so many people answered the question. Scientists are always searching for answers and looking for ways to improve things. If they are driven by hope for a better world, that's good news for the rest of us. As long as people with the power to effect change are asking questions, imagining possibilities and working for the common good, there's cause for optimism.
Lisa Miller is a freelance writer who lives in Oneonta. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
An end to war. A human colony on Mars. Novel cancer therapies.
- Big Chuck D'Imperio
My pal Brucie, savior of Sidney's hospital
Ask any hospital administrators if they've ever heard of a closed hospital in New York state that has ever been re-opened. They will say, "Impossible." In a half century of going through records you can't find any.Continued ...
- Catching a whiff of 'Vermont Vapor'
- Selections from the virtual mailbag
- Recalling days of 'Doughnut King'
- Opera great's visit still a thrilling memory
- My pal Brucie, savior of Sidney's hospital
- Cary Brunswick
We've become our own worst enemies
The past month has been marked by a seeming unprecedented number of man-made tragedies, as distinct from those caused by violent outbursts of the natural world, such as earthquakes, hurricanes and tsunamis.Continued ...
- Plenty of blame to go around for Bangladesh horror
- Obama is going against his word on Social Security
- Reflecting on a Florida trip
- Those magnificent spies in their flying machines
- We've become our own worst enemies
- Chuck Pinkey
- Guest Column
Records seizure is an insult to free press
Distrust of government secrecy has been elevated to an exceptional level with the disclosure the Justice Department covertly examined two months of Associated Press phone records to determine who leaked details to the AP about a foiled terrorist plot.Continued ...
- The evangelical view of same-sex marriage
- Manor's fate will be Otsego board's legacy
- A closer look at our economy - Part II
- Use fracking to fill budget gaps
- Records seizure is an insult to free press
- Lisa Miller
A view from above
Fire towers in the Catskill Mountains have always been destination points, built to capture some of the region’s best views. These sentinel stations served an important role for the earliest possible sightings of forest fires in the remote mountain ranges. But the fire towers and those who manned them fulfilled a multitude of other roles as well.Continued ...
- Being a parent is a constant learning process
- Healthy doesn't have to mean expensive
- A family era ends with close of Potter series
- Independent stores make up for loss of Borders
- A view from above
- Mark Simonson
General Clinton Canoe Regatta got a new home in 1972
Ever since 1963, when Charles Hinkley and a group of Tri-Town businessmen came up with the idea for what we know today as the General Clinton Canoe Regatta, people lined the shores of the Susquehanna to watch the canoeists as they made their 70-mile trek from Cooperstown to Bainbridge.Continued ...
- Sunday movies in Oneonta finally shown in 1934
- Politics, fitness and landmarks dominated local news in May 1968
- Local people sought income in many ways in 1933
- Local windstorm in 1983 caused tense moments
- General Clinton Canoe Regatta got a new home in 1972
- Rick Brockway
Kids have sparkle in their eyes
When I was in my teens, old Bill Naatz told me about a stream north of Lake George where a man had panned out enough gold to make his wife a wedding band. It was all rumors, but to his grandson and myself, it sounded like the makings of a great adventure.
- People make the outdoors even better
- Turkey season has ups and downs
- Spring air isn't always the freshest
- Adriondacks keep growing and growing
- Kids have sparkle in their eyes
- Sam Pollak
- William Masters
Schreibman tops Chris Gibson on women's issues
As the time to vote draws near, we need to remember how money can run politics more than we can. Raising funds is a prominent (if not the dominant) task of getting elected. Raising issues is also crucial, but those efforts are subject to distortion and fear-mongering.
- Republicans feelentitled to allthey can garner An entitlement is a legal benefit available from the government to individuals who are within a defined category of recipients, such as needing insurance for unemployment or health services.
Romney focuses on self; Obama emphasizes unity
Mitt Romney criticizes President Obama for saying a person's success is rooted in his community, and is not all his alone. Romney belittles this with his belief in individual initiative. He is better at the put-down than the push-up.
Romney shows little regard for common man
The Republicans in Congress have voted over and over, 33 times, redundantly and uselessly, to rescind what they call Obamacare.
Scouts' gay ban creates problem where none exists
The Boy Scouts of America's "emphatic reaffirmation" of its vow to exclude any and all homosexuals from its hallowed ranks is ill-considered and pathetic, especially in view of its having reviewed the matter for two years.
- Schreibman tops Chris Gibson on women's issues