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 email@example.com.
An end to war. A human colony on Mars. Novel cancer therapies.
- 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.
Being a parent is a constant learning process
I am sitting cross-legged on the floor in the dressing room, waiting for Allie's dance number to be called. The cave girl costume has been donned, the jazz shoes double-tied, the hair pulled back, the requisite dab of lipstick applied.
Healthy doesn't have to mean expensive
Half of Americans will be obese by 2030 if current trends continue, according to a report released last week in the British medical journal The Lancet.
A family era ends with close of Potter series
As Harry Potter fans the world over flock to theaters for the final screenings of the final film in the eight-part series, I'm marking the end of an era myself, reading the last pages of the last book to my last child.
Independent stores make up for loss of Borders
For many small communities, the Borders store at the nearest mall was the only place to browse and buy a variety of books, beyond the few titles offered in Walmart bestseller and bargain racks.
- Saturday, July 2, 2011
Untethered from the cable box
I never imagined it would be so easy to be cable-free.
- Saturday, June 11, 2011
On cells, sprouts and sodas
It figures. Six weeks after we dropped our landline, the World Health Organization issued a warning that radiation from cell phones might cause brain cancer. Meanwhile, the ultimate health food, organic bean sprouts, is being blamed for one of the deadliest E. coli outbreaks in recent history.
- Saturday, May 21, 2011
End of the world as we know it? I feel fine
If you're reading this article after 6 p.m. and the ground is not shaking beneath your feet, then Harold Camping was wrong. Again.
- Sunday, May 1, 2011
Song lyrics are an odd measure of attitudes
It was the third rainy weekend in a row, and I was scrolling through comments to a post by MSNBC blogger Melissa Dahl about a new study linking song lyrics to cultural changes.
- Saturday, April 9, 2011
Parenting adventure takes a turn
On Friday, my 13-year-old daughter, Abby, will embark on the biggest adventure of her life.
- Saturday, March 19, 2011
Japan devastation: Powerful reminder of our limitations
The images were surreal. People screaming from higher ground as they watched the relentless wave of brown water sweep up houses and topple power lines. Cars and boats floating like bath toys. Aerial photos of flattened villages, with crumpled roofs jutting out of the debris-laden landscape and orange-suited rescue workers like ants on a mountain of twigs.
- Saturday, February 26, 2011
As food prices rise, sustainability makes more business sense
Frustration with high food prices is among the underlying causes of the unrest in the Middle East and North Africa, and a global food crisis may be brewing.
- Tuesday, February 8, 2011
National agenda needed to advance green technology
In his State of the Union address, President Obama issued a call to action for Americans to "out-innovate" the rest of the world and build on our history of doing "big things." Green technology is the next big thing, and it's our best hope to reinvent ourselves as competitors in the global economy. But we won't get there without a comprehensive national agenda supported by all parties -- political, yes, but also businesses, consumers, educators and students.
- Saturday, January 15, 2011
Shootings remind us of need to teach children to hope
They should have been chattering about spelling tests and Hannah Montana songs. But instead, the two second-graders in my backseat were talking about the shooting of U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords. They had heard about it at school and were commiserating over the "sad" and "creepy" news as we drove home for a play date.
- Friday, December 3, 2010
Marketing tactics could get kids to eat healthy foods
In a new twist on the "Super Size Me" fast-food diet experiment, the executive director of the Washington State Potato Commission ate nothing but spuds for 60 days.
- Saturday, November 13, 2010
'Oneonta 360' captures essence of our area
The fact that Oneonta's new branding campaign has generated so much controversy shows how passionately people feel about this place. One thing everyone might agree on is that the essence of Oneonta cannot be easily conveyed in a few words or a logo. However, photographer Stephen Joseph makes a fascinating attempt to capture it in his new book, "Oneonta 360." If you haven't seen it yet, stop by Huntington Library, where one two-page spread is on display each day.
- Saturday, October 23, 2010
Stem cell research must move forward
Robert Edwards of Britain received the Nobel Prize in medicine earlier this month for research that led to the birth of the first "test-tube baby" in 1978. Hugely controversial 32 years ago, Edwards' work is now lauded as a medical breakthrough that has brought immeasurable joy to the families of the 4 million babies born through in vitro fertilization.
- Saturday, October 2, 2010
Supersized salmon? No thanks
Davenport Garden Center owner Dennis Valente drizzled maple syrup over sweet potatoes in the cafeteria kitchen while a group of sixth-graders topped pizza crusts with pesto they'd made using basil from their school garden.
- Saturday, September 11, 2010
Chobani yogurt: Nothing but good for the area
I'm in love with Chobani. True to its marketing slogan, this locally made, Greek-style yogurt is, indeed, "nothing but good." First of all, it's delicious: thick, creamy, fruity and sweet (but not too sweet).
- Saturday, August 21, 2010
Summer is a perfect time to unplug
Last month, I wrote about the rewards of disconnecting from information technology during a weeklong family camping trip. Since then, I've picked blueberries, skipped rocks, curled up with my 6-year-old and a pile of books, walked in the woods, and spent a gorgeous day at the lake picnicking with friends and watching the kids swim.
- A view from above