I had a strangely thought provoking weekend, I took my son to do the tour of Concorde at Manchester Airport, and whilst in the area popped into Jodrell Bank to look at the Radio Telescope and the arboretum. Two great technological achievement, well worth a visit, but I felt both seemed to be in our past. I remember Concorde, I remember Apollo (just) and I remember sitting in a room at school to watch the first Shuttle launch, but where is the equivalent today? I started to feel that this ‘thrusting to the future’ style of project no longer exists; there seem to be few children saying ‘I want to be an engineer’ or ‘an astronaut’. I fear they are too often now saying ‘I just want to be famous’.
But then I thought a bit more and I think these projects are still there; we have had the LHC switched on last year and just last week BBC News covered the break through of the Gotthard Rail Tunnel. Big science/technology is still a news story, but I have to say more usually not in the positive sense, too many stories are presented in the ‘science gone mad’ category. We (or should I have said the media) have lost the awe for big science and replaced it with fear or at least a mistrust.
Maybe I am just looking at the past with rose tinted spectacles, Jodrell Bank was over budget about 10x and people complained ‘why send men to the moon when people are starving on earth’, so maybe the coverage was the same. The current mainstream tone of reporting could just be a factor of living in a less deferential age. For me there is no question it is good to question the value of science, but this has to be done from an informed position, you have to least start to understand the question to give an reasonable opinion (or even ask a reasonable question in the first place).
What I worry is that this move, this lack of awe and excitement in science, will drive children away from wanted to be involved in science and technology. At least we are seeing a return to accessible science on the BBC (worth every penny of the license fee) in Bang Goes the Theory, the World of Invention and the new archive of The Great Egg Race (proper 1970’s mad scientists, I doubt you would get a 30 minute programme today with people fiddling with bits of string and rubber bands whist wearing wing collar nylon shirts, think of the health and safety static risk alone!).
So I guess my initial fear is unfounded, there is the sense of wonder out there, maybe we just have to make more of an effort go to find it.