Such things, however, do not appear impossible given the state of science today.
There is one area of concern that science cannot totally resolve, unless it builds a time machine and can go into the future. That is, what are the total ramifications that result from science's wonders? Albert Einstein did not consider nuclear bombs when coming up with the equation of E=mc2
He considered himself a pacifist, yet encouraged the building of the bomb for fear that the Germans would create it first. He was looking toward the future. As he wrote to physicist Niels Bohr in December 1944, "When the war is over, then there will be in all countries a pursuit of secret war preparations with technological means, which will lead inevitably to preventative wars and to destruction even more terrible than the present destruction of life" (Clark, 2007, pg. 698). Then, close to death he stated: "I made one great mistake in my life... when I signed the letter to President Roosevelt recommending that atom bombs be made; but there was some justification - the danger that the Germans would make them." (Clark, 2007, pg. 752).
Decades later, chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) that were developed for myriad of positive reasons and found to be chemically stable at ground level, are now recognized to deplete the ozone layer and lead to dangerous levels of ultraviolet radiation and increased risk of skin cancer, especially in the Southern Hemisphere. Asbestos is now known to cause deadly cancers and pesticides that solve one problem have major negative effects on other animals and the environment. Vehicle exhaust cause acid rains that kill water body ecosystems and damage forests far from the original source.
Today, more miracles are being developed by science. The science of genetics is helping to cure many people worldwide and saving babies from known diseases while they are still in the womb. Nanotechnology, a very new science, is already producing miniscule instruments that are input into the blood stream and can relate information about the body. Once again, the positive side of such science is miraculous.
History shows that, as a whole, humans are reactive. The time they spend on prevention and being proactive is far less than on reacting to events as they occur. They often act quickly on emotion, as the present Iraq war demonstrates, and frequently do not learn from past mistakes. Sometimes it takes numerous decades and major technological advances before scientists recognize the results of their innovations.
The ramifications of complex systems and their associated "irreducable uncertainty" have resulted in scientists such as Gallopin et al. (2001) to emphasize the need for a new approach to science. While continuing the efforts and pace of science, these authors argue that that the earliest definition of issues or problems need to include a wider range of factors, including ones involving non-scientific analysis: "It is better to get an approximate answer for the whole problem/issue, than a precise answer for an isolated component" (pg. 219)
This applies specifically to biological, ecological and environmental issues, in situations in which systems and interconnections are so complex or not completely understood. In these situations, it can be difficult or impossible to forecast direct cause and effect, and serious consequences can arise if the absence of present danger is confused for the lack of future danger. The significant gaps of time taking place between cause and effect can give a false sense of security and increase the chances for disaster. There is no denying the wonders that science has brought to humanity; However, as noted by Gallopin et al. (2001, pg. 228), while new wonders are developed, it is essential to be proactive and "prepare for novelty, structural change, and surprise."
Clark, R. Einstein: The Life and Times. New York: Perennial, 2007
Colborn, T., Dumanoski, D. And Myers, JP. Our Stolen Future. New York:Abacus, 1996.
Gallopin, G.C., Funtowicz, S, O'Connor, M., and Ravetz, J. (2001) Science for the 21st century: from social contract to the scientific core. Int. Journal Social Science 168:
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