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Science connected to the real world

For a lot of us, 10 hours in the car along Interstate 95 is about the outer limit for family togetherness on a road trip. Can you imagine a journey lasting 10 generations?

Anthropologist John Moore can. In Boston last week, he presented some of his ideas for interstellar travel by multigenerational family groups - a sort of intergalactic Noah's ark - as a way to colonize space (see story, page 16).

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Dr. Moore was addressing a session of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, whose theme this year was "Science in a Connected World." He found a way to take a topic no longer of keen public interest - space travel - and bring it, well, down to earth.

How important it is to connect science to the rest of us.

We live in a technological age but are largely clueless about the scientific principles behind the technologies we rely upon. It can be easier to tune into the Weather Channel than to look out the window and try to remember the jingle that starts, "Red sky at morning."

Yet many of the questions of domestic and foreign policy facing us are scientific issues: global warming, water-quality standards, genetically modified foods.

Scientific method begins with a kind of intellectual humility: Out of all that we don't know, here's something we think we know, scientists say - a pinprick of light through the veil of human ignorance.

The trouble is, scientists often come across primarily as debunkers - explaining why something won't work, or why it won't solve the problem at hand even if it does.The scientific community needs to help lead the public out of the despair engendered when people feel that experts can be hired to attest to just about anything.


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