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Vaccines, respect and understanding

In the Community, Making a Difference

“Civilization is hideously fragile in that there is not much between us and the horrors underneath, just a coat of varnish.” — Charles Percy Snow, British chemist, novelist, civil servant, (1905-1980).

Fifty years ago, James A. Lovell, Commander of the Apollo 13, messaged, “Ah, Houston, we have had a problem!” The mission to the moon is a reminder that there is uncertainty in the application of science and technology; the involvement of and impact on humans and the natural world should be considered. Consilience was the subject that C. P. Snow addressed in a 1959 lecture, “Two Cultures and the Scientific Revolution,” those cultures being science and humanities.

Mutual respect and understanding throughout society are needed to address issues in the world today. A pandemic, COVID-19, has infected 29.9 million and caused 543,000 deaths, and vaccines have been developed to control the virus. The earth’s temperature has risen 2 degrees since the 19th century, increasing the frequency and intensity of fires — in Australia, 48 million acres burned, sending particulate matter 18 miles into the atmosphere. The threat posed by microbacterial infection and global warming are issues the complexity of which is difficult to grasp, let alone resolve.

A philosophical divide makes constructive dialogue difficult, with some emphasizing “constitutional liberties and personal freedoms,” while others feel “we are all in it together.” In 1935 Dupont Corporation, according to spokesperson Charles Hackett, felt it necessary to address the “unspoken fears of bigness in business from emotional rather than a rational foundation,” with the phrase “better living through chemistry.” Cynicism continues, as was evident in a recent survey by the Institute for Advanced in Culture which reported 70% of the Americans did not believe leaders in corporations, media, universities, technology, and obviously government, cared about their welfare.

The human mind is not geared to be hurried in making decisions — it takes time for perceptions and policies to change. In the history of science, discoveries are often associated with an individual who was involved and persistent enough to pursue an idea. Until the laws of motion and gravity were published in 1687 by Sir Isaac Newton, humankind was convinced that the earth was the center of the universe. It was not an apple falling from a tree that convinced him, it was the culmination of centuries of collaboration and debate.

“We have met the enemy and he is us.” — Pogo, comic strip.

Society is in a precarious state — overwhelmed by specialization and speed of change in science, confused by misleading information, there seems to be a sense of detachment, individual and corporate, to take responsibility. The inability to articulate the cause or solution and be convincing is a real problem. Understanding the way the world works is the realm of science; humanities explain the how and why of the impact on people. We can do our part by having knowledge and empathy, gained by understanding basic principles of science, humanities, and being able to express an opinion with appropriate vocabulary, supported by verifiable facts.

When people are visiting the Jesse Besser Museum, the Alpena County Library, and the Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary, as often as they drive out of town to shop, progress will be made.

“Here cometh April again, and as far as I can see the world has more fools than ever.” — Charles Lamb, Essayist, poet, antiquarian.

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