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Today's Great Challenge

Arthur Kantrowitz, physicist
Dartmouth College

When a conjecture inspires new hopes or creates new fears, action is indicated. There is an important asymmetry between hope—which leads to actions that test its basis—and fear, which by restricting options inhibits testing of its basis. As we know only too well, many of our hopes do not survive their tests. However, fears accumulate untested. The inventory of untested fears has always made humanity disastrously vulnerable to thought control. While science was independent of politics, its greatest triumph was the reduction of that vulnerability.

But today scientists are dependent on politicians to fund research. Can dependent science carry on the proud tradition of dispelling fear which led to the optimism of the Enlightenment and to the modern world it inspired? Or will science's uncertainties be concealed to serve politicians seeking power by converting mass ignorance into mass fear?

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