Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Designing for the March For Science

I want to be in the local March for Science in April, and I'm thinking about a poster.

I started working on a Jupiter-based one with the thought that Galileo was forced to recant what he'd seen in the telescope (and I was so intent on the layout that I spelled science "sciece").  But I'd gotten the story mixed up:  he hadn't been forced to recant that he'd seen  moons orbiting around Jupiter. Instead, he'd recanted that the Earth orbited around the sun in a heliocentric system.  His inquisition was possibly brought on as a result of churchmen seeing themselves cast as the Simpleton in Galileo's "Dialogue" between a Simpleton, a Student and a Sage.  So my design with a telescope  and Jupiter wasn't so good.

Then I thought that I'd try to make a poster about the Burning of the Library of Alexandria, except that it might not have been burnt down so much as defunded.  There are parallels between defunding the Library and defunding NOAA, but I'm not sure how to make that a poster, much less a poster with cool-looking flames on it.

I wish we still had the Art Nouveau and Art Deco gods and goddesses of industry:  the burly men holding lightning bolts and gears, and women with wind-swept hair holding wheat and fish.  Maybe I could fashion an image of science and science funding with that style.  This line of thinking led me to images of industry and recruitment posters from the two world wars.

From there I recalled the Homeric story of how Hephaestus--or Vulcan, to use his Roman name--made a shield for Achilles, showing the good life.  Would my March for Science poster show the lame god at his forge, fashioning the circular shield and showing tools of science along the rings?  I could have flames curling out of the forge!

But the martial nature of the image --a war poem about the forging of tools of war --bothered me.  I'm marching for science, and peaceful applications of science.  Should the story be retold, with a shield of war, a shield of commerce, and a shield for the rest of us?  Maybe I should turn to the goddess Athena -- didn't she create a mechanical owl?  Oh, wait, no, that was the original "Clash of the Titans."

I was coming to the conclusion that I didn't have a good narrative, something that would make a good visual image, like Prometheus bound.  Er...  Albert Einstein working out relativity?  Richard Feynman's quantum mechanics notation?  Robert Oppenheimer and the work on the atomic bomb?  Mr. Spock deciphering glyphs on an alien obelisk?  Commander Data learning the Vulcan nerve pinch?  Frankenstein and his monster?

I think it's a misstep to focus on one specific scientist, not because I don't want to celebrate particular scientist, but because I'm marching to show that I think science should be funded on a national level and data and the scientific interpretation of data should inform long-term national policy.

I went to the library to try to find mythical figures in science which would suggest a strong graphic to use on a poster.  There were a lot of books on the science of mythology, or the science behind magical beliefs, or the "Mythbusters" series.  But not a lot on the mythic meaning of science, or stories we share as a culture about how to do science.

There are some misconceptions about how science works:  the apple falling on Newton's head, or the idea of a rebel scientist working alone to make a breakthrough.  But these aren't myths in the sense of a story or symbol that explains.

I'm coming to the conclusion that science -- or at least science funding -- doesn't have gods and goddesses.  We have a toolkit:  measurement, rigorous observation, deductive reasoning, and disproving the null hypothesis.  And Bunsen burners.

So how do we keep our signs and march from eliciting the response, "So what?  The elites are crying because their toys got taken away," or "You guys sure spent a lot of money to put a remote control dune buggy on Mars."

"Science is hard," plays back into the idea of elites with toys, too.  Why is it that athlete-elites command so much respect, and science-elites less so?  It takes athletes a lot of practice to get to the Olympics, and some experiments can take as much time and effort, but do we have cities bidding against each other for "science Olympics"?

In the original Disney movie, Tron, there's a scene between Dr. Walter Gibbs, the original founder of a corporation, and Ed Dillinger, its current CEO.  "User requests are what computing is about," says Dr, Gibbs.  "Making money is what computing is about," says Dillinger.

Perhaps I should adopt a different narrative:  funding science will avoid a future Midas story, where plutocrats turn everything they touch into robots; a story not with serfs serving plutocrats, but with drones serving modern-day Borg-ias.  Maybe this isn't so much about de-funding science so much as it is about keeping a serf class uneducated, or industry unregulated.

Somewhere in the back of my mind was an early American quote about a well educated public. I did some searching and found this quote from Thomas Jefferson: 
"The value of science to a republican people, the security it gives to liberty by enlightening the minds of its citizens, the protection it affords against foreign power, the virtue it inculcates, the just emulation of the distinction it confers on nations foremost in it; in short, its identification with power, morals, order and happiness (which merits to it premiums of encouragement rather than repressive taxes), are considerations [that should] always [be] present and [bear] with their just weight." --Thomas Jefferson: On the Book Duty, 1821.

and also

"The most effectual means of preventing [the perversion of power into tyranny are] to illuminate, as far as practicable, the minds of the people at large, and more especially to give them knowledge of those facts which history exhibits, that possessed thereby of the experience of other ages and countries, they may be enabled to know ambition under all its shapes, and prompt to exert their natural powers to defeat its purposes." --Thomas Jefferson: Diffusion of Knowledge Bill, 1779. FE 2:221, Papers 2:526

At this point, it seems like I need Lady Liberty arm-in-arm with the all Nine Muses...  And to think all this started with me wanting to make a sign to carry on a protest march.
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