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A service for political professionals · Monday, June 25, 2018 · 452,981,128 Articles · 3+ Million Readers

Science Is Driving Our Future, But No One's At The Wheel

By Joe Rothstein — May 1, 2018

When French President Emmanuel Macron reminded the U.S. Congress that there is no Planet B option to the preservation of life on Earth, he highlighted climate change as a science-based puzzle humanity must solve. And soon. There are countless other issues, equally urgent, falling between the cracks of public policy-making.

One of those issues showed up in my newspaper just this morning. The article pointed out that in the 40 years since the birth of the first “test tube” baby, 7 million other human lives have emerged from fertility clinics. A blessing for parents who might never have conceived children the old-fashioned way, but just a comma in the advance of genetics. It is now possible to create artificial wombs. Science also has developed a way to insert genetic material from more than two people into a single embryo.

“Editing” genes has become something of a cottage industry. Type “crisper kit” into your Google search box and it turns up pages of gene editing kits for sale. Cheap. At the professional level, genes have been edited to eliminate hereditary defects in embryos. It’s only a matter of time until we hear about designer babies. It’s technically possible to even sow genes for superior powers, or traits unlike any that have ever appeared naturally. This is the new reality, not a box office sci-fi spectacular.

The implications are obvious and profound. In a lab-baby world, how do you define “parent?” What’s “heredity?” Do we ban or encourage creation of an assembly line of athletically-superior babies, or at the other end of the spectrum, a servant class designed for menial jobs?

Fertility clinics already are a $17 billion business. Are we about to grow a new cohort of biotech billionaires who reap the rewards from developing Google-like Life Creation and Modification Centers? Who’s looking out for the public interest in all of this? Or are we to going to allow creation of life to be a self-regulated industry, like the Internet has been?

Climate change and genetics aren’t the only scientific revolutions confronting us. Tesla and Space X guru Elon Musk says,“In an age when artificial intelligence threatens to become widespread, humans would be useless, so there's a need to merge with machines.”

Brain implants already are available to help the blind and the hearing impaired. Johns Hopkins researchers have experimentally installed a device that allowed a man move a robotic arm just by thinking about it. If that’s possible, consider the implications. We’re literally moving toward Musk’s merger of human biology with artificial intelligence machines. Quantum computing, the big bang of information processing, is on the threshold of widespread deployment. It already processes algorithms 100 million times faster than my laptop Lenovo.

These and other life-altering developments share one thing in common: lack of serious public policy attention. Except for the Paris agreement to combat climate change, which itself is a weak compromise of what’s necessary, you will find few people in public office grappling with the implications of the Scientific Revolution. Those who do have scientific backgrounds are focused on specific policy areas, such as food safety, infectious disease, and aerospace development. Their roles, with a few notable exceptions for the military, were created to handle problems of the here and now.

But for overarching scientific review and planning, there’s zip. Unsurprisingly, President Trump has not considered our scientific-driven future important enough to appoint anyone to the vacant job of presidential science advisor, or even to head the White House of Science and Technology Policy. Trump’s budget director, Mick Mulvaney, questioned the need for any government financed research during the recent Zika crisis. In the Congress, there’s one—count ‘em---one, STEM PhD. Physicist Bill Foster from Illinois.

Where do our policy makers get credible insights for science and technology issues? Many members of Congress may deny that human activity is causing the climate to change, but they can’t deny that uncommon droughts and floods are affecting agriculture, or that the planet already can count millions of environmental refugees, or that the U.S. Navy has billions of dollars invested in Pacific islands and are sinking faster than anyone forecast.

There’s at least one constituent group so concerned about the lack of science-based policy-making that they have mobilized to elevate the issue. That group consists of just about the last people you can imagine becoming political activists, the scientists themselves.

Yes! The nerds are on the march. Literally. More than 60 researchers and technologists are running for federal office in 2018. Another 200 candidates with previous careers in science, technology, engineering and math are competing for seats in state legislatures. A PAC promoting scientists for public office, 314 Action, is actively recruiting, endorsing and raising money for partisan campaigns. On Earth Day, scientists and their supporters marched in 200 U.S. cities.

The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy has been around for nearly 50 years. It’s assigned job is to provide the president and other key government leaders with factual scientific information, and to develop options based on science when required. The current office staff has 45 employees and no director. Hardly enough people to keep the lights on in a world where knowledge is moving almost literally at light speed.

We can properly worry about taxes and budgets, health plans and gun control, ethical lapses and tainted lettuce. But the underlying driver of huumanity's future on Earth, whether we recognize it or not, is science. And when it comes to steering us safely into that future, the unnerving fact is that no one is at the wheel.

(Joe Rothstein is a regular columnist for USPoliticstoday.com and author of the acclaimed political thriller “The Latina President and the Conspiracy to Destroy Her.” Mr. Rothstein can be contacted at joe@einnews.com).



Joe Rothstein is editor of U.S. Politics Today. His career in politics spans 35 years, as a strategist and media producer in more than 200 campaigns for political office and for many political causes. He was a pioneer in professional political consulting and one of the founding members of the American Association of Political Consultants. During his career Mr. Rothstein has served as editor of the Pulitzer Prize-winning Anchorage Daily News and adjunct professor at George Washington University's Graduate School of Political Management. He has a master's degree in journalism from UCLA.