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Big Challenges

Once we went to the Moon.  Now we make smartphone apps.  We’ll talk about really taking on our big challenges, with big ambition again.  Cancer.  The climate.  Sky’s the limit.

Astronaut Buzz Aldrin walking on the moon in 1969. (NASA)

Astronaut Buzz Aldrin walking on the moon in 1969. (NASA)

There was a time – and not so long ago – when Americans believed they could do anything.  And they did.  Learned to fly.  Conquered polio.  Walked on the moon.  Then something happened.  Science went on.  And innovation.

But the breakthroughs seemed smaller.  Smartphone apps, not moonwalks.  We have huge challenges in this century.  We need huge breakthroughs again.  On energy, water, cancer, climate change.  What’s in the way?  How do we do it?

This hour, On Point:  accomplishing really big things again.

-Tom Ashbrook


Jason Pontin, editor in chief of the MIT Technology Review. You can find their issue on big ideas here.

David Keith, professor of applied physics at Harvard University School of Engineering and professor of public policy at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government.

Jeffrey Grossman, professor of materials science and engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

From Tom’s Reading List

MIT Technology Review “That something happened to humanity’s capacity to solve big problems is a commonplace. Recently, however, the complaint has developed a new stridency among Silicon Valley’s investors and entrepreneurs, although it is usually expressed a little differently: people say there is a paucity of real innovations. Instead, they worry, technologists have diverted us and enriched themselves with trivial toys. “

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  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_LKK4DSQQKRTNKBU5QKAZRZ7MLI Gary

    The vast majority of the best and brightest today, are recruited out of top colleges to develop technology and complicated algorithms to benefit Wall St.  Problem solving or problem creating?  Innovation perhaps of a sort, but the incentive is to make money.  The ability to leverage technology to make money today by far beats doing something for the greater good tomorrow.  This is the society that the parents of two previous generations have created.  Humans are a paradoxical force until ultimately we do ourselves in, of course in the name of so-called “progress”.

  • Adam Bray

    What we are missing in this country are politicians that have vision and are able to bring everyone around to understanding how important doing the impossible is how we will prosper as a planet.

    • Don_B1

      And the politicians have supported the rent-seekers in opaque ways that caused the 2007-2009 Great Recession and kept the recovery from occurring through austerity measures, so that we remain in a Lesser Depression.

      All to please those who want low-wage workers by keeping unemployment high.

      In this type of economy, where a large segment does not understand macroeconomics well enough to demand job creation over immediate deficit reduction, the fear leads to choices that are counterproductive to job growth.

      And the President does not have the confidence he can sell the necessity of clean, sustainable energy over fossil fuels, even though he knows that every dollar not spent on CO2 reduction before 2020 will cost $4.30 to remediate after 2020.

      On both issues, it seems that fighting the alligators is getting in the way of draining the swamp, but the conservatives are mislabeling the alligator each time.

  • Michiganjf

    Unfortunately, one has to keep in mind that resources are becoming ever more scarce, and competition for what resources remain on the planet has magnified tremendously.

    The energy, transportation, and resource costs required to undertake massive, ambitious projects move farther out of reach with each consecutive year, while the need to address the immediate, “petty” problems plaguing the populace are also escalating, ever present, and ever more dire.

    There will be problems, such as climate change, which will require massive expenditures on a global scale, but they’ll likely break the economies of many governments.
    If Republicans are to be believed regarding their last two decades of rhetoric, the economy of the most wealthy country on Earth couldn’t even bear the burden of demanding slightly increased gas mileage for automobiles… at least, not without terrible consequences to the economic health of the nation.
    So how do we moblize for an effort even greater than the Apollo moon program?
       Not that I’ve ever bought Republican rhetoric, but they were saying that during the best years for our economy, when the U.S. still had first dibs and cheap access to the world’s resource wealth… now that those years are gone, and considering the new paradigm of global competition for dwindling resources, large scale efforts REALLY WILL BE unaffordable.

    Still, we’ll soon have no choice, as pig-headed blindness and denial are taking us down every wrong path… we’ll have to squeeze every man, woman, and child on the planet to solve problems which could have easily and cheaply been addressed with a little foresight, a little less ignorance, and a little less ineptitude.

    It looks like, for most of the problems we face, government has now been forced OUT of the picture by small-minded selfishness, and the private sector won’t do anything well or quickly unless the profit margin is large enough… so forget about big, costly projects of immediate import.

    We had our chance to THINK BIG and to proceed more intelligently, but unfortunately the smaller minds largely prevailed.

    • sickofthechit

       I agree that we are living on a limited resource and until we collectively begin behaving that way we will seem doomed. but I still have hope for humanity/huwomanity. charles a. bowsher

    • Don_B1

      Political theorists have noticed that countries that are resource rich (think oil rich Saudi Arabia, etc.) have autocratic or worse governments.

      With the $12 trillion in buried fossil fuels here, the forces to turn the U.S. into such an oligarchy, plutocracy or even a theocracy are not far from winning the minds, if not the hearts, of the poor and middle class. Think the coal miners of West Virginia and neighboring states.

      • Michiganjf

        Ugh, what a horrible thought.

  • RolloMartins

    The greatest accomplishment in the history of mankind is at our doorstep…and we ignore it, even disparage it. Climate change is denigrated as a conspiracy by big-moneyed interests and their pals, the GOP. You want big? Tax carbon, go Green, and kiss the Saudis good-bye.

    • Don_B1

      If we all wait, there will be a revolt of the voters and every “solution” to climate change will be tried at great cost and even bigger government.

      But if the conservatives are able to convert the inchoate anger toward their solution, just as they did the early Tea Party protesters, it will be Katie-Bar-the-Door, and kiss civilization as we know it goodbye.

  • Ed75

    In the first half of the 19th century the issue to overcome was slavery. And it wasn’t resolved until a war decided it. Today the issue to overcome is abortion, and it will take something like that to resolve it.

    Serious moral problems drain a society of creativity and energy and power to create. Notice that the last man on the moon was there on December 13th, 1972, less than a month before abortion became legal in the U.S. Then, unaccountably, the space program fizzled. So did the joy of the 60′s.

    • DrewInGeorgia

      Don’t you ever get tired of playing the same song over and over again? I’m not ‘attacking’ you, just asking a question. I admire that you stick to your guns but you really are fighting the wrong battle.

    • sickofthechit

       What joy of the 60′s? Vietnam War, Poverty, Racism, DDT, Love Canal, Watergate,….

      If you want to eliminate abortion I would think the last 40 years of failure in fighting to change the current law might convince you instead to take a different tack.  Maybe you should be out promoting safe-sex education in the schools, adoption not abortion, and a society that recognizes that not all families are the classic nuclear family model of old. charles a. bowsher

    • 1Brett1

      Ed? …You’re slipping! You forgot to use the “what about all those inventors who’ve been aborted” angle!?! Which, actually, would have been a better argument than trying to make the argument that we are too consumed with thinking about moral dilemmas to devote ourselves to inventing…weak, ED…weak…

    • RestrainedRealpolitik

      Abortion?  Really?  In a world headed to overpopulation and perhaps massive die-outs from drought?  Incredible.

  • ToyYoda

    Maybe we don’t have the generational cohesion to see grand projects
    through?  The Santa Maria del Fiore, the main cathedral of Florence
    took about 140 years to build in a world where people did not live as long as today.  The Apollo mission took just 4 years, from Kennedy’s decree to the landing on the moon.

    In today’s terms 140 year project would be something like colonizing
    another solar system.  There’s no way we have the political will to do
    this, or the social/generational cohesion; we can’t even focus for 20
    minutes without being bothered by email spam.

  • MadMarkTheCodeWarrior

    First is climate change which threatens us with massive flooding and drought. We cannot continue to rebuild the sand castles of dreamers and the wealthy on the beech knowing that they will be swept away again in 5, 10 or 20 years. This is madness. Drought threatens our food supply.

    Second is the obsolescence of human beings as workers. We need a viable economic system for society to survive and prosper. Computers are decreasing the value of human life in business. The current system cannot survive for if 80, 90, or 95% of people are replaced by robots, vast numbers of people are left with no work with which to earn money to pay for the necessities of life. This with tear society apart: poverty and famine on a scale envisioned by many a sci-fi writer will be inevitable.

  • AC

    what to do about population growth and the function of people as technology replaces forms of laborious tasks……..won’t that leave a huge percentage of the population feeling lost and w/o purpose? not to mention they will likely be made up primarily of poor or undereducated people (tho not completely, see below)?
    gripe about ‘trivial toys’, but there’s more going than that and i don’t believe you don’t see it….

    look out doctors you’re about to be replaced!!

    • http://read-write-blue.blogspot.com/ RWB

      You and others that have posted similar comment must not understand how the Industrial Revolution raised the standard of living of everyone on this little planet.

      • AC

        what part of ‘replaces laborious tasks’ makes you think so?

        • http://read-write-blue.blogspot.com/ RWB

          “won’t that leave a huge percentage of the population feeling lost and w/o purpose?”

          Is the part that makes me think so.

          • AC

            it is a question; i am asking, what is your thought/suggestion about this problem?
            i am not wringing my hands exclaiming the sky is falling & we’re all going to die….

          • http://read-write-blue.blogspot.com/ RWB

            That is like asking if all those people aren’t needed to pick crops then they won’t be needed.  

          • AC

            you must not be on here on Wednesdays – here’s my post from yesterday:
            look out farm labor – you’re about to be replaced!

            you know, in the past there was starvation, migration, war and disease to help cull the herd (so to speak), but we’ve improved these problems as well, yet the population growth follows the natural logarithms of exponential growth. It will be interesting to see how people can re-invent themselves to be needed.

          • http://read-write-blue.blogspot.com/ RWB

            …cull the herd…???!

            If you believe that people only feel useful because of the drudgery of life the you have a very negative outlook.  Why?

          • AC

            no, just a diff sense of humor.

      • MadMarkTheCodeWarrior

        I don’t think you understand that we are actually seeing the effects of displacement by computerization even now. The industrial revolution was primarily electro/mechanical and the advances in productivity of such systems over the past century have not been like the doubling of the power of computers every 18 months.

        Computers and robots will be replacing lawyers, doctors and engineers even. I’m working in model based systems engineering: an effort to do more with less engineers… a lot less engineers. I’m working to make myself and peers obsolete.

        Don’t be so skeptical, this is a serious, inevitable cross-road that we’ll have to confront.

        • http://read-write-blue.blogspot.com/ RWB

          Hopefully lawyers first… ;)

          • MadMarkTheCodeWarrior

             A good start!!!

  • http://read-write-blue.blogspot.com/ RWB

    It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to heaven, we were all going direct the other way – in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.
    Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities

    Reading the comments posted here I wonder where the optimism has gone.  We do have some problems but they are minuscule by comparison to the troubles Americans have overcome in the past.  How sad that so many have become so hopeless.  

    • AC

      perhaps you are confusing ‘cautiousness’ with hopelessness. there is no need for drama or emotion when analyzing this topic, no?

      • DrewInGeorgia

        Their post began with “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times”, what did you expect?
        Plagiarism anyone?

        • AC

          i’m feeling unusuallly snarky today tho, i might have to refrain from comments…:/

          • DrewInGeorgia

            Nah, let em’ have it.

          • Gregg Smith

            I agree with Drew. You are a forced to be reckoned with. Let it fly.

        • 1Brett1

          Call me Ishmael! 

        • Gregg Smith

          He attributed it to Dickens so it’s not really plagerism. I get his point. I must admit I am a bit hopeless myself knowing we have another four years of this disaster.

          • DrewInGeorgia

            You’re right about the plagiarism, I stopped reading about halfway through the first paragraph and missed the Dickens attribution.

            Four more years? Of which disaster?
            Capitalism? Corporate Person-hood? Educational Dismantling? Fiscal Avoidance? Ideologically driven Legislation?

            Oh, you meant Four More Years of President Obama in office. So let me get this straight:

            Wealth is infinite.
            People are Benevolent.
            Anyone can achieve anything.

            But the fact that Barack Obama is still President makes you hopeless? C’mon Gregg.

          • Gregg Smith

            I feel hopeless to stop the $20 trillion debt we will have after his term has ended. I feel hopeless about more divisiveness. I feel hopeless about winning the war on terror when we don’t even acknowledge it’s existence. I feel hopeless about the rising cost of healthcare since Obamacare. I feel hopeless about no coherent energy policy and $6/gal. gas. I feel hopeless about an electorate that wants this disaster.

          • RestrainedRealpolitik

            Were you feeling hopeless when President Bush was putting two unpaid-for-wars on your childrens’ credit card?  No?  Then relax.

          • Gregg Smith

            No, but the wars were just, unavoidable and PAID FOR. 

      • http://read-write-blue.blogspot.com/ RWB

        I see nothing to be cautious about.  

        • AC

          well that’s too bad. what do you like to study?

          • http://read-write-blue.blogspot.com/ RWB

            Currently communication, next Spanish or Portuguese. 

    • Don_B1

      A lot of us recognize that civilization as we know it may be lost if CO2 emissions are not put on a steeper reduction path than any controlled reduction in history right now and it will get harder with each delay.

      The IEA estimated a year ago, that for every $1 NOT spent between then and 2020 to reduce CO2 emissions would cost $4.30 post 2020. That ratio can only be getting worse with each delay in acting.It takes a lot of optimism to go out and fight when the deck is stacked so well against you.

      • http://read-write-blue.blogspot.com/ RWB

        I know that the deck is stacked against me. That is why I am choosing to post here.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_Y6CO5C2HE4WM2OYGCDVWGPRXXM oldman

    It’s happening – it’s just not in our face – liquid metal batteries -  producing steam using sunlight and unheated water. Quantum computing.

    A big problem today is monolith global corporations making massive profits have no incentives to waste money on the next big challenge.

    • Don_B1

      Sometimes they can be encouraged to spend money by government support. But the current Tea/Republicans do not understand that.

  • Gregg Smith

    The biggest challenge of all is to keep the debate honest. 

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/NSK4HWE6PURBXOEJIMSE6R2WHI IA_Farm2

    Globalism prevents the “big ideas” from getting funded – in a “nationalist” world there was a sense of National Purpose – in a Globalist world the “investment” is all about “Short-term” return

  • Elizabeth_in_RI

    Money – that’s the challenge. If research isn’t likely to result in profits within the next quarter or two, industry isn’t likely to engage in it. And the backlash against “silly” science by many anti-intellectuals means that government funds are less  available for basic research – the kinds of things that unexpectedly lead to amazing (and profitable in the LONG TERM). Science for the sake of just knowing is so often what starts great innovation – but as a society we are so focused on the bottom line that we’ve lost the excitement and drive to accomplish big things.

    • Don_B1

      So true! Too true!

      Even in academia, so much funding now comes from industry that in smaller schools there is not the basic research that used to exist.

      Only in places like M.I.T. is there a lot of innovation where those startups originate, all too often to be swallowed up by a large corporation, again to get the investment money to jump the proof of concept stage to the large-scale development stage gap.

  • TinaWrites

    Can you tell us the proportion of how much wealth is being generated within the US by financial capitalism where money makes money, instead of thru investments in really needed investments like you refer to?  

    It seems to me that these so-called “creative financial vehicles” are sucking the money out of true innovation for society and just allowing the financial class to emass more and more wealth, therefore making an even greater class divide.  The poverty that that causes brings then costs too much for soaring!

    • Don_B1

      The best answer I have is the way the percent of all business profits received by the financial industry has gone from just above 10% in the 1970s to well over 33% in the 2000s.

      This says that a lot of it is speculation, and likely not productive for those not directly involved.

      • TinaWrites

        Don,  Thank you for your reply!  A copy of it is going into my bag right now so I can quote you without forgetting the numbers you stated!  Thanks, but ugh, what a situation!

  • http://wh.gov/IVp4 Yar

    Our biggest challenge is education of our children.  We are not providing the opportunity to learn through service we should.  I started a petition on the Whitehouse website to ask that a law be made to have all youth from 18 to 24 serve two years in public service.  I have only promoted it on this blog.  So far only 6 people have signed the petition.  Tom, please mention this idea on your show.  
    It is about preparing the next generation for the challenges they will face.  They must learn to work together. This is one way they can.

    Here is the link.

    • http://www.facebook.com/kyle.rose Kyle Rose

      The thirteenth amendment prohibits slavery.

      “Section 1. Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.”

      Seems pretty clear to me that forcing national service on unwilling young people is involuntary servitude, whether they’re being paid or not.

      I’m also willing to bet you’re not between the ages of 18 and 24. Why exclude yourself? Oh, I’ll bet you have better things to do. How noble.

      • http://wh.gov/IVp4 Yar

        It isn’t slavery, slavery is not allowing a path to citizenship for people who have lived here since they were children.  Economic slavery is where healthcare is connected to employment and only available to some.  This is about inheritance, the next generation is going to be in charge of the mess our generation has made. This is about giving them the tools to fix our mess.  I have dedicated my life to service.  If I had the opportunity I would have jumped at the chance.  I think this should also help transition into college, and I would like the service to provide both financial and academic credit toward higher education. The taxpayer has invested over 100,000 dollars in a kid by the time they are 18.  Think of two years of public service as making that investment sound.

        • Don_B1

          It is also paying for the opportunity to live here. It is earning the respect of the rest of the country and learning how the rest of the world works.

          The draft helped to get a more class-diverse armed forces, which led those who became our political leaders to understand the lives of poor people.

          A Mitt Romney who had served in the infantry in Viet Nam would be unlikely to have talked about the “47% who are dependent on government,” and how President Obama bribed the voters to get their votes.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_Y6CO5C2HE4WM2OYGCDVWGPRXXM oldman

    It’s ironic that the big successful example in this talk was a government driven program scaled larger than anything that would have or could have been attempted in the private sector.

    But the standard line today is that the government can’t do anything successfully. No wonder we aren’t meeting the next big challenge

    • RestrainedRealpolitik

      Eloquently expressed.

  • AC
  • http://www.facebook.com/julia.gandrud.9 Julia Gandrud

    What about cleaning up our nest? If we can conquer climate change, that would be the biggest accomplishment yet.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_Y6CO5C2HE4WM2OYGCDVWGPRXXM oldman

    If you want to see the next big ideas – go watch TED talks.

    The ideas are there – just not the will to implement them.

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/JXSANCUDPIKQSPID5KT2U4XK5Y TF

    I can’t remember the title, but a book I read in college posited the idea that the glorious era of engineering was about one century, from the 1851 Crystal Palace exhibit to the first H-bomb test (circa 1950?).

    This book was written: Before DARPA became the Internet. When the BBC was something you could only hear with a shoebox-sized radio containing tubes, running on many amps of plug-in electricity, attached to a wire antenna strung outside. When e-mail was something you might have, and it was between your one-color dumb terminal and every other user on just the minicomputers in the same campus.

    Just throwing that out there.

  • Ben Cornforth

    I still hold that if one, or several nations could create the momentum to revisit the moon, explore mars with manned missions, and survey the asteroid belt – we could usher in the greatest economic boom yet

    • http://read-write-blue.blogspot.com/ RWB

      I don’t think that it needs to be a nation. Why not a corporation?

    • RestrainedRealpolitik

      Your opinion is shared by others with the knowledge that this is entirely possible and would likely have the effect you envision:   http://www.buildtheenterprise.org/visions-of-enterprise

  • MadMarkTheCodeWarrior

    I want to take energy out of the sea to produce electricity. I  haven’t seen a lot of investment in engineering of a scalable solution in this area. With global warming and wild fluctuations in sea levels and oil prices we should be driving towards developing massive submerged tidal generators. Why not? I would love to be involved in working on a large scale effort. Its been a dream of mine for 40 years.

  • sickofthechit

    Part of what is holding us back is that President Obama signed a change to the Patent Law that now recognizes Rirst to Patent instead of First to Invent.  As an independent inventor I am even more paranoid (than usual) about revealing anything to anyone.  Talk about stifling innovation.  Charles A. Bowsher

    • AC

      just when i think they cant find a way, they do. seriously? as a fellow inventor, if you have not learned the ropes by now, you’re always going to feel paranoid!

  • http://www.facebook.com/kyle.rose Kyle Rose

    It seems that anytime the government declares war on something that isn’t a country, the war is never won: witness cancer, drugs, and terror. This isn’t a concrete rule, though: the government’s war on your civil liberties and human rights is proceeding quite well.

  • http://www.facebook.com/jim.castronovo Jim Castronovo

    One of the guests just hit the nail on the head: 4% of the Federal Budget was in support of putting the man on the moon. “We have stopped” putting forth an effort to solve intractable problems. There isn’t a lack of smart people. There is a lack of civic duty and more importantly there is insufficient ‘civic awareness’ to make a collective effort to support those smart people to solve meaningful challenges such as climate change.

  • Michiganjf

    Despite being a tremendous, exciting achievement, the moon program was essentially a militaristic undertaking resulting from a game of one-upmanship with an epic “enemy…”

    Aside from FDR’s New Deal initiatives, which created most of a great country’s infrastructure in a short time, it seems all our most ambitious undertakings were fundamentally militaristic.

    Well, we’ve reached the tipping point with militaristic spending, at least spending on a huge scale which can’t show immediate benefit.

    Can we really do what’s needed simply for the good of the species?

  • Joe Pankowski

    Write now there is a robot on Mars and I can see what it is doing from my home computer! We are still doing big things we just take them for granted. 

  • DrewInGeorgia

    This is from a comment I previously posted but it is definitely relevant to this discussion.

    An innovator tosses something totally new and beneficial out only to
    have it devoured and watered down by the bigger fish in the pond. Even worse, how about when it is eaten up by fish from another pond? A123 comes to mind…


    • AC

      well, you know how there’s controversy about student athletes getting gifts and other stuff while being recruited? that’s nothing compared to what happens to the kids with brains, it’s just not as talked about….

      • http://profile.yahoo.com/JXSANCUDPIKQSPID5KT2U4XK5Y TF

        But college athletes are the ones who have to operate with the sham of amateurism, unlike every other college student. Nothing is risked by business students who snag a job at the ol’ accounting office over the summer.

        (And it goes without saying that it’s all messed up because if one has a future as a pro basketball or football player, one wants the best vocational training, and that comes from playing for an American college.)

        • AC

          interesting perspective, i wouldn’t have considered this

  • Ellen Dibble

    I remember the moon walk.  I thought it was theater, and may not have ended national despondency about the constant Cold War sense of imminent annihilation by nuclear Armageddon.  Perhaps the Soviets were cowed?  Probably not.  How about those 400,000 jobs, and we found out the moon was what?  And $180 Billion invested.  Did we achieve a planet that could cooperate and collaborate?  No, those are the kind of challenges that are a lot harder to achieve.  So instead you do something splashy.  Granted there were spinoffs from the moon launch, unanticipated ones.  But the real hard work remains.  And if we’re not distracting ourselves with splashy things, good.  Let’s get on with the real issues.

  • ToyYoda

    Maybe we should cut ourselves a break?  It’s possible that big problems get increasingly harder in an exponential manner so that after one set of problems is solved, the next set takes much longer to solve?  Why tackle the next set when the gulf of fundamental knowledge needed does not even exist and takes absolute time, and not man-years to accumulate?

    • Don_B1

      The two most immediate problems to solve have KNOWN solutions:

      1) Jobs can be created by government spending when the economy is in a Liquidity Trap, as it is now with the Fed discount rate at near zero levels, known as the Zero Lower Bound. (Which is why, in the face of no appropriate fiscal policy, the Fed is using the much less effective QE as a last resort.)

      2) CO2 emissions from fossil fuels and industrialized agriculture can be put on a steep downslope now. While more efficient solutions will come, Solar, both PV and Concentrated, wind and biomass are implementable now, even to replace jet fuel. The conversion will take a few decades, but needs to be put on steroids now.

      • Gregg Smith

        1) Demand cannot be created by passing around other peoples money. The “stimulus” failed but not because it was too small. More spending is the last thing we need.

        2) CO2 emissions in the US are at a 20 year low. The money thrown down the solar rathole is gone forever.

        • riverbed

          Actually, you CAN create demand by passing around other people’s money.  Consumption has a much greater multiplier effect than investment.

          The price of solar continues to decline, just like other emerging technologies did when they were being developed.  Your views are astonishingly popular, however.

          • Gregg Smith

            They are consuming other peoples money. That’s the rub, if it was theirs then you’d have a case but it must first be pulled out of the economy, watered down by massive bureaucracy and redistributed.

            The price of solar should decline because of the glut of failures. My problem is that so much of other peoples money was wasted. Here’s a list. 


          • RestrainedRealpolitik

            Early attempts at manned flight were marked by spectacular failures and were not economical either.

          • riverbed

            I looked at your link, and, while it’s a little hard for me to take the Heritage Foundation seriously, I’ll try.  Moreover, failures in solar investment to date hardly make your point.  Henry Ford had 10,000 competitors that went broke, and  what great breakthroughs that enthusiasm produced.  Obama’s record on stimulus investment has outperformed that of private equity, I understand, but I can’t document my source on that. 

            As to ‘consuming other people’s money’, that’s what a lot of government spending does, and our political/economic system still maximizes the greatest demand of any economy with the smallest public sector, as a % of GDP, in the industrialized world.  This point, I think, is probably at the crux of our idealogical disagreements.

  • Jonathan Teller-Elsberg

    There is no problem with technological capacity. The problem is not with “confidence.” The problem is political and ideological. Problems such as global warming cannot be solved by the private economy. The economy can (and unavoidably must) be a part of the strategy of solving global warming, for example through the use of market-based mechanisms like greenhouse gas cap-and-trade. But the framework to address the problem can only come from society outside of the economy itself, and in practice that means through the institution of government. Unfortunately, we have a major political party so wedded to the ideology of “markets good, government bad” that Republicans would rather pretend that the problem doesn’t exist than take the necessary steps of utilizing the government to address it. (This isn’t meant to let the Democratic Party off the hook for being weak on global warming, but at least the Dems don’t as a group, totally reject reality on this issue.)

    Are there any “big things” that have been accomplished entirely by the private market? I don’t know of a single one. Private markets do one thing: satisfy the desires of individual consumers (with the money to participate). Large, social-scale problems can only be addressed by institutions that look at the social scale rather than the atomized individual scale.

  • Ellen Dibble

    To me, the current stalemate is not the Cold War, although that could come back to life.  The current stalemate is represented by Grover Norquist.  Not personally, but what he says.  If we can step aside from this kind of freeze, gridlock, we can maybe look at what IS possible, which is apparently international, not national.  Still, we are members of the world.

  • http://www.facebook.com/steven.foster.7311 Steven Foster

    The big challenges at this time are ones that require collective effort and inspiration, but the national ethos and ideology has turned against collectivity.   Technical plans and ability are not in short supply.  In fact the horizons are broader.  Apollo, jetpacks, etc are in fact now anachonistic and somewhat irrelevant.   I think the collective subconscious knows that the most important works now involve climate change, energy technology, funding for education, and other efforts  that require a change of the direction of collective aspiration.  Institutions have failed.  More than that, the US turned its back  on progress when it became apparent that progress now requires progressive changes in consciousness.   The struggle is about progressive vs regressive consciousness;  the consciousness wars of the 60s are still hampering progress.  How can we muster collective action if more than half the population believes in the literal old-testament creation story
    and comforts itself with idea of American exceptionalism?  

    Re Mitt Romney:  all the example “big projects” he cited were funded by government.  How ridiculous that Romney disparages action by government, and how foolish that people accept that hyprocrisy

  • TomK_in_Boston

    We don’t do spectacular big things because they require action by our government and the right has been demeaning the USA since 1980. Closest we come is blowing up small countries and developing new weapons.

    • DrewInGeorgia

      and new financial ‘instruments’.

      • TomK_in_Boston

        dam right

    • Gregg Smith

      You’re thinking of Iran.

      • Gene_from_Btown

        I know it might be a bit off topic for me to ask, but when was the last time Iran blew up a small country?

        • Gregg Smith

          Fair point, I was waiting for this one. Iran works by proxy largely through Hezbollah in places like Syria, Lebannon an Libya. They had a devastating effect in Iraq as well. I took issue with TomK’s implication.

          But you are correct, as bad as they desire to blow up Israel, they haven’t done it yet.

          • Gene_from_Btown

            And I was waiting for your answer. It went the way I thought it might go.

            The U.S. also operates by proxy in addition to the direct actions it takes in various countries around the world. But I am getting off point.

          • Gregg Smith

            I just don’t think America is a problem for the world, that’s all. I’ll leave it at that.

          • RestrainedRealpolitik

            Unfortunately, your shallow analysis contributes to the problem.  If more Americans had historical knowledge and perspective, America would suffer less blowback.

          • Gregg Smith

            Sorry, I’m not going to go back a half century and explain it all to you. It’s 2012.

            So I’ll stipulate, America is the great Satan. We created all that is bad in Iran. It’s Rumsfeld’s fault. You’ve seen the picture. As a matter of fact America is the biggest threat on the planet. Okay?

            That said, Iran is waging and has waged war by proxy (big time) in Iraq Syria, Lebanon, Libya and elsewhere. A nuclear Iran is unacceptable. 

          • RestrainedRealpolitik

            America is not “the Great Satan.”  Being historically informed and not falling for American propaganda and self-congratulation does not make a person noble or anti-American or unpatriotic.  It makes a person careful and skeptical.  When it comes to war, all people should be careful and skeptical.  Iran is no great threat to Israel or America for many reasons, none of which will convince a person who has already concluded that it is.  But when you realize that even Israel does not really fear Iran, you get a bit closer to the truth.

            Israel has nuclear weapons (cruise missiles) on German-made submarines.  A first strike by Iran would not destroy those submarines, but it would kill a lot of Arabs, kill a relatively few Jews (there are more Jews in America than Israel – about 6 to 7 million in Israel), destroy a number of Muslim holy sites, and trigger a retaliatory strike from those submarines.

            “But, but, those Iranian fanatics do not care if an Israeli nuclear strike obliterated Iran and all its 75 million people!  They are CRAZY!”

            Well, no.  Iran might sponsor suicide bombers just as Japan sponsored kamikaze warriors in WWII, but just like Japan, Iran uses suicide bombers to PRESERVE the country and not to DESTROY their country.  Yes, we all know about the virgins, but there is absolutely no reason to believe that 75 million Iranians or their leaders, after fighting a war of survival against Saddam Hussein, would commit collective suicide. 

            “But, but, those Iranian fanatics would smuggle in a suitcase nuke and then deny it was theirs! They are CRAZY!”

            Well, no.  All nuclear explosions leave atmospheric residue that can be tested.  The tests reveal the origin of the material.  America can sample the residue by aircraft and know exactly who bombed who.  The world will not support a country who used a nuclear weapon this way.  The world could not stop America or Israel from using nuclear weapons against Iran after such an atrocity.

            If you really think that Iran with nukes is a particularly dangerous idea, then you are completely ignorant of Pakistan and North Korea.  If you are not afraid of Pakistan and North Korea, then you have NO reason to be afraid of Iran.  South Korea has more to fear from North Korea than Israel has to fear of Iran.  India has more to fear from Pakistan than Israel has to fear of Iran.  Neither South Korea nor India are calling for America to launch a war against their nemeses — and they have more reason to do so.  So, chill out and do not think that America once again must bleed all over foreign real estate for some stupid, silly reason that, in the long-term, was meaningless (think Vietnam). 

          • Gregg Smith

            Who said   I wasn’t concerned about N. Korea or Pakistan?

            So, do we let Iran get nukes?

          • TomK_in_Boston

            LOL, proxies. Iraq attacked Iran with chemical weapons and USA intel as Reagan’s proxy. Then we invaded Iraq over with those same WMD as a pretext. Talk about out of control.  If we ever found the “WMD” they might have said “Made in USA”. 

            I can’t speak for you, Gregg, but I’m an American, not an Iranian, and my primary concern is what my own country does.

          • Gregg Smith

            Astonishingly shallow.

          • TomK_in_Boston

            When you make a trivial, no-content reply, be sure to accuse the OP of what you are doing.

            Accusing Iran of proxy warfare given our history in Iran and Iraq is very amusing, but you apparently don’t get the joke.

          • Gregg Smith

            How does any history you cite, (however true or embellished) refute the fact that Iran is waging proxy wars? What have I written that is not true?


          • TomK_in_Boston

            How is “Iran is worse” relevant to whether the USA meets big challenges anymore? Get a grip.

          • RestrainedRealpolitik

            Actually, no.  Historically, Iran has not been a threat to any country for many many years.  Iran could very well have been an American ally before the Shah and without the Shah, but America backed the rape of Iran by Great Britain in 1953 and contributed directly to the rise of the ayatollahs and the Islamic Republic.  What is shallow is the obstinate refusal of many Americans to acknowledge that America is as responsible for the Islamic Republic as any Islamic fundamentalist — just as America is responsible for al-Qaida.  

          • Gregg Smith

            Alrighty then.

          • sickofthechit

             Well said restrained.

  • http://www.facebook.com/maspeer Mike Speer

    The revolution in the life sciences will be human transformation (i.e. changing your DNA).  These life-saving/improving methods are not being developed for a myriad of reasons mostly involving fear. Religionists who think that’s god’s business, hippies who think that’s nature’s  business, social scientists who are scared to make any sort of qualitative genetic judgement, and life scientists who are scared of being a target.  Not to mention all the pharma companies who are scared of a permanent solution to the chronic diseases they count on.

    We just lack the will anymore, because we live in such a defensive time.

  • Julie Stratton

    how about this for a big change?  saying humankind or people instead of man?@yahoo-JXSANCUDPIKQSPID5KT2U4XK5Y:disqus !!!  :)     then, someday, the english language would encompass all people

  • Coastghost

    Forty years ago, a notable group of MIT researchers plotted human population growth through the 21st century against a handful of criteria (perceived quality of life, resource availability, health and nutrition, et cetera: and mind you, their study came out years before AIDS and SARS and HCV were known). Extrapolating from the data collected up through 1972 or so, they predicted two population outcomes globally: world population would plunge after 2040 and not begin to recover until after 2065, OR world population would drop considerably by mid-century but recover mildly before dropping again and recovering mildly again by 2100. The data and methodologies which comprised the study are now considerably out of date, but I don’t know that anyone will hold MIT to the “predictions” offered forty years ago. Any predictions emerging from today’s discussion will likely prove as credible in another forty years. –Welcome to the present.

    • Don_B1

      Predictions are made in two general modes:

      1) Predictions of physical events like an eclipse of the Moon or the time of high and low tide. Humans do not, at least yet, have the ability to change these events, but knowing the time (or some other attribute) of the event can help a human decide between some courses of action, from just observing the event to using it to set or not set sail for a destination at that time or a later time.

      2) Predictions of the effects of policy, such as the level of taxation or individual spending or changing jobs, gives the policy makers knowledge of how that policy will affect other people with the ability to chose from an array of possible results.

      The predictions of the M.I.T. group were of the latter, with emphasis on what the effects of the then current policies would be and why people might want to choose different policies that have at least the potential of leading to a better outcome.

      When predictions are of something that the majority of the population do not find acceptable, it is reasonable that those predictions do not come true because people changed the policy that they otherwise might have followed and took a different path, that at least avoided the worst of the prediction.

      Some might see it as humans using the God-given ability to think about the future to choose what God (or maybe the devil) would want; or maybe not.

      The bottom line: it is not a failure of the prediction when a bad possibility is avoided by humans choosing a different path by changing the assumptions that the prediction used.

  • glenninboston

    My two cents. 

    Interesting the combination of topics today – big challenges (of innovation) and the rise of corporate investors buying up chunks of real-estate. To me, these have some similar etiology – the cost of assets. This is obviously a simplification, but our legal and political structure is set to inflate the value of assets (real-estate, stocks, natural resources etc.), which makes investment (in the United States) too costly on an individual level, for local and state governments, and often for many corporations. Simply put, the problem isn’t our ability to innovate (we’ve proven we can still do that), the problem is our ability (or willingness) to pay for it. If we undermined the cost of assets, it would eventually (as those lower costs of assets work their way through the economy) allow us to afford innovation better. (not to mention, create a more equal society, as most assets are owned – or increasingly owned – by a small portion of the population) As life becomes more affordable for all, people will ostensibly take more risks…

  • Jonathan Teller-Elsberg

    One problem with that government approach may be the attempt to turn these efforts into “war” efforts. When  you have a war on drugs, you end up treating millions of your own citizens like “enemies.” Is it surprising that creating a low-grade civil war fails to improve society? Is it surprising that that approach leads to attacks on civil and human rights? Sometimes the language is purely metaphoric, as with a “war on cancer.” (It is worth noting that many useful treatments for cancer have been developed in the past few decades, even if the disease as a whole hasn’t been figured out.) Also, recall that, while the “war on poverty” is far from being “won,” rates of poverty are way, way, way below what they were before the effort began. Poverty can’t be eliminated without deeper changes to the overall economic system, but the Federal effort on that front hasn’t been the abysmal failure that the “war on drugs” has been. But even there, “war” is almost certainly the wrong conceptual approach.

    • Jonathan Teller-Elsberg

      Disqus error: this was entered as a reply to Kyle Rose’s comment on the failure of various government “wars on this and that” (not a direct quote).

    • anamaria23

      One of the greatest contributors to poverty  and crime in all it’s  manifestations is substance abuse.  
      It is a disease and it is rampant.  An all out investment in the neuroscience of addiction and a treatment or cure would lift humankind as almost little else.   

      • Jonathan Teller-Elsberg

        Yes, you are right, but the causation works both ways. Substance abuse can lead people into poverty and keep them there. But poverty itself is very often the main force pushing people into substance abuse. Europeans have the same neurobiology that Americans do, but less poverty and less crime. It didn’t take advanced neuroscience for Europeans to accomplish what they’ve done, it took rudimentary sociology and political oomph.

        • anamaria23

          What you say is true, but addiction is across all levels of society.  I wonder if even insatiable  greed is a neurobilogical disorder.

    • http://www.facebook.com/mike.lints.5 Mike Lints

      You should take a closer look at the data.  There was a large drop in the poverty rate just before the “war on poverty” began around 1965, but they are effectively unchanged since then.  See, for example: http://mjperry.blogspot.com/2010/09/us-poverty-rate-1959-to-2009.html

  • Ellen Dibble

    I think we need our institutions to diminish the influence of K Street, which I believe it is Pontin saying that the coordination of public and private spheres is dysfunctional.  Ask the Supreme Court about that.  Or if they won’t help, go to the individual states, and the moon shot of 2012 will be dethroning the plutocracy.  Greed has its place.  But it is not “the people.”  It gives us the most profitable medicine, which is not necessarily the most effective or efficient, for example.  It gives us the most profitable housing, which creates the biggest mortgage deductions for the wealthy, for example, not housing that keeps us close to the workplace, and within functional walkable communities.  Where is the urgency, the idealism, in our planning?

  • http://twitter.com/rainkinz rainkinz

    Despite what the Right thinks, the government needs to be involved in to get these ‘big’ projects off the ground. There is no incentive for big pharma to cure cancer when they’re making billions off of drugs used to treat it. Also if the Right think we aren’t getting a return on our investment, they only need to look at the Human Genome Project, let alone the fact that we might actually save someone’s life!

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_Y6CO5C2HE4WM2OYGCDVWGPRXXM oldman

    The total focus on short term gains excludes anything “big” – just because anything big requires a longer view than the money makers would ever entertain.

  • Jonathan Teller-Elsberg

    Whether or not Yar’s idea is good, the government does have the constitutional authority to induce a draft and put people to work in the military involuntarily. I’m sure that a mandatory public service program could be designed to be constitutional. Again, that doesn’t make it a good idea. There are plenty of laws that are legal but bad policy.

    • Jonathan Teller-Elsberg

      Disqus error: this was entered as a Reply to Kyle Rose’s reply to Yar.

    • http://www.facebook.com/kyle.rose Kyle Rose

      It’s entirely unclear to me whether a military draft today would be declared constitutional or not. The draft went away as a result of massive popular opposition: I think the exception to the prohibition of slavery that was granted to the draft expired in the 70′s.

  • fwilliamadams

    One very important issue is the nature of corporate America – not taking chances due to the fear that the quarterly reports won’t look good, that value to shareholder won’t be ever increasing. Compensation being tied to the share value reduces big thinking and risk taking

  • ToyYoda

    We need big science?  Sure we do it.  But, didn’t the particle physicists gobble that budget up?

  • riverdweller52

    In 1992, for the first time in US history, the number of college graduates in the engineering field was eclipsed by the number of college graduates with MBA’s. We have confused the creation of wealth with creation of value. They are not the same thing. The moon landing program was not profitable, but it was monumental. Our best theoretical mathematicians are working on Wall St. A nation that believes in itself can accomplish anything.

    • RestrainedRealpolitik

      Well said. 

      The MBAs treat every product as widgets.  When they move into an industry, they treat what that industry creates and produces as widgets.  They manipulate the widgets to create share value — all at the expense of innovation, retention of educated and experienced workers.  One part of an industry experiencing a temporary slump?  Just fire those workers and trash the equipment.  Don’t imagine for one second that patiently persevering through the slump is worth the cost of keeping those workers at work and preserving the institutional memory and experience.  Or preserving the neighborhoods and cities which decline because the industry is destroyed.  Keep your eye on the share values and dividends and do not consider anything else.  And when the industry is destroyed and the MBAs are done, they move on to the next industry because all industries are interchangeable and MBAs treat every product as widgets.

  • Pointpanic

    I’m tired of this banal “think big”narrative. Given that this is ostensibly public radio I hope there will be some critical inquiry into who exactly benefits from “big ideas” and who or what gets hurt by them. Also,why is it always reduced to a hymn to “entrepeneurship” when history shows that contrry to right wing think tanks government has played a major role in ‘innovation”.

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/QMDZ3LH5U2B4GAT7J2HS4TCP6E Jim

    when Wall Street does what it suppose to do, ie. allocate proper financial resource to the right people who need capital… then we have wonders and INNOVATION.

    when Wall Street decide to enrich themselves and screw america, we get stuck in the s**t hole today.

  • R.D. Eno

     We may simply be in that period of consolidation and small-bore accomplishment that Thomas Kuhn taught us occurs between paradigm shifts.  On the other hand, a global reaction against modernity in the form of a recrudescence to primitive religions — especially among the Abrahamic faiths — drags against our forward progress towards some new paradigm.  Perhaps we need a crisis to jar us loose.

  • kekline

    Legal issues, especially the rise of prodigious tort cases and the resulting settlements, slows down any major risk-laden endeavor. Even now, big technology gains are inhibited by our ridiculous patent and IP protection laws that favor “patent trolls”.

    What does your guest have to say about our current legal climate? It can’t possibly be conducive to the big challenges of the 21st century?

    • RestrainedRealpolitik

      “Prodigious tort cases” are not the problem.  If they were as prevalent and significant as you suggest, the Gulf of Mexico disaster never would have occurred. 

      Ridiculous patent and IP protection laws that favor “patent trolls” are a more serious threat to intellectual freedom and innovation.

      • Gregg Smith

        Obama gave BP a categorical exclusion from the National Environmental Policy Act. A little oversight and the spill would not have happened. Don’t ask who BP gave the most money to in 2008, you don’t want to know.

  • http://twitter.com/BillySobczyk Billy Sobczyk

    Is our unwillingness or inability to tackle big problems or big achievements due in some part to our institutionalized fear of communism? Have we become paralyzed by the same anti-communist sentiment that got us to the moon?

  • Ellen Dibble

    I think the psychology, the national psychology, of the moon launch 1962 to 1969, was fueled by our national ability to identify the enemy, which was the USSR.  There is STILL, to this DAY, a sense that if not Russians per se, “Communism,” per se, is plain evil, and don’t even look it in the eye.  It remains difficult to talk about the public/private coordination of policy without the Red Scare making its presence known.  It seems to me our private domain has plenty of footing in our capitalist government, but so it goes.  But how can we mobilize the way we did against the remarkable insult represented by Sputnik?  I still remember THAT, for sure.  Sputnik is not anywhere to be seen.

    • RestrainedRealpolitik

      And the real scares — AGW and other pollution — have been caricatured as mythical jokes.

  • kmh5004

    The problem is that rather than try to elevate the nation, today’s leaders try to lower themselves for votes.  This happens on both sides of the aisle, but there is considerably more blocking from the republican party

  • Coastghost

    If “technological overreach” is a credible fear, why is no one endorsing wholesale Paul Feyerabend’s warning to separate science from state (every bit as comparably as separation of religion from state)? Marlowe’s Faust well illustrated the problem over four centuries ago: the descendants of alchemists who today are in the service and employ of princes and potentates yield the characteristic human behavior illustrated by your choice of horrors dating from the WWII era to present-day calamities (a state deploying missiles against its civilian population, for instance, is not necessarily tangibly different from a state deploying missiles against the civilian population of a rival state).

  • WorriedfortheCountry

    Bell Labs was a technology innovation factory for decades. A real jewel.  There is no equivalent today.

    • TomK_in_Boston

      That’s correct. And the reason is that AT&T had a monopoly and was able to fund Bell Labs without worrying about the bottom line. There were no MBAs on the rampage screaming “If we cut 50 scientists working on crazy projects with no short-term payoff in sight, we can increase our profits and bonuses!”

      So the “free market” killed Bell Labs. There is no better proof that government funds are the only way to get the basic research that grows the next generation of technology.

      • RestrainedRealpolitik

        About thirty years ago, in the middle of “the Energy Crisis,” smart executives at each of the major American automobile manufacturers figured that another energy crisis might occur in the future.  To be prepared in that eventuality, these executives set up secret laboratories exploring the design and manufacture of high-mileage vehicles.  Their idea: If ever the crisis reoccurred, they would pull out the plans and begin to manufacture these vehicles without having to radically retool.  In other words, they would be ready to act in a timely manner to meet the crisis successfully.  The secret laboratories were funded with a very small percentage of annual profits.  The secret laboratories were a brilliant idea, a practical and economical insurance policy for industry success as well as national security.  After a few years, however, the MBAs and shut down these laboratories as they attempted to maximize profits.  All the designs and plans and science was discarded and disappeared.  True story?  We may never know.  What we do know is that today we are far behind where we should be with practical contingency plans for  the design and manufacture of high-mileage vehicles. 

  • AC
  • Dan Rencewicz

    Someone please correct me if I have this wrong but I recall that some years ago a tape recording of a meeting between Jack Kennedy and the newly appointed director of NASA was discovered.  The meeting occurred the week following Kennedy’s  famous speech to the graduating class at Rutgers University that set us on the path to the moon.  As I recall, as recorded on this tape, Kennedy expressed his less than enthusiastic interest in space exploration instead telling the new director that our real need was to “rub the Russian’s nose in it” (my paraphrase of the sentiment I recall him summarizing). 

    If true, had it not been for the Cold War, would we have gone to the moon?  If true, might this be an excellent example of the differences that often exist between stated and true motivations? 

    I’m currently in the process of trying to vet this.  Any help would be appreciated.  I may be wrong as to the details but what I recall with absolute clarity is the sting of disappointment I felt when I heard this tape.

    • Dan Rencewicz

       Note to self  — your memory is working just fine.


      In a meeting in November 1962, the president bluntly told James Webb,
      the NASA administrator, that putting a man on the moon was his top
      priority. Mr. Webb said it was more important to understand the
      environment of space, prompting Mr. Kennedy to say, “If we get second to
      the Moon, it’s nice, but it’s like being second anytime.”

      Mr. Webb continued to push back, prompting the president to spell it
      out: “I’m not that interested in space,” he said, only in beating the

  • BlueNH

    Fracking and mining the tar sands in Alberta are destroying our water supplies. But our political leaders are hell- bent on doing more of both. By the time we see the damage they do, it will be too late.

    And geoengineering (Dr. Keith’s schemes) will help to restabilize the Artic, but do nothing to save the oceans from becoming too acidic for life.

    We are not moving toward sustainability. Rather, we are damaging the planet so fast that I have little hope for the future.

    • Pointpanic

      I’m afaraid, I share your dwindling hope, Blue.

  • Ellen Dibble

    I think we are inspired to be extremely rich so that we can change the DNA of ourselves and of our children to thrive in a polluted world, where a lot is synthetic that used to be organic, and to be rich enough to live in the optimum place.  We dream of being as rich as Romney so we can be the last survivors.  Something like that.  It is a big dream, but probably not viable for all 9 billion of us.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_Y6CO5C2HE4WM2OYGCDVWGPRXXM oldman

    In a capitalist system, innovators challenge the current money  makers – cheap renewable energy would whack the oil industry, cheap medical breakthroughs impact those selling the current expensive tests and treatments.

    If you’re out to make money, why would you want $1 medical tests replacing the $300 medical tests you’re currently selling? Why would you spend millions to develop and test them?

    • RestrainedRealpolitik

      Which is why government must lead with research support despite the Tea Party navel-gazers.

      • notafeminista

        What passed for government and science at the time tried to silence Galileo.   Try again.

        • RestrainedRealpolitik

          Yes, and if the Tea Partiers have their way, what DID silence Galileo — the CHURCH (not “government”) will strangle science again.

          • notafeminista

            Didn’t read my post did you.  Think what you will about present day “church” – but the “church” passed for both government and science during Galileo’s day.  Read your history and yes, try again.

  • http://www.facebook.com/jimheckafrica James Heck

    Pay attention to your California caller and don’t give the pass to your guests just because your finger has slipped on your notes!  Military conquest has driven technology.  Right?  Wrong?  What to do about it?

    • Ellen Dibble

      Well, the danger seems to be nonstate actors, and invisible weaponry that can be carried in the guts of a pet tucked into a carry-on bag, or in the ink cartridge of a printer.  Drones go only so far.  The military challenge of the future is exactly the capacity for weapons to be undetectable, and not located in the domain of a particular government.  And apparently the motivation and ability to step outside the “system” is becoming prolific.  Al Qaida set a model for it.  But try finding a chemical that will persuade or depersuade, targeted like that.  A breathable protein that will create the cloud or clarity that creates little buddhas?  Something like that?  The military challenge is becoming a challenge of identifying hostility itself, which paradoxically can vest in the throngs of those most committed to love and peace.  Technicians are not going to solve those current military issues, but maybe Madison Avenue can begin to define the problem.  Give us some logos.  Poets, give us some poetry.  Etc.

  • rick evans

    Missing the forest for the trees. Mobile technology has solved the problem of getting affordable communication technology to the third world while Technology Review was not watching.

    LEDs and solar cells are well on the way to providing home lighting to these same populations.

    The water shortage problem in the west is more a consequence of giving cheap water to agriculture interests, golf courses and suburban law dweebs than a need to desalinate the ocean.

    As for hunger, I thought the woman singing the praises of the legume was way ahead on how to solve that problem.

  • emgle

    A lot of your listeners have commented on the lack of political support for research and innovation, but I don’t think we can blame that all on the politicians. Scientists have a public image problem in this country. During the space race, part of the astronaut’s job was to be a public figure and educate the public about the importance of science. Today there is no equivalent of this and scientists don’t take the public seriously or try to communicate with them in the same ways. If scientists want to get the public to support their research they need to improve their image with the public 

    • glenninboston

      Placing the blame on the scientists, is in my opinion, a little bit like blaming the victims…if we as a society have a negative image of scientists (and science) the problem is a society issue, not a science one…

      • emgle

         I’m not saying it’s all their fault (I am one), but they have some responsibility in this as well.

        • RestrainedRealpolitik

          Some very small part.

    • TomK_in_Boston

      At the time of the space race, we hadn’t had 30 years of the plutocrats screaming “government is bad”. If the current TeaOP had been in congress in the 50s and 60s, their first reaction to a grand challenge would be to demand spending “offsets”. “You can go to the moon if we eliminate Social Security”, LOL

  • nj_v2

    Re. “what’s it gonna take”? One of your guests (urgency must come from political leaders [fell off my chair laughing], and academia then, finally the public)…

    All significant social/environmental change has originated with small, grassroots groups of people!

    • http://read-write-blue.blogspot.com/ RWB

      When the people lead the leaders will follow. 

      to coin a phrase.

      • Gregg Smith

        The best example in recent history are the town hall meetings that led to the Tea Party that led to the historic 2010 elections.

  • DannyVellom

    “Moonshot Initiative”: Working Nuclear Fusion reactor – energy to clean water, replace fossil fuels, …

  • John Visser

    The man on the moon mission was not a 7 year program from beginning to end; the entire manned space program was based on the technology of the fleet ballistic missile program.  The research for Polaris, the first in the family, began in 1958, and Polaris went operation in 1961.  The actual new technology developed for Mercury, Gemini and Apollo is actually quite small.  

    John in Wesborough

  • http://twitter.com/areallycc Margaret

    We are in our second Robber Barron Industrial years. The difference is WORLD labor including child labor is now.
    It is a consumer driven generation. Consumers responsability to demand resources and change  

    • Pointpanic

      good points Maragaret. I would go a step further and hope that we, the people rememeber that we are citizens and not mere consumers. And I wish “public” radio would remember that as well.

    • Flowen

      I think the difference now, since mass production has increased supply to where demand is the constraint, the greater exploitation is in consumerism, and the over-consumptive behavior instilled into citizens, representing [futile] attempts to achieve fulfillment and the American Dream.

      Lack of reliability, poor customer service, and shorter life cycles are all indicators of this form of exploitation, not to mention the effect of government subsidy and promotion of selected products/services.Global exploitation of workers is significant and obvious, but it is the exploitation of consumers that drives the race to the bottom.

  • http://www.facebook.com/tom.allen.315428 Tom Allen

    During the 1960′s there was also a song, “Last night I dreamed the strangest dream, I never dreamed before, I dreamed the world had all agreed to put an end to war.”  

    The massive expenditures on war, among them the war that its secretary of defense McNamara later called “A terrible mistake,” have drained the country’s resources and energies, and  precluded a national will to solve these big problems.  Along with the dream to end war went  other dreams such as those you are discussing today, which have everything to do with our future.

    • TomK_in_Boston

      It’s true, and Ike was getting sick of the mil-indu complex.

      The other thing that has everything to do with our future is redistributing the wealth that could go to grand challenges into the pockets of the romney types.

    • http://www.dogoodgauge.org The Do Good Gauge

       I suspect most would see the centring point of those lyrics as, “put an end to war”.  Where is the science and discovery in that thought?

      I see the centring point as, “the world had all agreed”.  The science is in discovering something beyond dichotomy, beyond logic.  The challenge is to discover new methods to come to agreement.  To provide a level of connectivity with many answers allowing each to choose the solution best fitting the need.

      It’s not rocket science.  A brain surgeon is probably not required.  Though someone who understands the brain and the concepts of neural connectivity may be up for the challenge.

  • permaculturefarmer

    I suggest serious study and implementation of Permaculture practices to address the big challenges we face. We need to be using the finite resources that are currently available to us in the best way–to set up regenerative systems that will meet our needs when those resources disappear. Peter Bane (Permaculture educator, writer, designer, farmer) gave an excellent presentation in Montpelier last night discussing how well Permaculture can address the biggest challenges we face using “holistic problem solving”. And this problem solving has to start with us–we can’t wait for political leaders, then academia to get there….

  • http://read-write-blue.blogspot.com/ RWB

    Always listen to experts. 
    They’ll tell you what can’t be done and why. 
    Then do it.
    Robert Heinlein

    There is more opportunity for more people than ever before.  But IF you pay attention to those that say it can’t be done you’ll never make it happen.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Tom-Brooks/775122691 Tom Brooks

    My daughter and I presented a BIG idea to fight global warming, create jobs, create more awareness.  We were encouraged by our local university to test the water.  We were met with tremendous enthusiasm for our idea and then stifled because the University Departments don’t work together.  We took it to DOE.  The girl we were working with was very excited and then she retired.  We’ll share this idea with anyone who is willing to take it live in a PBS (non-biased) launch.  HELP!

    • DrewInGeorgia

      Figure out a way to make it profitable in the short-term without threatening any entrenched interests and you’ll have to beat them off with a stick. Talk about a tall order.

      Best of luck in your endeavor.

      • harverdphd

         It’s who we are.  Don’t like it? Stop being one of us.

        • DrewInGeorgia


          I already have genius.

  • Ben Frock

    Would love to hear Neil deGrasse Tyson and Tom talk about this subject 

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/N3DZLTSPKRFBV2D55WXNGPO75Y Robert

    The big project is staring us in the face — global warming.  And our children for many generations will thank us for solving it, and curse us if we do not.

    • harverdphd


  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=889135281 Edith Kruse Hollister Thornbur

    I think a lot of it has to do with the “new” education. Children are “taught to the test” instead of learning how to think and reason for themselves.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=680471522 Juliet Sinisterra

    An often overlooked notion is the one of Peak Technology. In the 40s and 50s, the U.S. was sitting on oodles of cheap energy, that allowed us to pursue a national highway system and boost our rates of innovation incredibly. Now with conventional liquid fuels starting to decline worldwide, we are faced with tighter and tighter resources. Since money is a claim on future growth and with the depleted natural resources, the same rate of growth and of money is now in question and not guaranteed. Dr. Joseph Tainter, author of The Collapse of Complex Societies, has looked at the rate of diminishing returns on innovation. During the early part of the 1900s, one or two scientists would develop new technologies, we now have huge teams of scientists working to solve problems with huge infrastructure expenses. Tainter has calculated that since the 1970s innovation has had a diminishing rate of return of approximately 20%. He projects this growing to 50% in the coming decades. In order to accomplish similar technological achievements, we have to be spending exponentially larger sums of money, often to solve the problems (i.e. Climate Change) that technology and our massive highway system created to begin with, or we will soon be faced with our own extinction.

    • Patrick McCann

      Debbie downer.

  • Human898

    I see the greatest stumbling blocks as personal greed and gluttony.   Rather than join together to solve some very real problems and challenges we have ignored and some seem to want to continue to ignore, constructs have been made to not just further ignore the problems, but to deny they exist all in favor of the accumulation of massive personal wealth for a minute relative few humans.   Some in the world seem to want to sell and promote the idea that the establishment of small dynasties and kingdoms is far more important than the betterment of humanity and taking on the challenge of solving some of the huge problems facing us today, ironically in some cases as the result of technology that has improved the chances of and the longevity of human survival immensely causing problems with solutions to problems based on different factors.   One of the greatest challenges we face seems to be an ongoing plan to deal with the impacts changing technology and how to adjust to them.   It’s not just a matter of creating programs that uses factors of people living an average of 75 years when in the future age 95 might the normal average.   Another factor is how to educate humans to the impacts of their actions and how to connect dots.  

    What’s going to happen if people charge one another with their full weight and bang their heads?   What happens to programs meant for people who lived 10 or 15 years less on average when the same formulas are used with longer life spans?    What happens cumulatively when people (employees) are seen merely as expenses to a business and not also as potential consumers?    When lots of companies lay off lots of employees to “save” money, haven’t they also laid off many many potential consumers of their goods and services?   If they hire people for less money, haven’t they also reduced the potential consumer base as people that make less money also spend less money because they have less to spend?   The same with income taxes and income tax revenue.  If one fires and lays off employees, how are the employers doing so appear to be missing how and why those employees are no longer paying taxes?  Why aren’t we connecting the dots or are we, but some don’t want to talk about it because they are the ones that profit in the short term from fewer or lower paid employees, even if their businesses will suffer in the longer term from the same thing?

  • 228929292AABBB

    We can’t solve big problems because of our President, who lacks the courage.  Despite his endorsement on the grounds of global warming by Mayor Bloomberg, he has actually invalidated EPA regulations which were already in place by executive order as a sop to business.  Now we see his justice department won’t prosecute terrorist funding at HSBC for the same reason.  His speeches notwithstanding, the President has neither the courage nor the character to solve any big problem.

    • DrewInGeorgia

      Quick! Let’s get you in Office so you can single-handedly save the Human Race!

      • harverdphd

        … or perhaps you, for that matter.

        • DrewInGeorgia

          No thanks, if I wanted to sell my soul I’d have done it a long time ago. You, on the other hand, likely have nothing to lose in that department so you should go for it.
          harverdphd 2016.

          One person will be unable to make effective changes without massive support and some seriously radical Governmental, Judicial, and Legislative changes.
          Unless you think We are a Dictatorship. Don’t mind me though, you’ve just informed me in one of your many insightful replies to my comments that I’m clueless. Coming from you I will take that as a compliment and bid you a good evening.

          • Gregg Smith

            I applaud your decision.

          • DrewInGeorgia

            Not selling my soul, not entering politics, or not going a few rounds with the phd’d one?

          • Gregg Smith


          • DrewInGeorgia


            That’s what I figured.

  • hennorama

    There’s no lack of ambitious ideas proposed as solutions to big problems. What’s lacking is implementation. When nearly half of Americans believe in the myths of “creationism,” and deny scientific evidence on issues such as AGW, it’s problematic to get public support and political agreement on forward-looking ideas that take vision, money, and time.

    We constantly hear “we can’t afford it,” and proposals get nickeled and dimed to death. Some insist on cost/benefit analysis of every proposal, knowing this is an easy way to derail anything they oppose. Costs are fairly simple to quantify, but quantifying benefits can be problematic. How can one quantify the reduction of traffic-related stress that would result from a new tunnel between NJ and NYC, for example.

    We also hear “let the market decide,” as if only the private sector can provide solutions, and that government actions are inferior or evil. The private sector does not always know best, as it tends to be both selfish and self-serving, and rarely sees the point of projects serving the larger public interest. The examples of the Internet and the Hoover Dam come to mind.

    The major players in telecommunications and technology, AT&T and IBM, were offered opportunities to develop the ideas proven by ARPANET. Neither had the vision necessary to take advantage of the enormous opportunity. AT&T was happy to exploit its telecommunications monopoly, and IBM was focused on its transformation from making typewriters and tabulators, to making large computer systems for business and government.

    The Colorado River clearly needed flood control, and had major hydroelectric potential. Taken separately, neither of these ideas would have resulted in the dual-purpose Hoover Dam. SoCal Edison was willing to build a hydroelectric dam, and a low dam was proposed for flood control. The Hoover Dam’s genius was that it did both, at a lower cost than the separate private projects.

    What has changed so much since the national effort of the “moon shot” is public attitude toward government. Public sentiment has soured and become more cynical since Vietnam and Watergate. Rather than JFK’s “ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country,” we hear “what’s in it for me?” and NIMBY.

    Until this changes, we can look forward only to small, incremental changes that can be justified by narrowly-focused cost/benefit analysis.

    • notafeminista

      Wow.  You got the “religionists”, the “climate deniers”, corporations,technology and the free-marketers one dramatic, bosom-heaving post.  I bow to your use of imagery.  Breathtaking, really.

      • hennorama

        notafeminista – Thank you for the kudos.

        I wish to point out that you left the hypocritically newly-minted “deficit hawks” off your list. I hope I did not leave the impression that I wish to exclude them from the wide array of the cynical, the small-minded, and the vision-challenged. Thanks again.

        • notafeminista

          Oh tsk dear.  You’ve thought they were hypocritical for ages.  Let’s not be coy.

          • hennorama

            notafeminista – Without addressing either the logical inconsistency of your remarks or the inadvisability of making assumptions about either the nature or longevity of another’s beliefs, I will simply state that I have no problem at all with CONSISTENT “deficit hawks.” Rather, I find those who have recently “found religion” in thinking all Federal deficits and debt are bad, after having ignored the very same issues during one or more prior presidencies, to be hypocritical.

            Thank you again for your response.

          • Gregg Smith

            When deficits quadruple and stay that way for 4 years straight with no end in sight while the President tries to not only raise the debt ceiling but wants to abolish it, things get testy. This is new ground, at least since WWII. He promised to cut it in half, didn’t happen.

          • Bill_GKD

            Who says that the President wants to abolish the debt ceiling.  He’s floated Mitch McConnell’s idea of giving the President that power, which could be nullified by a Congressional no vote. 

            But that is totally aside from hennorama’s point that many “deficit hawks” went along with Cheney’s deficits don’t matter line for years, but “found religion” after a Democrat became President.  It’s hypocritical.  Bottom line.  I can at least respect someone who complains now who complained then.  Ron Paul probably did.  I don’t care for him much, but I’d bet that he was at least consistent on that.  Paul Ryan, on the other hand, is a total hypocrite, but he’s really sorry now for the votes from years ago.

          • Gregg Smith

            It was in his proposal for a deal on the fiscal cliff. Harry Reid refused to bring Obama’s “solution” to a vote. Why? It’s not a serious solution.

            Cheney was right. If you make a million a year and mortgage a $200K house then deficits don’t matter. If you make 20K and are already 200K in debt and mortgage the same house then they matter. I am always amazed at the lack of context in the liberal mind.

          • Bill_GKD

            I think that Harry was willing to bring it to a vote last week until McConnell filibustered his own proposal.

            I am always amazed at the bald-faced duplicity of conservatives in America.  Cut taxes, go to war and run up deficits when you’re in power, but when the defecation hits the ventilation and some very predictable government costs spike during a downturn, like unemployment benefits and foodstamps, well, now that’s the time that we’ve got to take an ax to stuff. 

            They couldn’t be bothered to address our fiscal house when the economy was running along, despite the underlying flaws. 

            US GDP is now over 800 billion more than it was before crash, but the government is taking in a far lower rate, but the only logical course of action according to the GOP is to continue policies that net 60 year low rates.  You gotta keep starving that beast.

          • hennorama

            Gregg – TY for your reply.

            You may wish to check your arithmetic, as the Federal deficit has not quadrupled. Indeed, Pres. Obama has been unable to, as he said in Feb. 2009, “cut the deficit we inherited in half by the end of my first term in office.” He inherited a deficit that was about $1.3 Trillion, and it’s likely to be about $1.1T at the end of this year.

            The debt ceiling is an anachronism, and completely illogical. Congress controls Federal spending through the budget process, and can limit the spending it authorizes. For Congress to first authorize spending, knowing how much they’ve spent and what the debt ceiling is, then prevent the Treasury from selling bonds to raise the money to pay the bills, is nonsensical. The debt ceiling was useful in the past, when Presidents had virtual control over budgets, but that hasn’t been the case since the mid-1970s.

            Not only is the debt ceiling an anachronism, it can’t be an effective spending deterrent if Congress can simply vote to raise it at any time. Let’s get rid of the damned thing already.

          • Gregg Smith

            Deficits in billions from table 1.3 OMB:

            2008 – $415.72009 – $1274.4
            2010 - $1153
            2011 – $1,127.6
            2012 – $1,123.1 (est.)

          • hennorama

            Gregg – TY for saving me the trouble of posting the facts that prove my points. And don’t feel too bad about the arithmetical failure, as you are merely part of the club of those receiving correction. For example, a couple of months ago I publicly corrected David Marotta, a Forbes.com “expert” blogger, who tried to reverse-engineer Mr. Romney’s already-reverse-engineered 2011 Fed. tax return. Marotta made factual and arithmetical errors, which I pointed out. He subsequently changed his blog post without issuing a public “correction,” then bravely deleted my comments that showed his failings, proving his complete lack of ethics. (I’m not accusing you of being unethical, BTW.)

            But I digress. Thanks again for proving my points.

          • notafeminista

            No assumptions needed.  Your posts are consistently and abundantly clear – and therefore, logically inspired my initial response.  Thank YOU.

          • hennorama

            notafeminista – If you find your assumption that I could think “for ages” about something I’ve characterized as “newly-minted,” then you should consider changing your moniker to “notaSpock.”

          • notafeminista

            Thanks for your response.  I disagree.  Again, thanks for your response.

  • riverbed

    How about some infallible birth control?  If only women had each child when she wanted one, we’d have the overpopulation problem licked.  I’m working on a condom that is addictive to use.  Something on the inside, say a combination of crack and viagra.  Currently looking for research money….

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=48701030 Jet Jones

    I think we can’t solve problems because we are going at it with antiquated models of thinking that focus on short term solutions/paybacks at the expense of the long term.  My favorite quote (I’m paraphrasing)… you can’t solve problems with the same thinking that got you into the problem in the first place.  Every problem we have faced until recently have been ABLE to be solved in decade(s)… both world wars, sicknesses, etc.  We’re now facing problems that will take multiple generations to fix.  This requires new models of thinking…of which are not being taught in our educational institutions.

  • bmovies

    Once again NPR reminds us that everything is the fault of the Republicans.

  • J P Fitzsimmons

    Over the last 10 years the S&P500 companies who represent the American economy have purchased back about $2 Trillion of their own stock. This action is completely contradictory to the purpose of public stock shares. Stock is issued to provide purchasing power for new investment. We have corporate executives totally focused on stock values. They buy back the stock to enrich themselves through out-of-control compensation schemes. We need a reform of corporate governance.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Spencer-Doidge/1223386779 Spencer Doidge

    Moon shots are show biz.

    Human space travel is not serious science or even feasible until someone comes up with a way to duplicate the earth’s atmosphere and magnetic field, the only things that keep us alive on earth. One big solar flare will fry any space crew in the path of its radiation, and there is most likely nothing anyone can ever do to prevent that.

    Space borne telescopes and robots exploring planets are serious science. Genetics is serious science.

    Science is an adult matter. Its purpose is not to entertain or excite. It is to cure diseases and improve how we do things. Science is about continuing the grueling unglamorous hard work of researchers in cluttered unglamorous labs, begging for grant money to continue making incremental forward and backward steps year after year after year until something real is known to be repeatably true.

    The big breakthrough we need is maturity.

    Homo sapiens is incapable of mitigating the consequences of things it has already done and will continue to do. It can only adapt to them as best it can.

    • http://www.facebook.com/john.m.cogswell John M Cogswell Jr

      Spencer, have you reviewed what is popular viewing on television lately?  Prepare for despair.

      • harverdphd

         There’s a metric for twits….what people are watching on TV.

        • Bill_GKD

          Finally an explanation for why Fox News wins the ratings wars.  Thanks for the info.

    • http://profile.yahoo.com/26TPETSAMCD5IMJS2FPR7QJN6Q WilliamK

      Exactly. What problem did the moon shot solve? Nothing. On the other hand, mobile phone apps helped topple an Egyptian dictator. 

  • osullivan11

    Woodrow Wilson, 1912- “Like every other man of intelligence and education I do believe in organic evolution. It surprises me that at this late date such questions should be raised”
    Just look at how much things have regressed in 100 years. 

  • RestrainedRealpolitik

    A visionary engineer has created a website to propose something truly inspiring.  Before you laugh out loud, or dismissively conclude that this is crackpot science, please have a look at his website.What he proposes – and demonstrates as doable – is this:

    We have the technological reach to build the first generation of the spaceship known as the USS Enterprise – so let’s do it. The ship can be similar in size and will have the same look as the USS Enterprise that we know from the Star Trek science fiction. It ends up that this ship configuration is quite functional. This first generation Enterprise can have 1g artificial gravity and ample living space. It can be as comfortable to live in as being on earth. While the ship will not travel at warp speed, it can travel at a constant acceleration such that the ship can easily get to key points of interest in our solar system.

    The Enterprise would be three things in one: a spaceship, a space station, and a spaceport. Finally we will have a permanent and viable foothold in space – a sustainable, roving village out in the heavens. Building the Enterprise will provide a giant leap forward for the human race when it comes to the task of establishing a permanent infrastructure in space, on the moon, and on Mars – an infrastructure needed to pull us farther out into space, the place we are surely destined to explore and live.
    The Enterprise could get to Mars in ninety days; it could get to earth’s moon in three. It could hop from planet to planet dropping off robotic probes of all sorts en masse – rovers, special-built planes, and satellites. It could use its extensive on-board sensors to map and explore planet surfaces and examine whatever it encounters in space, whether near or far away. It could drop a hydrobot on to Jupiter’s moon Europa after using its laser to bore a hole through the thick surface ice. The hydrobot will then drop through the hole in the ice and descend until it reaches the water below – next beaming video images back to earth so that we can watch as the hydrobot explores Europa’s vast, hidden ocean. It could hunt down asteroids that may threaten earth and divert them long before we are in danger.
    After the Enterprise enters the Mars orbit it can launch a Universal Lander to put the first humans on to the surface of Mars while carrying two backup landers just in case the crew encounters problems. On earth we can all watch in awe as the first humans step on to another planet.

    The Enterprise could carry huge loads of cargo to key places in our solar system. This will enable the establishment of permanent outposts beyond earth. It could carry the structures, cargo, and laser-digging equipment needed for building large and comfortable underground bases on Mars and the moon where inhabitants would be fully shielded from cosmic rays. It could be used for hauling mined materials from asteroids, Mars, and the moon on an experimental basis. Some of these mined materials can be used to sustain the Enterprise itself. It can have its own on-board experimental manufacturing facilities to, for example, process some mined materials to create its own propellant.
    When out of earth’s orbit, such as when going to Mars, the crew aboard the Enterprise will be fully shielded from galactic cosmic rays and from the radiation generated by sudden and dangerous solar storms on our sun.

    The main ion propulsion engine will be powered by a 1.5GW nuclear reactor. 1g gravity will be created by a .3 mile diameter rotating, magnetically-suspended gravity wheel inside the saucer-shaped main hull of the Enterprise. This large gravity wheel will give ample living space for the crew and visitors. And the ship’s spaceport doors can open to launch Universal Landers that can go to and from earth, the moon, and Mars. It becomes a ship right out of our futuristic dreams. Yet, strangely, it’s a dream we are fully capable of constructing in the real world provided that we set our minds to it.

    It can serve as a space station and destination for eager space tourists – letting them see and explore the Enterprise firsthand as well as giving them a spectacular view of our marble-blue earth and beyond. And to make it more accessible to the less affluent, every Congressional district could hold a lottery each year for those interested, and at least two citizens from each district could travel to the Enterprise after buying affordable tickets.

    But – above all else – the Enterprise will inspire us. The ship will be over a half mile in length. The size and technological achievement will be truly awe inspiring – a worthy successor to the Apollo space program. It will be bigger than any craft or building ever constructed by humans. We can finally demonstrate that the human race has figured out how to build comfortable and sustainable living quarters in space and that we are there to stay.

    And some of those inspired by this undertaking will surely be American young people – many of whom will likely become motivated to pursue careers as scientists and engineers. After all – we are building the first USS Enterprise!

    A new Enterprise-class ship can be built every 33 years – once per generation – giving three new ships per century. Each will be more advanced than the prior one. Older ships can be continually upgraded over several generations until they are eventually decommissioned. And one day – perhaps a century or so from now – a 4th or 5th or 6th generation ship will have the engines that will be able to maintain a constant 1g acceleration for the nine years needed to travel to Alpha Centuri, the nearest star to earth. From there, when the human voyagers look back at our sun it will be just another star in the Milky Way galaxy. In time Enterprise-class ships will be able to visit more and more stars in the galaxy. Humanity will be on the way to the explorations that we are destined to pursue. And as we detect more and more planets in the habitable zones around stars we will more than likely discover other life in the universe besides that on our planet earth. A future Enterprise can visit those places.

    If you don’t think it’s possible over the next two decades to build the first USS Enterprise, given the national will and funding to do so, think again. This website will tell you how it can be done. The only obstacles to us doing it are the limitations we place on our collective imagination.

    It’s a big universe out there. Let’s ratchet up our plans and technologies to explore it! 

    • Gregg Smith

      Sounds like fun.

  • Dab200

    How come no one mentioned tax rates during JFK presidency ?That is why we had money to go to the Moon. 
    We couldn’t go to the Moon nowadays even if we wanted to and that is sad, sad for America. 

  • nj_v2

    I missed the beginning of the program, but did no one mention peak oil? Woven into everything we do, hence part of most Big Challenges we face.

    • harverdphd

       You missed the beginning of the century.  Oil is not a challenge but for twits.  We’ll figure it out while you crawl under your bed.

  • harverdphd

    The climate or so called climate change is not a challenge.  There is no such thing as climate change.  There is no such thing as global warming.  Al Gore is a bit of undigested gruel. 

    • RestrainedRealpolitik

      Uh huh.  And why preserve America anyway if God is going to destroy the Earth by fire sometime soon?

      • osullivan11

        The kind of thinking exhibited by harverdphd is similar to those people back in the day who said the smoking does not cause lung cancer. And they think that Al Gore alone has vested interests. Big Oil and tabacco are saintly enterprises just trying to get along…. Sad.

        But the problem is that people won’t get on board about climate change until they see a real effort coming from Washington, at least that’s my opinion.

        • Bill_GKD

          It’s funny that you say that.  There was at least one former scientist who made a lot of money consulting for Reynolds back in the day who then slid right on over to become a big operator in the climate denial crowd.

          • osullivan11

            Wow. I’m a scientist and that kind of stuff is depressing. cheers

          • Bill_GKD

            The guy was Frederick Seitz, and he was linked up with the Oregon Institute of Science and Medicine.  It makes for an interesting look.

  • Pingback: Big Challenges | Clearing House for Environmental Course Material

  • Gregg Smith

    Newt suggested during the campaign that we offer prizes for innovation. It got Limbergh across the ocean, I think the idea has merit.

    • hennorama

      What a novel idea.  Newt is such an innovator.  I guess he somehow missed the Longitude Prize (created in 1714), the Nobel Prizes (awarded since 1901), the Ansari X Prize (created in 1996), and the various subsequent X Prizes.  Maybe he just read and regurgitated info from challenge.gov, where more than $33 million in prizes have been awarded by the U.S. government since it began in Sept. 2010. 
      Good ol’ Newt – always on the cutting edge of coopting the ideas of others for his personal political gain.

      • Gregg Smith

        Newt cited Limbergh and others, he never claimed it was his idea. He’s a historian. Yours is a nonsensical comment. I have no idea what your point is but suspect you just googled something up.

        • Gregg Smith

          And yes, Newt is an innovator. His work with Clinton produced many positive results that helped America. I don’t know how that can be denied except by partisan hate.

          • DrewInGeorgia

            Newt Gingrich is the father of Modern Day Congressional Obstructionism. I know you love him Gregg but if you’d lived in Georgia during his self-proclaimed reign you’d probably feel differently. Then again, probably not.

            When you say “His work with Clinton produced many positive results that helped America.” you’re referring to so-called welfare reform and the reduction of Capital Gains taxation right? Oh it helped some people all-right. This is not partisan hate, Newt helps Newt. Period. I will give you that he wants to go to the moon which I guess at least falls in line with the photo for today’s show.

            What was the Topic again?

          • Gregg Smith

            I forget the topic. 

            I understand Newt is a polarizing figure but the “Contract with America” produced results. Bill Clinton signed most of it into law. They both deserve credit for welfare reform, balanced budgets and more. Clinton vetoed welfare reform 4 or 5 times but they worked through it. He had to submit 5 or 6 budgets but they worked through it. We don’t see that kind of bipartisan effort today.

            Newt is indeed a bit full of himself but I truly believe he wants what’s best for America over his own self-interest and the record shows that. IMO he is too much of an innovator and visionary. I think you would agree even if you don’t like him for other reasons. I would not accuse you of partisan hate the way I did to the partisan hack above because I think you know more about him than what you google. 

            I regret mentioning his name because it poisons an idea that has merit and is actually on topic.

        • hennorama

          Thank you for proving my point that Newt’s idea was neither original, nor new. Newtie’s beauties of “ideas” about space and prizes were presented near Kennedy Space Center in Florida, days before the Florida Republican primary. This was pandering to Florida voters, plain and simple. Romney did the same thing, saying he thought space should be “a priority.”

          This was typical Newt – self-aggrandizing and hypocritical, first boasting about his grandiose “ideas” about moon colonies and space, then criticizing Federal spending on one hand, and proposing spending 10% of NASA’s budget ($1.8 billion) on prizes, and another $10 billion for a prize to figuring out a manned mission to Mars, on the other. He presented the idea of a prize for space travel and innovation as if it were somehow new, although the Ansari X Prize had been awarded in 2004, and the Google Lunar X Prize currently has 24 teams competing for $30 million, with the first attempt expected to launch next year.

          I did indeed use a search engine to confirm the dates and amounts of the various prizes I mentioned, but I was familiar with all of them, including how the US government encourages innovation via prize money at challenge.gov. No doubt Newt was, too.

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/SG2QCKWDADANR7J4OK4NYT66ZA LibertyG

    Corporate entities aren’t really interested in unique and truly new inventions for the good of humanity and the planet.  They just want to tweak what they have and sell millions of new gadgets, etc.  Universities ignore anyone who isn’t a “member of the club” – and can bring big money into their coffers.

    My husband has been is a prolific inventor for many years, and has solutions to solar heating, winter food growing, biofuel, public transportation, commercial solar electric, and much more – even a way to save money on space travel and to restore the polar ice pack.

    Guess what – nobody even wants to check these things out – except a few poor folks like us – so we are struggling to put up a working prototype of one of his designs, with our own (limited) resources.

    The bottom line – we have become a corporate controlled state – and creativity is not corporate.  It is the quality of the “lone genius”.

  • http://twitter.com/mduffield Mark Duffield

    The real issue here is that no one is taking the long view any more.  The focus is on short-term profits.  Money, and not the solution to the big problems and its benefits for society, is the motivator now.

  • Dana85

    It’s long overdue that we let go of our USA! USA! USA! national chauvinism and sit down with the Chinese (who, sadly are now getting (re)swept up in their own brand of national chauvinism) Russians, Japanese and Europeans and do big projects together.

    The Higgs Boson chase at CERN was an international project. That’s how things should be done from now on. That’s the only way we can pay for it. Let’s have all the stakeholders – the passengers and crew of Spaceship Earth – buy in.

  • Patrick McCann

    We invented the internet. That’s a pretty big deal.

  • http://twitter.com/shoudaknown J.L. Henshaw

    If anyone is reviewing these comments for real answers, the real  answer is: “There was a fascinating radical change in ~1970 in what investors began investing in”.   

    The allocation of investment resources is, and always was, the economy’s way of deciding what to build for it’s future. For a ranging discussion of some key indicators see: http://www.synapse9.com/signals/2010/12/24/complexity-too-great-to-follow/

  • Erica Montano

    The only problems I see is lack of solutions to people with HIV/Aids and cancer. Also public schools in most of the U.S. are nothing but glorified day cares creating generation “me” MTV-clones. There is a reason why people from outside the U.S. stereotype us as dumb. 

    People my age cross streets and drive on highways while texting on their smartphones, pay upwards of $50 for ridiculous apps, and finance unnecessary plastic surgery with loans. What went wrong here?

  • TyroneJ

    The major problem is that fewer and fewer organizations, particularly high tech organizations, are run by technical people, much less technical people with passion and vision. Most high tech organizations I’ve been part of are run by MBA types (or politicians), with little knowledge of the fundamentals of the products their company provides, and in most cases, actually fear technology.

    • Wm_James_from_Missouri

      Yes, and it shows in the products that they create !

  • http://twitter.com/Aaron_H_Cook Aaron Hamilton Cook

    Solving “Big Problems” doesn’t happen by fixing one thing. The barriers to this is a culmination of issues. Patent laws encourage pharmaceutical companies to hold on to cures and produce treatments because it’s more lucrative. Warfare pushes many advancements from medical to transportation. Mass media often doesn’t encourage people to pursue STEM careers, but rather to be cast members of The Jersey Shore. Politicians pander to campaign contributors rather than look to the better of humanity. The list is not by any means a short one, but all of these are ultimately little things. 

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/AKIU22WLZNNQUV6C7ZA2NIJL7I Joel

    A discussion i’d love to hear is on III and IV generation nuclear energy.  Specifically the latter (in which Thorium can be a fuel) as these designs relate to clean energy and US nuclear power policy.  A commentary on the intersection of our energy needs and the development of EXISTING nuclear concepts (Big Challenge) in the US legal/political landscape would be lovely.  The layman info. available asks a few questions like these: If a LFTR reactor can burn Thorium at a rate many times more efficient, at a cost many times cheaper, in a housing exponentially safer than Uranium… what Big Challenges stand in our way of building these type of reactors in our country so in demand of clean energy?  As it remains, energy from IV generation reactors are not on the discussion table in America.    How can they become so?  Someone please talk about NUCLEAR.  Thank you Mr. Gates.

  • Lynette Morse

    I can’t get interested in a show about accomplishing really big things if nobody mentions population control.  It’s just an exercise in foolishness, draining the oceans to desalinate them – thereby speeding up world warming – if we don’t address the issue of the carrying capacity of the world.  Why should we all take for granted that our species has a right to reproduce without any regard for our planet?

  • ChiChung

    I read somewhere that one of NASA’s scientist was crunching some numbers just for fun and came up with some unexpected results. According to the article it now appears that space craft warp drive is technically possible with basically present technology. NASA is reportedly funding the research and if nothing totally unexpected comes up we should be able to start physically building a warp drive. The drive warps time and space in front of and behind the space craft. It does not violate Eisenstein’s theory of relativity and would allow a small spacecraft to go to the nearest star in a matter of days and to places many many light years away in a matter of weeks. This breakthrough would truly open up the universe to us. This would be a bigger game changer than the Wright Brothers. Anybody else heard about this?! 

  • Human898

    I don’t believe our problem is innovation in technology, it appears to be innovation in how to gain social concensus about social issues.   Invent a trendy piece of technology and there seems little problem with consensus on people going to the extents of camping out merely to purchase the latest, if for no other reason than vanity and some imagined or formulated competition to be “the first” to own, even if that status is shared by thousands or millions.   We’ve had no problems with making instant millionaires, even billionaires, but we appear to have done so at the cost of humane values.  One would think humans would by now have mostly progressed away from the “money factor” more than we have instead of once again reeling from the ill effects of another era of the worship of money and material wealth over true spiritual wealth and humanity.  

    Sadly, we seem to only be at our best in times of crisis and tragedy, instead of a daily basis.  Instead of long term planning and thinking about the future, we look for short term profits at the cost of real human progress.   We plan for the future in so many ways on more personal basis, but when it comes to the big picture, we live as if there were no tomorrow, ironically perhaps creating a self-fulfillment of a “no tomorrow” or at least a sustainable “tomorrow” for all the offspring and descendents people give birth to today. It is interesting to see the claiming to love them while many of the same claiming to love them are actually creating situations that increase competition for the life sustaining systems and resources of planet that grows no larger or better relative to the increase in population.   At some point, even with human innovation and technological solutions to human created problems there comes a saturation point where technology can no longer keep up with the needs created by population growth.   Westernization of the world has created a hunger for consumption in developing countries that have the largest populations in the world.    While western civilizations are changing some of their attitudes, developing ones are grasping onto what some western cultures have realized have harmed them in the longer term.   

    Interesting what Calhoun discovered about crowding experiments with rats.   When cooperation and tolerance is needed most, there appeared to be the opposite occurring, perhaps due to an instinctual feeling of threat and fear for not getting a sustainable piece of the pie when there are so many the pie needs to feed.

    Why do we seem so “smart” in some instances and on many levels, so totally stupid or ignorant in/on others?

    • Flowen

      “Interesting what Calhoun discovered about crowding experiments with rats.   When cooperation and tolerance is needed most, there appeared to be the opposite occurring,…”

      So true so true. What had been a mere rat race 30-40 years ago has now morphed into caged rats eating each other.

      • Human898

        So true Flowen….so many people all of us with our own ideas of “freedom” and many of them conflicting with other people’s ideas of both “freedom” and being conservative and stewards of the all in the natural world that allows human and other life to exist….To elightenment and more demonstrations of human intelligence in the coming years.   Not just intelligence and enlightenment in technological ways, but in social and environmental understanding and what humankind must do in addition to technological advances, to survive and not just become yet one more extinct species of living creature that once lived on earth or yet one more of the “great civilizations” that disappeared.   Very best!

  • Flowen

    Only in the last two minutes of the show did a guest acknowledge that technology also causes problems.

    The faith technology will be a solution to our problems approaches religiosity, beyond ideology.

    I question if technology has created a net benefit to society these past 30 years, or has played a unique role in decreasing quality of life.

    The fact there is no discussion of the ways technology has contributed to our unprecedented problems is disturbing.

    If we do not acknowledge and understand the problems created/exacerbated by technology, it may cause more problems than it solves.

  • Tyranipocrit

    there is no incentive to do great things.  oil, fossils fuels, nuclear, false alternative energies, and war drive us to death and destruction for the benefit of a few insane cruel people.  everything is profit motivated.  if there is no profit it dosnt get built–so no space travel–except by corporate mining entities–further destroying untouched worlds, and no renewables enrgies will ever get off the ground.  Sun and wind and tidal and geothermal would power the worlds needs forever at no erathly expense.  The powers that be dont want that because it equalizes the world and takes away their ability to murder you in sensless imaginary wars of terror.  You are being lied to.    In a monetary system we cannot have democracy and we cannot have enlightenment and we cannot have true innovatioin.  We live in a fascist corporatocracy.  You are sleeping and time is running out–wake up!  

    • TyroneJ

      Get used to it. No matter what humans do, in the end we are like every other creaure on this planet – Malthusian. There is absolutely zero evidence that intelligence at the level humans are at is a positive survival trait, and there’s plenty of evidence that it’s in fact not.

      • BobK71

         For the last hundred years or so finance has been at the root of human problems.  We need to bring back honest money as the foundation of society.  Unfortunately at this stage of our addiction to free flowing fiat money that adjustment would be very painful.  We may end up kicking off the addiction not because we are enlightened, but because the pain of keeping it has become greater than the pain of the cure.  We’re not there yet, but we will be one day.

  • BobK71

    The best talents today work for enterprises that move wealth among people (i.e. finance) rather than create wealth (i.e. technological, medical and societal progress).  The profits of finance are out of this world.  In the good old days we could never have “produced” geniuses making $1 billion a year each.

    In an age when money is just words on paper, to be created at will (the Federal Reserve does that openly now), is it any wonder how those who know all the tricks for tapping into this created wealth will be the most attractive to work for?

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_GJCNL2JAT5MFSEV4S3CONAVK7I Crowboy

    I was very disappointed in the show’s failure to address the obvious blind spot of the technologists interviewed: their own nearly-religious faith that technological solutions to these issues are in fact possible.  They tell us that we can’t solve the energy crisis by “racing to the bottom” on existing technologies, that what we need are “game-changers”, and outline a program of renewed investment of basic research, all without providing a basic disclaimer that’s required of the finance industry: past performance is not indicative of future results.  While we may not find technological solutions to these problems *without* massive investment in basic research, there’s no guarantee that we’ll find them *with* that investment either.  We could very well invest billions in basic research on new energy technologies, or geoengineering, or desalinization, and end up with only marginal improvements that are insufficient to address the actual problems at hand.

    In the meantime, the obvious solutions to those problems – using radically less energy, reducing the population load on the planet, etc. – are ignored because very few people will acknowledge the basic fact that modern technological society is at its heart unsustainable in the long term.  The result is that we’re squandering our opportunities to ease the transition to a lower-tech, sustainable future, and will have to suffer through a more sudden transition and the accompanying human misery.

    • BobK71

      One of the hallmarks of the modern age is to have technology bail us out of social problems.  In fact we are so used to it that we have become less able to deal socially with problems.

    • Mike1234ab

      I agree that human population reductions are required to address the climate change problem and other  evironmental problems. However even with cities with half the current population new technology should help provide solutions.

  • LakeWorthCane

    I listened to the broadcast at work: driving an 18-wheeler.

    The truck–a 2012 model–and its payload weighed about 39 tons, was getting about seven miles a gallon, and the gases it emitted were probably as clean as the gases it took in.

    Doubt this if you will, but I’ve done a considerable amount of research on late-model, large-truck diesel engines, and I know that in areas like big cities, where the air is heavily polluted, primarily from all the cars, the big truck’s exhaust is actually cleaner than the air it takes in, and because it can move up to 80,000 pounds up to about seven miles on one gallon of low-sulfur diesel fuel, it’s also many times more efficient than any car: even an electric car.

    If that’s not technological innovation, I don’t know what is.

    As for climate change . . ..

    I recently read a book about Norway. The country (even before it was a country) has undergone population changes, many of them brought about by climate changes. At some point, for example, the body of water between Scandinavia and northern Europe dried up, due to falling water levels world-wide, and ancient tribes walked northward to what are now Norway and Sweden. When it was warmer in this region, people migrated far to the north. When it got colder, people (not all, but some) migrated back down south again. This has happened more than once. When water levels dropped, people walked. When water levels rose, people built boats. When it got cold, the people walked on the ice. When climate change forced tribes into each other’s “hunting grounds,” they often fought with each other. This phenomenon is common, not new and shows no signs of stopping.

    But in general, climate changes have spurred population changes throughout human history. Human migration in response to climate change is the routine, not the exception.

    The Sahara was not always a desert, but it sure is now, isn’t it?

    This being the case, I have to wonder why we think that, in our times, we should try to stop climate change. We do not own the earth. Its climate is not ours to control. Who do we think we are?

    What’s more, various factors have caused climate change. Some speculate about huge rocks that hit the earth, caused dust clouds that changed the climate and eliminated entire species (not human, so I guess that’s okay with us). Others have speculated about climate change from geological events.

    When just one volcano erupts, it spews thousands–perhaps millions–of tons of substances that are poisonous not just to humans but to every living thing: reptiles, mammals, trees. Everything in close proximity to the volcano–within hundreds of square miles–gets killed.

    My point is that I’m not sure we can do anything about climate or other earth changes and, if we can, I’m not sure we should.

    We have to inform people, certainly: entire cities are likely to fall, and huge population shifts are inevitable.

    For example, Port Royal, in Jamaica, was once a thriving commercial hub. But now, a great part of that city is underwater due to shifting tectonic plates. (Try and stop that from happening.) That’s not from climate change, of course. It’s from geological shifts. But the point remains the same: the earth pretty much routinely changes and shifts, and it does not restrain itself simply because humanity has built a large city on certain land.

    I further think the idea that humanity is “destroying the earth” is kind of nutty. The earth, with one tiny spasm of movement, wipes out hundreds of thousands of people. With just one climate change, entire populations are either eliminated of forced to move. The earth has a long history of what humanity defines as violent changes–the earth probably does not seem them that way–and it has killed millions–perhaps billions–of people since humanity has lived on it and, as nearly as I can tell, the earth is doing just fine. We might pollute it some, but the pollution we bring is relatively insignificant compared to the “pollution” the earth itself emits on a pretty much routine basis.

    (I’ve read that a lot of the oil seeping into the Gulf of Mexico and washing up on the sandy beaches humans admire so much is actually seeping naturally from oil deposits. Humans aren’t doing it; the earth is, and do we have the right to stop the earth from doing this just to preserve our fishing and vacation spots: the beaches where we like to drink rum, dance and have romance?)

    Does humanity cause climate change? Well, seeing as just about everything humans do creates heat, and seeing as none of us is willing to stop being human, let alone give up the myriad appliances–including air conditioners, hair driers, curling irons and microwave ovens–that belch heat into the atmosphere, and seeing as human beings live a lot longer now than they did just 100 years ago (and for the previous 250,000 years), so the human population is now growing by leaps and bounds, I’d say that, yes, humanity probably effects the climate in some way . . .. Although, clearly, no one can say to what extent, and the climate has routinely changed, often dramatically and quickly, with or without human influence.

    (I’ll insert here that when Romney joked about Obama promising to begin slowing down rising ocean levels, Romney wasn’t joking about climate change, he was joking about the ridiculous promises Obama makes to his supporters. Obama can’t stop the ocean levels from rising, nor should he.)

    So, I think the idea that humans can stop the climate from changing is ridiculous, and I think the idea the humans should stop the climate from changing is even more ridiculous: a testimony to the human ego, from which–I suspect–comes the notion that just because we’ve built a marvelous civilization on this land or that, the climate changes should not effect it, and if climate changes do, that, for some reason, is a calamity.

    It’s a calamity from our perspective, of course–we have the egocentric thing going on, from which comes the notion that nothing bad should ever happen to human beings or their very impressive civilizations–but the earth obviously does not share it. We might think New Orleans, New York City, Miami and Los Angeles must be preserved, but I’ll challenge anybody to find any proof anywhere that the earth has shared this idea. The earth pretty much changes as it will, and it doesn’t seem to share in our egotistical awe for human civilization and–now, this might come as a shock to some people–we are not God, and we don’t get to make that call. We don’t have much to say about it at all.

    We cannot stop the climate from changing, and protecting our marvelous civilizations are no reason why we should. We don’t own this planet. We’re tenants here, and if the earth says we have to move, well, we have to move.

    Again, we do not own the earth. Its climate and geographies have always changed, sometimes dramatically, sometimes quickly, and sometimes–at least from our perspective–violently, threatening and even wiping out all life, even human life. We cannot stop this.

    So, I think that one of our greatest technological achievements, in the face of inevitable climate (and other) changes that will alter our geographies, will be to adapt: to construct entire cities where none have previously been, and to actually relocate entire cities to other places, rendered inhabitable, and even preferable, by climate changes.

    To that end, while the rest of you suckers busy yourselves with rather pointless civil-rights and other silly ideological and “stop-climate-change” pursuits, I’m currently seeking investments in a beautiful tropical resort on the obviously soon-to-be sun-kissed, sugary white sands of Novia Scotia.

    I’m also seeking investors to build a huge desalinization plant near the Pacific Coast, along with a massive, previously unheard of fresh-water transfer (from the plant), storage and irrigation system in the parched Mid-west: “the nation’s bread basket.” The beauty of this is that I’m planning on using ocean currents to force the water over the Rocky Mountains, and then gravity to get the water 1,000 miles farther into the interior.

    These two investment opportunities will employ about a million people and pay off hugely in about 20 years. Who’s in?

    I’d prefer to stay away from public (i.e. “government”) money. We don’t need to raise taxes to do this, and “the government” is . . .. Well, look at Medicare, Medicaid, and just about everything else “the government” tries to do.

    I must add one more note.

    The callers who blame a lack of technological advances on conservatives, or the Tea Party, or republicans, are . . ..

    Well, it’s NPR. That’s NPR’s listening and cash-contributing audience. I’ve worked in the media industry before, and I know that audiences have to be catered to, especially those who help pay the bills.

    None the less, I think that NPR’s–and specifically, in this case, On Point’s–reporters and journalists have some professional duty to curtail, in their broadcasts, the political left’s maddening propensity–nay, neurotic desire–to maintain its mythological aura of moral superiority by blaming EVERYTHING on those who don’t subscribe to its ill-defined and shortsighted epistles.

    NPR’s and–again, specifically, in this case–On Point’s staff don’t have to do this. But if they don’t they’ll have to accept that they’re simply not providers of reliable, factual news; they’re cheerleaders for a political movement that–historically, anyway–has done a lot more harm than good (and I don’t believe the political left is going to get it right this time).

    Consider that 50 years ago, before some of the massive social transformations supported, encouraged and even forced by the political left occurred, the United States was a giant of technological innovation, and now–in On Point’s own observations–it’s not. While that might be lost on NPR’s and On Point’s listening audience, it’s not lost on the rest of the world.

    50 years ago, the United States was still all about enthusiasm for adventure, risk-taking and self reliance. Now it’s about security, safety and a frustrating belief that nobody should ever be hurt or offended and, if somebody is, somebody else has to be first blamed and then made to pay: child-proof caps, bicycle helmets, baby seats and a thriving, stifling civil-court industry. This is not an environment for innovation and technological advances.

    “Do not ask for whom the bell tolls. It tolls for thee.”

  • Wm_James_from_Missouri

    Big things are happening all the time, this is one.

    “ … Princeton researchers have found a simple and economical way to nearly triple the efficiency of organic solar cells …. “

    From :


  • Mike1234ab

    When speaking of new infrastructure goals we should consider investing in a power satelite program to address our electric power needs. Global demand will likely increase over the years and cleaner sources of energy are required.

  • Ibrahim Jadoon


    Another scientist pushing forward. Primed to be the technology of this decade.

    • Wm_James_from_Missouri

      I might use this. It sure beats windows 8 ! Which , by the way, I do not like .

  • Wm_James_from_Missouri

    This may become the breakthrough that opens up the development of Space for the human race at prices that are affordable. Real life Star Trek !
    I only regret that the company is not asking me to invest my hard earned money into its’ stock !


    • http://www.facebook.com/rashid.mccown Rashid L McCown

      Please do not place Aero with space… a combustion engine uses ambient Oxygen there is not enough Oxygen in space.

  • Pingback: Climate Change Series: Where Science And Ethics Meet | Cognoscenti

Sep 1, 2014
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