Thursday, January 04, 2007

What are scientists optimistic about? Well, a lot, it turns out.

Some of the most fascinating reading to kick off the new year is found at the Edge World Question Center - Edge is an online discussion forum which began in December, 1996 as an email to about fifty people. It had more than five million individual user sessions in 2006.

The annual question posed to the Edge online discussion community this year is “What are you optimistic about and why?” It drew responses from 160 world leaders in science and thinking. [Last year’s question dealt with “dangerous ideas.”] The answers span all kinds of topics and disciplines, but the breadth and depth of the optimism is wonderfully fulfilling.

Now, perhaps some of the optimism seems na├»ve or unrealistic but this is not another round of those classic old annual predictions about technological breakthroughs (I’m still wondering when to expect my flying car, free energy, and that thoroughly satisfying job that requires only 4 hours a day).

No, these are thoughtful essays with a big emphasis on the “why” aspect of the question.

One of the respondents, Adam Bly, editor-in-chief of Seed magazine (one of my ‘must-reads’), gave compelling reasons to support his belief that “science is recapturing the attention and imagination of world leaders.”

So, when you’re worn down by the daily news cycle and the seemingly relentless attacks on science, let me recommend a bit of intellectual dessert by spending 5 minutes with one of this year’s responses about why scientists are optimistic.

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