By Frank J. Dinan
I was 10 years old when my friend Gary first showed me how to use his dry cell battery. The year was 1944, I was in fifth grade, World War II was raging, and kids often played games involving spies and secret codes.
Gary, using wire, a doorbell button and a flashlight bulb, explained that we could make what he called a circuit by wiring one side of the battery to the button, the button to the bulb, and the bulb to the other side of the battery. The light stayed off until he pushed the button and then it lit brightly as long as he held the button down.
We could make dots and dashes, and pretended that we were sending secret coded messages. I was very impressed with Gary’s knowledge.
The next thing I knew, 70-plus years had passed, and I had become a scientist, a process in which, I believe, Gary played a big role. Today, I have come to admire and respect science, as a great source of experimentally verifiable truths about nature, and a key contributor to human progress.
I am amazed as I reflect back now on how much more we understand about how our world works than we did then, when we had no idea, for example, what powered the stars burning in the night sky, or the sun that lit our days, nor how genetic information passed between generations via DNA.
We were then without Jonas Salk’s polio vaccine that eliminated one of our most feared and debilitating diseases. I remember waiting in line for hours in the 1950s to get my polio vaccination.
Dr. Alexander Fleming discovered penicillin, the first of the many antibiotics that have been created. Penicillin saved the lives of untold millions of people who would have died from now readily curable bacterial infections.
As a boy, I remember my Grandmother telling me about her beloved teenage son, Walter, who had just finished high school and went for a walk wearing a stiff new pair of shoes. He developed a blister on his heel and four days later died from septicemia. That broke my grandmother’s heart. Today, Fleming’s antibiotics would have cured Walter’s infection in no time.
Today, science-based therapies preserve the lives of cancer victims who would have had no chance of survival in my youth.
Diabetes has been changed from a certain death sentence to a treatable illness for millions by the pioneering research of two Canadian scientists, Dr. Frederick Banting and Dr. Charles Best.
“Silent Spring,” a seminal book written by a courageous American scientist, Rachel Carson, launched the environmental movement that led us out of darker times into a cleaner, less polluted world. Locally, without Carson’s inspirational work, areas such as Canalside, now a local gem, might still be the polluted industrial waterfront of my youth, rather than the shining star it has become today.
Yet, despite the marvelous things science has done for us, it is under fire today. Some now prefer “truths” that fit their ideologies, while ignoring verifiable, evidence-based scientific research that supports what they don’t want the public to know. Publication of ideologically unacceptable yet science-supported truths are, shockingly, being suppressed.
Science, which has done so much for us, is now in trouble and needs our help.
On Earth Day, April 22, a March for Science will be held in Washington, D.C., and satellite marches will be held worldwide, including one in Buffalo. If you wish to support science, and what it has done to improve our lives, please join in. I plan to be there!