A Newsletter of Scientific Literacy. Fall 1999

200-year-hindsight A little over two thousand years ago our forefathers discovered a way to advance human progress on this fruitful earth. They called the way science, coming from the Greek word meaning knowledge. Today with the benefit of 2000-year-hindsight we can say with confidence—it works. Knowledge pays off. Science is the key to human betterment, individually and as a society.
doomsayers To me this seems as obvious as anything can be obvious, but I realize only too well as the 21st century dawns, not all agree. Maybe not even all science teachers. Some critics go further to claim that science and technology have failed us. Pollution is out of hand. Overpopulation threatens to destroy us. Natural resources are giving out. Global warming, toxic wastes, crime in the streets (and in the schools!), disease epidemics, moral decay—there seems no end.
optimists In honor of the millenial dawn, let me quote some lengthy excerpts from one of our new Hawkhill programs, THE GOOD NEWS FROM EARTH, that takes a different view. In a science fiction fantasy I detail the solid, I would say overwhelming, evidence of the success of science in the past and I celebrate optimism about the promise it offers for all our futures. In my view this good news from earth is one of the most under-reported stories of our time.
"The Good News from Earth" "Yes, there is good news from earth," says a traveller from outer space reporting to his superiors from a front porch in a small town in Wisconsin. The progress earthlings have made in the past two thousand years is incredible. Earth is a promising planet! As we all know, the two key ingredients for progress, freedom and intelligence, are scarce commodities in our galaxy. How does earth stack up? The answer is primitive, but moving in the right direction. And, in recent years surprisingly fast.
life expectancy "Take time the average time earthlings have of freedom and intelligence. They call it life expectancy. Back in Ionian Greece when earth science was born just a little over 2000 years ago, the average was 25 or 30 years. This short life span did not change much until just 70 or 80 years ago! But today, as I report, that average life span is over 70 years and lengthening almost everywhere on earth.
population numbers "Take numbers. For a million years the population of earthlings hovered very near the extinction level, about 3 to 4 million spread over the entire planet. By 2000 years ago agriculture, tool making, animal husbandry were discovered and earth multiplied its store of intelligence and wonder a hundred fold. It took another thousand years to improve upon that, to double, but by the year they call one thousand A.D., there were over 600 million people om earth. Intelligence was finally beginning to gain momentum and freedom to inquire was showing signs of rebirth.
intelligence soars "Then came what they call the scientific and then the industrial revolutions as well as the rebirth of democracy. Despite setbacks due to famine, war and disease, the population on earth has soared today to almost 6 billion, each of these earthlings able, as one of their poets wrote ‘to trace the stars and search the heavens for power, to feel the passion of eternity.’ And that is just what many of them are doing today!
energy "Take energy. Humans have learned many of the secrets of energy. For most of their million-year history the average human in his or her ignorance could only command about 100 watts worth of energy. That was the energy, and all the energy, his or her own body could generate from the food found and eaten. ... Today, in the United States of America, the average citizen has over three thousand watts–the equivalent of one hundred human slaves working for him or her.
pollution "Take pollution. A thousand years ago pollution was so bad most places on earth you wouldn’t want to chance a visit. And that foulness was coming from only a tiny percentage of the earthlings who now live on earth. A hundred years ago, things had improved—somewhat. They were still pretty smelly. In fact it was around the turn of the 20th century wasn’t it that our first crew landed and began reconnoitering. I’m sure you remember as I do the stink of those streets in New York, San Francisco, Paris, London and all the great proud cities of earth. Not to mention the even worse conditions in the villages and countryside.
solutions with less suffering "As I’m writing this interim report, earth still has a way to go with pollution, but, yes, the progress to date has been just short of spectacular. They’re down to the fine points now. Finding out how to control minute amounts of man-made chemicals like PCB, dioxin, asbestos. They’ll solve that too, just the way they did the earlier sanitation crises. Only faster this time, and with less suffering.
disease and health "Speaking of suffering, take health. The progress in conquering disease and fostering health has been just as spectacular. Just over a hundred years ago when we started this study, epidemics of typhoid, malaria, smallpox, tuberculosis, cholera, polio, influeza, you name it, were mass killers. Not to mention drug addiction, alcoholism, schizophrenia and a host of other mental diseases. Almost one-third the entire population of Europe died of plague that ravaged the continent every few decades from the 13th to the 17th centuries. One out of seven young adults died of tuberculosis just a hundred years ago.
heroes of humankind "The story of how earth’s scientists learned to control and finally to conquer most germ diseases is one of the finest I have heard anywhere in the galaxy. Their names should be engraved on every doorstep: Spallanzani, Pasteur, Semmelweis, Jenner, Koch, Erhlich, Reid and Salk. These scientists have relieved more human suffering than all the wars of history have caused.
atoms and nervous systems "Earthlings know about atoms. They have penetrated the nucleus and discovered some of the secrets of nuclear energy. They know about the electromagnetic spectrum. They have built powerful computers within a few decades. They have linked the entire earth with an ingenious nervous system and they have made their move into space.
decoding life "And chief, I’m getting excited now. Hold onto your robe for this one. They are right now learning the program for life in the universe! That’s right, they have the models of DNA. They know about genes. They are able to splice into the program and change it. It won’t be long before they break through the entire code, solve the cancer riddle and the aging riddle too, and then ... and then ... well, I don’t need to say any more, do I.
conditions in USA "This porch that I am using for my report rests in the center of a political subdivision of earth known as the United States of America. It is one of the more progressive and pleasant parts of this small planet. Despite a few rough edges you’d like it here. The people are friendly. The accomodations in city and country are decent and clean. Travel is easy and most important of all, the people are free to inquire. Unfortunately, it’s not like that everywhere on earth. A few thousand years ago it wasn’t like that anywhere on earth. Even today it more the exception than the rule.
6% product 50% of wealth "You see this subdivision called USA has only about six percent of the people of the world within its borders. Despite that small number this six percent managed to produce almost half the world’s wealth thirty years ago.

"Today, the final decade of what they call their 20th century, the USA produces even more wealth. And here is more good news—this wealth is now only one third of the world’s wealth! The rest of the world is catching on to the secrets of how to do it.

what is gold? "One surprise, though, some of this country’s leaders and even some of their scientists don’t seem very proud of this amazing feat. They worry that what they call the natural resources of the planet are being squandered. Some even seem to look on wealth itself as a kind of gold that must be guarded, like here in this huge vault they built at Fort Knox in Kentucky. They imagine that natural resources are like that gold, a fixed quantity that must be jealously guarded, that can be bought and sold, that can be stolen, that must be taken from one if another is to have wealth. They think wealth itself is like a game, a zero-sum game, where if one wins, the other must lose.
natural resources, that count "Ah if only they knew how many natural resources there are in this universe! Even we have only begun to tap them. More important, if only they knew the big secret of wealth. The big secret of life itself! I exaggerate. More and more of them are discovering this big secret here in the late 20th century earth time. A few knew it 2000 years ago. By tomorrow most everyone will have made the connection between wealth and intelligence, between power and wonder, between freedom and science.
winners and losers "And they will know what all of us know now—the only natural resource that counts is the inquiring mind! With that resource, as we know only too well, there are no losers, everyone is a winner.

"An interesting place, earth. I suggest we check back ten or twenty years from now. If these earthlings don’t panic; if they keep the darker tyrants on the road to extinction; and if they don’t lose faith in their art and in their science and in their education ... we may soon have company."

free trial The above are excerpts from the complete script. If you would like to view THE GOOD NEWS FROM EARTH (see page 15 of this catalog) with your students, I guarantee it will start a rewarding classroom discussion. I am so confident of this that I challenge you with this offer. Order the program on preview. Show it to your classes this school year. If after the year is over you don’t agree it was a worthwhile investment, send it back and we will give you your money back!
free pocket calendar for year 2000 For as long as supplies last we will also include with your order for THE GOOD NEWS FROM EARTH one of our Hawkhill pocket calendars for the first year of the new millennium. Actually we will be glad to send one of the calendars at no charge to any of our newsletter readers who request it as long as supplies last. The calendar includes a brief look back at 20th century highlights as well as useful data, maps, and weekly quotes. Some samples:

"The beautiful thing about learning is that nobody can take it away from you." B.B. King.

"The best career advice given to the young is 'Find out what you like doing best and get someone to pay you for doing it.'" Kathleen Whitehorn.

"I’m on a seafood diet. I see food and I eat it." Anonymous. "Never go to a doctor whose office plants have died." Erma Brombeck.

"The older a man gets, the farther he had to walk to school as a boy." Commercial Appeal.

if cars were as good as computers I liked the comments of Ernest Murray, editor of the Lufkin, Texas, Daily News regarding progress in computers as compared to progress in cars. He notes that Bill Gates is "alleged to have said that if the car industry had kept up with technology like the computer industry has, we would be driving $25 cars that got 1,000 miles to the gallon." Maybe so, muses Murray, but then it could also be that "for no reason, your car would crash twice a day. Everytime they repainted the lines on the road, you would have to buy a new car. Every time a new car was introduced, car buyers would have to learn how to drive all over again because none of the controls would operate in the same manner as the old car. Macintosh would make a car that was powered by the sun, was more reliable, five times as fast, and twice as easy to drive, but would only run on five percent of the roads. The airbag system would say 'Are you sure?' before going off. Occasionally for no reason, your car would lock you out and refuse to let you in until you simultaneously lifted the door handle, turned the key and grabbed hold of the radio antenna. You would press the 'Start' button to shut off the engine."
new programs from Hawkhill For the 21st century we at Hawkhill are working on a major project that we will tell you more about in 2000/2001. In addition to new video programs we are remaking our Keys to Science Literacy series in digital format. The new versions will have much expanded content, student interaction and built in self-testing sections. Present plans are to have them available on CD-ROM discs for use in flexible individualized learning curriculums. We plan to finish the first four programs in the series by the year 2001 and are searching now for teachers willing to test trial versions with their students. If you would like to participate in these trials get in touch with me at (608) 251-3934 and we will set something up.
more prestige for teachers? One of the most promising new trends for the 21st century may be new respect for teachers. A July 11, 1999 New York Times front page report claimed that "despite low prestige and pay, more young people are answering the call to teach. Interest in teaching," said the article, "is being fueled by students' search for meaningful work, concern about the plight of at-risk children and a response to the national call for higher standards and teachers with degrees in academic subjects, as well as in education."

James Trifone, a teacher at Cheshire High School in Cheshire, Connecticut found a telling quote on this direction and reprinted it in NEST (New England Science Teachers Journal).

"the highest responsibility" "In a completely rational society," said the industrialist Lee Iacocca, "the best of us would aspire to be teachers and the rest of us would have to settle for less, because passing civilization along from one generation to the next ought to be the highest responsibility anyone can have."


Editor: Bill Stonebarger
Hawkhill Associates, Inc.
125 East Gilman St.
Madison, WI 53703