Sunday, September 30, 2018

Why Americans Ignore Space Science

     This morning I was interested to find several references in foreign news services to the docking of Japan Space Agency's Kounotori 7 space freighter with the International Space Station.  I had heard nothing about it.  I consulted CBS, ABC, NBC, the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, and the Boston Globe.  Not a word.

     Such ignorance illustrates the reason why most Americans are woefully ill-informed of developments in space.  As with the Olympics, American media simply ignore any international item that does not directly concern our narrow national concerns, especially military ones.  The media in this country pay scant attention to science in general.  Whereas quality information services such as Deutsche Welle and BBC have whole sections devoted to timely reporting on science, American media frequently have none, or at most a tiny "faits divers" department that reprints out-of-date notices.  In Germany, even small local papers have a well-documented department devoted to scientific matters.  Germans, for instance, are likely to know that the current mission commander on the ISS is a German astronaut.  However, even when American media rarely mention this important person, they usually forget to specify that he is not an American.

     The science ignorance is not astounding, considering that American enterprises seldom require or even encourage scientific knowledge among their personnel.  University majors in "broadcast journalism" generally avoid science, concentrating more on the details of makeup, camera angles and fashionable dressing to the exclusion of such "hard" subjects.   US journals, dependent on sound bites, distributed official news releases, and snippets from our single wire news source, systematically avoid in-depth reporting of any kind -- and complicated explanations of matters scientific altogether.

     Unfortunately, the majority of my countrymen would dismiss my interest in Kounotori 7's success as worthless attention to a minor, routine little space delivery.  Yet it is precisely the accurate accomplishment of "routine" activity that makes space exploration possible.  The fact that such activity is increasingly international is important.  Deutsche Welle recently discussed the revelation that there are now 70 space-faring nations, whose cooperation is vital to increasing human knowledge.  Kounotori contains, among other things, an experimental mini re-rentry vehicle that may open a plethora of options for space operations.  Hayabusa 2's current activities on the asteroid Ryugu may be even more far reaching.

     Those in the worldwide sci fi community need to maintain open investigation of the best international news services in order to keep abreast of the rapidly changing developments that affect our reading, writing, and curiosity.  Unless there is a rapid and fundamental turnaround in the way American media operates (and this is unlikely), such a global viewpoint must inform our imagination into this increasingly old century and the ones that will follow.

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