How Is Science Affecting Your Life?
SOME persons are convinced that science holds the key to freeing mankind from many of its great enemies. They feel that hunger, poverty, sickness and perhaps even death itself may someday be conquered through science. Man’s journey to the moon has reinforced this conviction in their minds.
However, many others are now having second thoughts about what science is doing. They wonder if it is doing more harm than good in the long run. As the Melbourne Herald noted: “Vice-Admiral Hyman Rickover, whose development work made him known as the father of the U.S. nuclear submarine, warned man . . . that unbridled use of technology ‘may become a Frankenstein destroying its creator.’”
There can be no doubt that science has produced many things for man’s benefit. In the Western world science has affected the lives of almost everybody by producing things that are useful. If you look around your home you will likely find something for which science has been, at least in part, responsible—the radio, television, washing machine, electric iron, various fabrics, electric lights and a host of other things.
Properly controlled, the products of science can be a help to man. But the question many are now asking is whether science has gotten out of control. They see that science has produced things that are plaguing mankind. They wonder if the bad effects will eventually outweigh the benefits.
Effects of Chemicals
Because of their effects upon public health, many chemicals are now coming under close scrutiny by governments and other agencies. This is particularly true of chemicals used in the agricultural and food industries.
One after another of the chemical additives has had to be withdrawn from use. Examples of some are the ‘butter yellow’ dyes and the cyclamates used to sweeten foods. Even the taste enhancer, monosodium glutamate, is under suspicion. Some chemicals have produced serious damage to experimental animals.
DDT and other pesticides were at first heralded as ‘saviors,’ freeing man from dreaded diseases such as malaria and yellow fever. These pesticides also initially tended to increase crop yields by destroying insects. But now many governments have decided to phase out the use of some of these chemicals.
Why? Because it has been found that they are destroying much animal life, some species being pushed toward extinction. Contamination from DDT has spread earth wide. Traces have been found even in Antarctic animals. Indeed, it has been said that there is no water or land, or life of any kind that has not been affected by DDT. This includes man. And in experiments, heavy doses of pesticides caused serious damage to animals.
These bad effects of what was thought to be for man’s benefit have alarmed authorities. What then can be said of man’s scientific inventions that are deliberately designed to exterminate human life? Chemicals for warfare have been developed that are so lethal that only a tiny droplet on the skin will cause death. And some of the bacteria that science has cultivated can annihilate entire populations.
Harmful Effects of Machine Age
While producing things that have worked for man’s good, this scientific machine age has also produced effects that harm man. First of all, to manufacture the products designed to help man, large factories’ were needed. This resulted in people crowding together in large cities. The sad consequences of city life, its congestion and frustration, are becoming more evident each year.
Then too, many of the products produced for man’s benefit have turned into killers. In the United States alone, automobiles kill more than 50,000 persons and injure millions each year!
Also, large industrial complexes damage man’s environment. They consume huge amounts of clean air and clean water. This air is then often polluted with poisonous gases and solids belched out into the atmosphere. Much clean water is contaminated and poured into the streams and lakes, often making them unfit for use by either man or animal.
The problem is further worsened because many of the machines made in factories become polluters themselves. The automobile is a chief offender. In Tokyo, traffic policemen return regularly to headquarters for oxygen inhalation. For pedestrians, oxygen-vending machines in shops and arcades offer whiffs of oxygen for about 25 cents. And according to William Steif, a Scripps-Howard writer, “some 25 million tons of carbon monoxide go into the air of the 10 most populated areas of the United States annually from vehicles.” In New York city alone vehicles spew out more than five million tons each year!
It is said that a person breathing air that contains only 80 parts per million of carbon monoxide for over an eight-hour period will have his body’s hemoglobin affected. Hemoglobin transports oxygen to the body’s tissues and takes away wastes. The 80 parts of carbon monoxide is reported to make about one sixth of the body’s hemoglobin temporarily useless. This is equivalent to the loss of about one pint of blood.
Yet, carbon monoxide is only one of many pollutants released into the atmosphere by man’s scientific inventions. Time magazine of January 12, 1970, said: “Man is filling the air with more than 800 million tons of pollutants per year.” As a result, scientists at the Atmospheric Sciences Research Center in New York said that by about 1980 some 10,000 people will die in a metropolitan area because of pollution. The New Haven Register of December 21, 1969, reports that these scientists predicted the following: “In 10 to 15 years from now every man, woman and child in the hemisphere will have to wear a breathing helmet to survive outdoors. Streets, for the most part, will be deserted. Most animals and much plant life will be killed off.”
Then there is another harmful effect of the machine age—noise pollution. Nerve-racking sounds come from everything from power lawn mowers to jet engines. This sound level is said to be doubling about every ten years. Now it is reaching such alarming proportions that it is considered a hazard to the well-being of all exposed individuals. According to Dr. Lester Sontag of Fes Research Institute in Ohio, even unborn babies are being harmed by noise pollution.
If these unintentional effects of the machine age are so harmful and alarming, what are we to say about those instruments science has fashioned to annihilate life? What of the atomic and hydrogen bombs, missiles, tanks, bombers, submarines and a host of other weapons that have already been used to take the lives of millions of persons? Has science saved that many lives?
Disappointment is now appearing even in medical science. The hope held out by such things as heart transplants is not being fulfilled.
With the advance of complicated instruments, another harmful side effect has developed—that of hospital electrocutions. At a meeting of the American Hospital Association in Chicago, Dr. Carl W. Walter stated that 1,200 people are electrocuted annually in hospitals. He noted the irony of the situation in that hospital personnel are “so concerned in life-saving of an individual patient that they never unravel the maze of wires that fills up most intensive care (power) receptacles.”
Blood transfusions, once highly regarded, are now found to be disease carriers and also a cause of death. As Dr. M. Simon of Poughkeepsie, New York, stated: “The computed annual death rate from blood transfusions now exceeds that reported for many common surgical illnesses [conditions requiring surgery] such as rectal cancer; appendicitis or intestinal obstruction.”
In increasing numbers, scientists themselves are beginning to question the ability of man to solve his huge problems by science. In recent months many articles have appeared in scientific journals discussing this problem.
The public is questioning science’s role even more. People in growing numbers are regarding science as a threat to health and life. They note the hideous inventions such as atomic weapons, pesticides that threaten the extinction of wildlife and endanger man’s health, chemicals such as thalidomide that were supposed to help but ended up crippling, chemical food additives that proved harmful, and the industrial pollution that is poisoning the air we breathe, the water we drink and the food we eat.
Dr. Harvey Brooks, Harvard University’s dean of engineering and applied physics, noted the extent of the public’s growing disenchantment with science. He stated: “This hostility has spread in our time from a small literary elite to a wide section of the educated public, especially some of our most highly educated youth.”
Thus, for all the good that science has done, it is now faced with the hard reality that many of its inventions are damaging the environment and threatening human and animal life. How plain it is becoming that man, however well meaning and intelligent, cannot solve his problems by himself.