IGY's reminder: The pace of discovery is phenomenal.Byline: Chris SINACOLA
Every so often you hear the claim that some branch of human knowledge, or the sum of all knowledge, is doubling every five years, or every two years, or even more frequently. Sometimes these claims are quite specific, such as that we've learned more about cell biology Cell biology
The study of the activities, functions, properties, and structures of cells. Cells were discovered in the middle of the seventeenth century after the microscope was invented. since 2000 than in all the years back to the discovery of the structure of DNA DNA: see nucleic acid.
or deoxyribonucleic acid
One of two types of nucleic acid (the other is RNA); a complex organic compound found in all living cells and many viruses. It is the chemical substance of genes. in 1953. I wouldn't be surprised to read tomorrow that food scientists have learned more about artificial raspberry flavoring since last Tuesday than in all the time since Betty Crocker Betty Crocker, an invented persona and mascot, is a brand name and trademark of American food company General Mills. The name was first developed by the Washburn Crosby Company in 1921 as a way to give a personalized response to consumer product questions. first emerged from the General Mills marketing department in 1921.
It's very hard to evaluate such claims, which can be based on almost anything, from the number of patents or publications on a given topic to the amount of data stored on computers, titles in libraries or results returned by Internet search engines. Deep down, I suspect a lot of it is guesswork.
What is certain is that, in many areas of inquiry, human beings really have learned a vast amount of new information in a very short period of time. Climate science is a good example.
Fifty years ago, the world's scientists collaborated on an unprecedented scale over 18 months during the International Geophysical Year International Geophysical Year (IGY), 18-month period from July, 1957, through Dec., 1958, during a period of maximum sunspot activity, designated for cooperative study of the solar-terrestrial environment by the scientists of 67 nations. . Their purpose was to study the Earth, its polar regions, its atmosphere and the sun, which was, at that point, at the peak of its 11-year cycle of activity.
On May 31, 1958, in Chicago, the U.S. Postal Service The U.S. Postal Service (USPS) processes and delivers mail to individuals and businesses within the United States. The service seeks to improve its performance through the development of efficient mail-handling systems and operates its own planning and engineering programs. issued a 3-cent stamp in honor of the IGY IGY
International Geophysical Year . It showed a segment of Michelangelo's fresco "The Creation of Adam," superimposed su·per·im·pose
tr.v. su·per·im·posed, su·per·im·pos·ing, su·per·im·pos·es
1. To lay or place (something) on or over something else.
2. on the disc of the sun throwing off flares.
"In the small confines of a postage stamp we have endeavored to picture a man's wonder at the unknown, together with his determination to understand it and his need for spiritual inspiration to further his knowledge," designer Ervine Metzl said at the time.
The IGY was a big success.
The United States, under the auspices of the National Academy of Sciences, launched its first satellite, Explorer I, in February 1958. The craft, crude even by the standards of just a few years later, transmitted data for three months, and led to the discovery of the Van Allen radiation belts Van Allen radiation belts, two belts (sometimes considered as a single belt of varying intensity) of radiation outside the earth's atmosphere, extending from c.400 to c.40,000 mi (c.650–c.65,000 km) above the earth. , doughnut-shaped areas of charged particles that surround the Earth and have a major impact on satellite communications.
That first satellite also behaved in an unexpected way when it reached orbit, which rekindled interest in certain theories of Leonhard Euler, the Swiss mathematical genius who had been dead for nearly 200 years. In that way, science reminds us that advances in knowledge are often in the filling in of details, and simply elaborate fundamental insights made far in the past.
Explorer 7, in October 1959, carried a device designed by scientist Verner Suomi that made the first measurements of the Earth's cloud cover and basically established the field of satellite meteorology meteorology, branch of science that deals with the atmosphere of a planet, particularly that of the earth, the most important application of which is the analysis and prediction of weather. . Everything since, from Accu-Weather forecasts to the endless debates over global warming, owes a debt to that early mission.
Although manned spaceflight has attracted bigger headlines, the future likely belongs to unmanned efforts. The 79 successful Explorer missions to date have been the workhorses of American space and climate science. They include TRACE - the Transition Region and Coronal cor·o·nal
1. Of or relating to a corona, especially of the head.
2. Of, relating to, or having the direction of the coronal suture or of the plane dividing the body into front and back portions. Explorer solar observatory - which, since 1998, really has told us more about our local star than we had learned since Copernicus wrote in 1543 that the sun, not the Earth, lay at the center of the solar system.
But our wealth of scientific knowledge needs warning labels. First, the politicization of science The politicization of science occurs when government, business or interest groups use legal or economic pressure to influence the findings of scientific research which differ from the majority view, or influence the way the research is disseminated, reported or interpreted. has grown nearly as sophisticated as the science itself. Reputable scientists do not permit their politics or what they wish to discover to color their observations, but individuals or organizations who wish to prove or disprove disprove,
v to refute or to prove false by affirmative evidence to the contrary. one or another theory - climate is the hottest topic of late - have no compunction in trumpeting the facts that fit their case and ignoring the facts that do not.
Progress here requires that we insulate science from politics, remembering that only unbiased input and sober evaluation over the long term can settle the climate debate. Those on either side who insist the debate has already been settled in their favor need to remember something more. While we've certainly come a long way since 1958, we just as certainly will learn that much more in the next 50 years, and likely in much less time than that. A touch of humility and a bit less rhetoric would not be out of place, along with a shared reverence for the creation we all must share.
CUTLINE: The 1958 3-cent stamp commemorating the International Geophysical Year.