Gratitude Friday December 18th, 2020 - Grateful for the Nerds of the World
“After all, I wasn't crippled in any way, I just studied too hard, I didn't know when to stop.”― Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar
I woke up thinking about the COVID-19 Vaccine and all that it represents to our world. Plagues and pestilence have always been with us through history. The first vaccine was developed in 1796, when British doctor Edward Jenner demonstrated that an infection with a relatively mild cowpox virus conferred immunity against the deadly smallpox virus. It worked. Lives were saved. We have since battled against viruses and we are probably still in the early stages of understanding them. Some viruses cause cancer, a fact that was relatively recently learned.
There are some infectious agents we have been studying for years and we do not have any kind of vaccine for those. This makes the development of the COVID-19 vaccines even more miraculous. When we have been able to develop vaccines, the time from research to deployment is measured in years, not months. Pandemics for which there are no vaccines run through a population for years until there is a level of herd immunity, often at great loss of life. Plagues like this throughout history are significant in that they change whole societies, and they cripple economies and undermine the very fabric of social order. Sitting here nine months or so into the COVID-19 pandemic and considering what it would mean for our society if we were somewhere around one third of the way through the pandemic and that herd immunity would occur naturally somewhere around 2022.
This would be a travesty of the first order.
Enter the science and technology geeks and nerds who have developed these vaccines and given us the opportunity to bend history in way that can save lives and provide a way out of vast economic and societal devastation in a matter of mere months.
They are heroes.
I am by no means a science and technology nerd, I have never had the discipline of mind to master math and hard science, but I have deep respect for people who do. These are people who have devoted their lives to become expert at something that few other people understand or even care about. As I sit here at the end of 2020, I think it is even fair to say that we here in America have a disdain for such experts and a vein of anti-intellectualism that runs deep within us.
We make fun of nerds and do not celebrate the people who made America the “can do” place that sent people to the moon and had been known for deep innovation and development. America was a mecca for nerds and experts.
We have developed a hostility towards experts that is not isolated to the current pandemic. It is part of a dangerous trend: the rejection of scientific knowledge that is discussed at length in this August 2020 Harvard Political Review article. The consequences to a society of rejecting the very science that makes everything function. This trend has long been in my thoughts and was best articulated in the book The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark by Carl Sagan, Ann Druyan (1997). We are fully dependent on science that is largely invisible to us. In essence a ghost in the machine. A society that sees ghost and space aliens as the operant element among us but does not understand the value of basic science is society in decay.
One of the steps in reversing this is to celebrate those among us who have changed the world because of their dedication to develop mastery of extremely hard things. They are bending the course of human history in our favor. Their work will allow us to resume some level of normality in the coming months. I am grateful for them.
These are the very kids who got made fun of in school growing up because they were deeply interested in how things work and taking what we know as a species to the next level. They represent one of the finest traits in humans. In my humble estimation and they deserve to be celebrated with deep praise for their accomplishments. I am grateful for them.
What are you grateful for today?