Scientists Find Another, More Reasonable Universe
By Brandon Keim
April 03, 2008 | Geeky Science Humor
String theorists have discovered an alternate universe where April Fool's Day falls on April 3rd, specifically out of courtesy to a certain science journalist who spent April 1st learning about pharmacogenetic testing and regulation.
Though careful to specify that this universe exists only in mathematical proofs validated by the quantum state of photons perceived by bleary eyes under deadline pressure, the corroboration is strong enough to permit the extrapolation of other features, many of which are similarly agreeable to this journalist. To wit:
God and Science. People who believe in God, or Gods, don't try to explain the age of the world or the characteristics of its inhabitants in ways that are blatantly contradicted by the testable application of rational thought.
Supporters of science refrain from denigrating religion simply to make themselves feel better. What's really dangerous, they've realized, is fanaticism and dogma of all sorts, religious and secular. They are less concerned with "God genes" than "compassionless righteousness genes," and understand that even science has its limits and shouldn't be invoked as an absolute authority in questions of morality.
After all, agree both God-fearers and Darwin-lovers, if your car blows a tire, you need a car jack and a helping hand, not a Bible or the latest Richard Dawkins treatise.
Research funding. The public has demanded that basic science be funded at levels comparable to what is now spent on the Air Force. (The Navy budget goes to the arts.) Congress has established an endowment, overseen by the National Science Foundation, that is legally known as the Really Cool S--t Fund, and nobody complains about the Large Hadron Collider or other projects lacking immediately practical applications. When people do complain, they're sentenced to a day in the backyard with Legos, an erector set, a terrarium and a magnifying glass, and they can't come inside until they've enjoyed themselves.
Lethal disease research is lavishly funded, particularly diseases that scientists say would be cured if only the people who tended to contract them weren't also poor and dark-skinned. Elected officials, and not just slightly annoying do-gooders, would say that thousands of lives could be saved for the price of a bomb.
Drug development. Pharmaceutical industry critics understand that financial incentives are necessary, because people want to live in nice houses and buy new clothes for their kids, and there's nothing wrong with that.
Industry executives understand that making a profit is important, but at the end of the quarter there are other things worth doing, if only to feel good about being nice and saving lives. They know the industry won't collapse just because dirt-poor AIDS victims are able to buy generic drugs a few years before the original copyrights expire.
Biotechnology. Company executives and scientists don't insist that everything they do is perfectly understood and could never go wrong, and they don't call their critics "Luddites." Critics admit that a tweaked gene or escaped GMO probably won't open "Pandora's Box," and accept that progress is impossible without risk.
The environment. Nature isn't appreciated because of "biodiversity," or because the bark of some as-yet-unexamined tree could cure cancer. That's all fine and even true, but people -- even those who don't receive REI catalogs and wear Patagonia base layers -- simply like nature and would rather some of it remain unpaved. When a species goes extinct, they're sad.
Sustainability. Urgent warnings that Earth cannot indefinitely support an industrialized Western lifestyle as practiced by a steadily growing population are heeded by people who don't read United Nations white papers or subscribe to the Utne Reader.
The conclusions of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change are embraced. Even skeptics are happy to play it safe; after all, if the global climate science community turns out to be wrong, people will be better off for following their advice. Clean energy, product development and agriculture are pursued as if our lives and the lives of our children depend on it.
Having accepted all this, people find other things to talk about at parties.
Regulation. When innovations arise, consumer watchdogs don't make regulatory demands so onerous that implementing them becomes impossible. In return, innovators don't greet every regulatory recommendation with prophecies of doom.
Every few years, people switch places with their opposites. They agree that life is complicated and compromise possible.
Nutrition. A daily glass of wine really is beneficial, especially when enjoyed in good company. This is the cornerstone of a diet that is tasty, easy to follow and not routinely contradicted by new findings showing that the diet actually raises blood pressure and the risk of heart disease.
Update: Though the discovery of this alternate universe was initially greeted with enthusiasm and acclaim, further examination showed that the researchers' original calculations did not support their conclusions. The telltale inconsistency, they said, was contained in suppositions regarding diet: eight unmeasurable dimensions and a near-infinity of alternate realities almost certainly exist, but it's simply not possible to conceive of a guilt-free bacon double cheeseburger.