Yes, but...

Tom Friedman writes one of his maddening columns today in the New York Times. There is a core of truth to it, but what is left out is more important than what is mentioned. And, of course, the principal thrust is to bash Bush for a problem whose origins lie elsewhere.

The genuine problem identified by Friedman is the decline of science education in the United States. The generation of scientists and engineers spawned in the wake of the Sputnik panic in the late 1950s has not been replaced. Graduate programs in the hard sciences in American universities are kept alive by foreign graduate students. But due to security concerns, visas are harder to come by, and the internet connectivity means that more top flight science and engineering can take place overseas.

But Friedman chooses to blame a tiny decline in NSF funding in the proposed budget. As if the NSF were the only source of science education and excellence. This is silliness on a stick.

The problem starts with public schools that substitute soft learning for hard science, and with a culture that glorifies and rewards sports figure, movie stars, the likes of Donald Trump, and many other groups, while dismissing math and science as nerdy. The problem also is that kids today know that they face tough competition from India and China, from outsourced jobs, that is, from the commodification and international trade in of many tasks involved in the production of science and engineering.

Friedman suggests a man—on—the—moon national crusade for energy independence, as a way of galvanizing the imagination of our youths. Not a bad idea, as far as it goes. But God, as they say, is in the details. If politics is in command, you can wager that politically correct targets such as solar and wind power will get favored, along with projects located in potent electoral constituencies. If PR becomes more important than cold calculation of investment returns, then "magic bullet" solutions will win out over incremental improvements, regardless of commercial promise.

Under the stimulus of market pricing of petroleum, the oil industry already is developing incredible technological innovations, enabling cheaper and deeper wells to be drilled in hostile environments, with little environmental impact. But not offshore California, Florida, or in the desolate Alaskan arctic, thank—you very much. Do you really think Friedman envisions easing restrictions, subsidizing, and glamorizing the oil drilling business? That's one major source of innovation which could help energy independence.

And then there is the small matter of left wing environmentalist demonology. Nuclear power is the solution that dare not speak its name. If the hydrogen fuel cell fantasy is ever to become reality, there must be a process for extracting hydrogen from water, where it is abundant beyond limit. Energy in large amounts is required to break the bonds of the water molecule. Electricity is the obvious source. But what will generate the excess electricity necessary to start replacing oil as the energy source for vehicles?

France, the nemesis of many Americans, has turned nuclear power into a major export industry, supplying electricity to many of its neighbors and reaping billions of Euros a year. The safety record is good. In theory, America could build reactors next to hydrogen extraction plants, and supply hydrogen to fuelling stations, to supply our cars and trucks, thereby replacing much of our oil consumption. And producing little or no carbon dioxide anywhere along the chain.

But just try to convince Americans to start a program building hundreds of nuclear power plants. Be sure to bring battalions of riot police. And don't count on many votes in Congress from Senators and Representatives from urban and suburban districts. In fact, the entire project is politically impossible.

There are solutions to America's energy problems. There is even the possibility of breakthrough technologies contributing in a major way. But wasting time, money, and precious scientific and engineering talent on programs too unpromising to attract commercial developers can hinder the accomplishment of our objectives. Tough realistic talk about the real options like nuclear generation of electricity would be a start, though.

Blue sky funding of wild dreams has its place, but it should be limited to low single digits of government funding. The most fruitful approach is apply tax incentives at most and let the marketplace decide what solutions makes the most sense.

Thomas Lifson is the editor and publisher of The American Thinker

Tom Friedman writes one of his maddening columns today in the New York Times. There is a core of truth to it, but what is left out is more important than what is mentioned. And, of course, the principal thrust is to bash Bush for a problem whose origins lie elsewhere.

The genuine problem identified by Friedman is the decline of science education in the United States. The generation of scientists and engineers spawned in the wake of the Sputnik panic in the late 1950s has not been replaced. Graduate programs in the hard sciences in American universities are kept alive by foreign graduate students. But due to security concerns, visas are harder to come by, and the internet connectivity means that more top flight science and engineering can take place overseas.

But Friedman chooses to blame a tiny decline in NSF funding in the proposed budget. As if the NSF were the only source of science education and excellence. This is silliness on a stick.

The problem starts with public schools that substitute soft learning for hard science, and with a culture that glorifies and rewards sports figure, movie stars, the likes of Donald Trump, and many other groups, while dismissing math and science as nerdy. The problem also is that kids today know that they face tough competition from India and China, from outsourced jobs, that is, from the commodification and international trade in of many tasks involved in the production of science and engineering.

Friedman suggests a man—on—the—moon national crusade for energy independence, as a way of galvanizing the imagination of our youths. Not a bad idea, as far as it goes. But God, as they say, is in the details. If politics is in command, you can wager that politically correct targets such as solar and wind power will get favored, along with projects located in potent electoral constituencies. If PR becomes more important than cold calculation of investment returns, then "magic bullet" solutions will win out over incremental improvements, regardless of commercial promise.

Under the stimulus of market pricing of petroleum, the oil industry already is developing incredible technological innovations, enabling cheaper and deeper wells to be drilled in hostile environments, with little environmental impact. But not offshore California, Florida, or in the desolate Alaskan arctic, thank—you very much. Do you really think Friedman envisions easing restrictions, subsidizing, and glamorizing the oil drilling business? That's one major source of innovation which could help energy independence.

And then there is the small matter of left wing environmentalist demonology. Nuclear power is the solution that dare not speak its name. If the hydrogen fuel cell fantasy is ever to become reality, there must be a process for extracting hydrogen from water, where it is abundant beyond limit. Energy in large amounts is required to break the bonds of the water molecule. Electricity is the obvious source. But what will generate the excess electricity necessary to start replacing oil as the energy source for vehicles?

France, the nemesis of many Americans, has turned nuclear power into a major export industry, supplying electricity to many of its neighbors and reaping billions of Euros a year. The safety record is good. In theory, America could build reactors next to hydrogen extraction plants, and supply hydrogen to fuelling stations, to supply our cars and trucks, thereby replacing much of our oil consumption. And producing little or no carbon dioxide anywhere along the chain.

But just try to convince Americans to start a program building hundreds of nuclear power plants. Be sure to bring battalions of riot police. And don't count on many votes in Congress from Senators and Representatives from urban and suburban districts. In fact, the entire project is politically impossible.

There are solutions to America's energy problems. There is even the possibility of breakthrough technologies contributing in a major way. But wasting time, money, and precious scientific and engineering talent on programs too unpromising to attract commercial developers can hinder the accomplishment of our objectives. Tough realistic talk about the real options like nuclear generation of electricity would be a start, though.

Blue sky funding of wild dreams has its place, but it should be limited to low single digits of government funding. The most fruitful approach is apply tax incentives at most and let the marketplace decide what solutions makes the most sense.

Thomas Lifson is the editor and publisher of The American Thinker