Editorial: Reasons to be cheerful

[ Fri. Jan. 5. 2007 ]

THE new year is a time for reflection and re-evaluation. It is a process that can leave one feeling up and optimistic or distinctly depressed. If you need some reasons to be cheerful, read on.

The impact of science and technology has been overwhelmingly positive. In a few hundred years life has been transformed from short and brutish to long and civilised. Improvements are spreading (admittedly too slowly) around the planet. Of course, some discoveries and inventions have led to serious problems, but science and technology often provide ways to monitor and alleviate those problems, from ozone destruction to overproduction of greenhouse gases.

And further benefits are coming. To take one example from this issue, researchers have made a drug to treat hepatitis C that should be affordable even in poor countries . Then there is the extent to which cellphones are improving life for the world's poor, the numerous ideas for harnessing energy from sunlight, that human intelligence can be increased and that a revolution in personal genomics is in the wings. These ideas come from www.edge.org, which asked 160 scientists and intellectuals what they are optimistic about. One way or another the answers should give you a warm glow - either because you agree, or because they make you angry.

If you are still left thinking your glass is half empty, check out the submission by Randolph M. Nesse of the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. He predicts that we will find a way to block pessimism. The consequences may not be all good, but it's a safe bet that science and technology will come to the rescue.