But today it's no longer possible for one person -- even a scientist and someone as well-read as Jefferson -- to know all that there is to know. And for the rest of us who lead busy lives outside the spheres of science and policy, it's virtually impossible to keep up with the pace of science, much less to actually read scientific papers and understand what scientists are basing their conclusions on. Science is increasingly becoming a matter of belief.
So what happens to Jefferson's insight today, in a world dominated by complex science? Science influences every aspect of life, yet very few people have a good understanding of most science. Is the ever-increasing burden of education that science places on the people making it hard for democracy to continue to function as a viable form of government? And if it is, what's the alternative?
Using science, we've vastly multiplied our power over nature. Science has given us control over the reproductive cycle, it has doubled our average lifespan and it has multiplied the productivity of our farms by some 35 times -- all in the last 140 years.
And those are just the problems left over from the last century of science. In the next 40 years, we are poised to create as much new knowledge as we have acquired in the last 400. Imagine the policy challenges that new knowledge will create as we master genomics, neuroscience, and nanotechnology -- just to name a few emerging fields that have huge public policy implications.
So what's the answer? Has science outgrown democracy? Should candidates for public office be required to have degrees in science? Should we require everyone to have more science education? Even when they do have an adequate foundation of science knowledge, why do so few people seem to understand how important science is? Should we have science-civics classes? Or do scientists simply need to be more communicative?
Of course these are questions I delve into in my new book, Fool Me Twice: Fighting the Assault on Science in America. But they are also questions that I and others are seeking to address by creating a new form of political debate -- a presidential science debate -- to tackle the big unresolved questions that increasingly revolve around science. We want to address these questions in a way that adults are used to taking in complex information -- within the context of our national public policy dialogue.