December 13, 2009

Worst Article Ever

I like Slate, but this lady seriously has nothing to offer. Unless you count her frequent attempts to be the worst parent ever. Without ever really meaning to, I've stumbled across her various articles about freaking out because her sons wanted to see Star Wars (she was afraid they might like it), freaking out when her son went unsupervised in the woods of suburban Connecticut for 45 min, and discouraging her son from being curious about how magic tricks work.

Still this is a new low: "My boys love astronomy. I couldn't care less." And that's just the title.

Basically she spends the whole article complaining about how boring space is to her and bemoaning the fact that her boys are always all interested in science, instead of..well, she never really says what. Except maybe some ponderous New York Times article about the 10th year of some couple's marriage -- everyone knows how normal kids really eat that stuff up.

I have never willingly studied a single page of astronomy. My knowledge of the planets begins and ends with My Very Elderly Mother Just Sat Upon Nine Pillows. [...] And yet my boys are in love. They ask for library books about outer space. They had a DVD of the moon landing. They go to the local planetarium. They recite facts about planetary gasses and burned-up stars and black holes and something else called a white hole. "Mom, did you know?" they ask before launching into a minilecture. I never do. Nor, if I'm honest, do I care to find out. The other day, Eli interrupted himself in the middle of a shooting star explanation and said, sagely, "Mom, sometimes you don't really listen to me."

This leaves me with a guilty question: What do you do when your children's interests don't match your own? Do you do your utmost to cultivate genuine enthusiasm and expertise? Do you fake it? Or do you keep the faith with your own passions, figuring you're teaching a lesson about assertion of selfhood and independence?

I am tempted to stray down the last path—is that the one for the lazy, self-involved parent, or is it the proudly resolute one?
Um, lazy and self-involved. Next question?

What kind of quandary is this? These are elementary schoolers. Is she aware of the range of stupid crap they could be into? And she's second-guessing the one that's actually educational? Sure, they're just kids and no one is saying that they're going to do whatever they're interested in now, but having your mother casually dismiss your nascent curiosity in the natural world is not helpful.

And then there's this garbage:
Maybe he'll be a rebel astronomer, and someday reform NASA, or call for an end to manned space missions so that the money can be used to fix Social Security? A mother can dream.

There are so many things wrong with that statement that I don't even know where to begin. First of all, NASA's budget is insignificant compared to Social Security (or practically anything else the government spends money on). It was $18.7 Billion in 2008, while SS was $696 Billion*. Studies show that Americans overestimate NASA to be one of the largest federal agencies, believing that it receives a quarter of the budget, when in reality it gets less than 1%. Plus a large fraction of astronomers do not favor manned space exploration, other than the role it plays in maintaining space-based telescopes, which are tremendously important.

Eliminating NASA, and all other publicly-funded science for that matter, and spending that money on other stuff would increase funding for social programs by ~2%, does anyone think this would make a huge a difference? This is one of those non sequitur "let's solve our problems on Earth first" (before ever doing science, apparently) statements that stupid people make without considering where their iPods and laptops come from.

Oh, and she cites Gregg Easterbrook. So all in all, not good.

*This chart is pretty good for showing federal expenditures visually.