When it comes to being a world leader in the sciences, America is losing ground.

Speaking at a science summit that opens this week’s first World Science Festival, the expert panel of scientists, and audience members, agreed that the United States is losing stature because of a perceived high-level disdain for science. They cited U.S. officials and others questioning scientific evidence of climate change, the reluctance to federally fund stem cell research, and some U.S. officials casting doubt on evolution as examples that have damaged America’s international standing.

In an era where scientific knowledge is vital to halting many problems facing the planet and future generations, America’s torrid love affair with right-wing politics couldn’t be ending too soon. For the last 7+ years, our government has been headed by an uninquisitive dunderhead who has mocked science in favor of personal ideological dogma and “gut feelings.”

And while science alone can’t solve all our troubles, a concerted lack of science is a prescription for decline. Starting with No Child Left Behind, the policies of the Bush administration has been to relegate science and scientific learning to the sidelines. By forcing the focus on math and reading skills over all other curriculae, schools have been federally mandated to achieve high test scores in those subjects or risk losing federal funding. But the result hasn’t been more knowledgable students with better math and reading skills. Instead, we still have “failing” schools in those subjects AND a lack of a rounded education that could interest today’s youth towards science.

But the “example” of leadership doesn’t end there. The ban on stem cell research, the insistance on continued fossil fuel energy over other possible avenues of exploration, the great “Intelligent Design” debate and the rush to insist that lawmakers know better than doctors what “brain dead” really implies all reveal a disheartening attitude towards politicized scientific inquiry and non-advancement. And the rest of the world is laughing behind our backs. Well, a lot of them anyhow.

But our loss is their gain, and they are sprinting ahead as we choke on their dust.

Our recent trip to Mars notwithstanding, American scientific advancement has seemed to focus itself on leisure activities for Americans instead of on things that could make our world a better place. Computer graphics and applications designed to make things more realistic only serve to disguise the fact that the real world is getting uglier all the time. One would think that the brain power used to develop “TV on Your Cel Phone” might have been better employed trying to create cleaner forms of energy.

And where our scientific knowledge and advances could actually help make the world a better place, like the use of genetically modified food crops in areas where food production is difficult, our politics (now and over the past) have made would be recipients wary of our motives and leery of offers of help. As with so many things, the use of science to further political ambitions has backfired, creating more doubt and mistrust than is really necessary.

Thanks to Bush and his cohorts in the religious right, science in America is in decline. We’re blinded to the science, and unless we open our eyes again, our status as a world leader in scientific innovation, and indeed in many areas, will continue to slip.

 (cross posted at Bring It On!)