What Has The Thirty Meter Telescope Already Shown Us?

What Has The Thirty Meter Telescope Already Shown Us?

by Guest Blogger,
Tyler Kokjohn, Ph.D.

The Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT), a 2 billion-dollar behemoth, will not see first light for years (1), but the effort to build it might have already illuminated something important.  It seems nothing for the proposal to locate the TMT on the summit of Hawaii’s Mauna Kea has come without controversy and while the state supreme court recently settled the legal issues, the situation on the mountain is now clearly deteriorating (2).

This forthcoming technological marvel will assure continued U.S. national leadership in astronomy research and be a job-creating boon for the local economy (3).  Locating this advanced concept telescope at the premier observing site of Mauna Kea will enable researchers to study fainter and more distant astronomical objects than has been possible previously (3).  However, Mauna Kea is a sacred site to some persons who feel that the construction of observatories has interfered with cultural and religious practices (1).  Unimpressed with the promised gains and unsatisfied by the legal process the elders have drawn their line.  Protestors are now blocking the start of TMT construction activities and forcing other existing installations to cease operations (2).  It is unclear how or when this dispute will end (2). 

Too Far From Home?

Mauna Kea is geographically remote for most of us.  Neither Islanders nor Astronomers, our sense of investment in this quarrel is accordingly limited.  Although this particular situation is unique, the basic story might seem familiar; authoritative official interests align promises and/or economic incentives to generate a broad-based popular consensus supporting an action or decision.  It is making a case by touting indisputable benefits combined with a subtle divide and conquer strategy spiced with a touch of nationalism.  Mauna Kea may be far away, but some similar issues as to where and how we are permitted to decide to best utilize science and technology hit us directly.          

Eat This

Reflecting consumer preferences, suppliers offer a range of food products including organically grown produce, free range chickens and fair trade products.  However, for consumers wishing to actively avoid genetically modified (GM) crops due to concerns about safety or the environmental impacts of the pesticides that must be used with many of them, the story is a little different.  Notwithstanding an often expressed deep reverence for free enterprise and the wisdom of the markets, U.S. government authorities are not making it easy for retail consumers to identify GM crop-based foods (4).  The market will meet a consumer preference to avoid GM food, but the government seems uninterested in facilitating such decisions.

Can We Say No?     

The first babies genetically engineered using the new CRISPR technology were born a few months ago.  This reckless and unethical experiment on unborn human beings was immediately denounced by most colleagues and opinion leaders in the scientific community as “substandard, superficial and absurd” (6).   Now another scientist insists such work cannot be halted and demands he be allowed to perform similar unethical experiments (6).  Hard on the heels of CRISPR DNA editing technology has come a new invention commonly known as a gene drive (7).  The ultimate double-edged sword, gene drives might allow us to control scourges such as malaria.  However, they might also exact terrible ecological tolls in the bargain.  

Scientists have birthed genetic manipulation technologies they are unable to fully control.  The new techniques could bring enormous benefits and the research community is anxious to develop the means to employ them ethically and safely.  Will ordinary citizens get a chance to express their wishes regarding the acceptable uses of genome editing methods before impatient investigators, profit-seeking private corporations or foundations keen to deploy the latest inventions for their own purposes decide matters for everyone?  Will our elected representatives heed the voice of the voters or the vested interests?  

We Are the Instrumentality

Combining tangible reality with spiritual significance Mauna Kea provides a physical focus and sharp clarity other discussions over adopting technology lack.  No hard-to-visualize scientific concepts or imagining the great things to come in the future, the site itself is the heart of this dispute.  In this case the elders have declared the limits and we can both see as well as feel what they are defending.  Perhaps a concrete example will inspire those of us silently watching from afar as events unfold to extrapolate this lesson to other situations.  The Thirty Meter Telescope situation has revealed something important.  It is now up to us to figure out how to make good use of what we have seen.       

  1. Dennis Overbye.  2019.  Hawaii Telescope Project, Long Disputed, Will Begin Construction.  The New York Times, 10 July 2019.  https://nyti.ms/2LOhJde 
  1. Alexandra Witze.  2019.  Hawaii Telescope Protest Shuts Down 13 Observatories on Mauna Kea.  Nature, 18 July 2019.  https://nyti.ms/1OyZy6p 
  1. Anonymous.  Maunakea and TMT.  The Facts About TMT on Maunakea.  http://www.maunakeaandtmt.org/facts-about-tmt/ 
  1. Anonymous.  2018.  U.S.D.A. Announces G.M.O Labeling Standard.  Food Business News, 20 December 2018.    https://www.foodbusinessnews.net/articles/13064-usda-announces-gmo-labeling-standard 
  1. George Dvorsky.  2019.  Substandard, Superficial and Absurd: Experts Slam the Science Behind the CRISPR Baby Experiment.  Gizmodo, 30 April 2019.   https://gizmodo.com/substandard-superficial-and-absurd-experts-slam-the-1834417285  
  1. Jon Cohen.  2019.  Russian Geneticist Answers Challenges to His Plan to Make Gene-Edited Babies.  Science, 13 June 2019. https://www.sciencemag.org/news/2019/06/russian-geneticist-answers-challenges-his-plan-make-gene-edited-babies    
  2. Megan Scudellari.  2019.  Self-Destructing Mosquitoes and Sterilized Rodents: The Promise of Gene Drives.  Nature, 9 July 2019.  https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-019-02087-5 
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Making Michael Jackson A Monster Is Money

A video wherein I make the case that Leaving Neverland is not so much a documentary as a propaganda hit piece designed to make media outlets the money they “lost” when Michael Jackson was acquitted.

Why I Am Unapologetically Supporting Bernie Sanders Again

It finally happened. The most boldly progressive, intelligent, and realistic politician in the country actually became the most popular politician in the country. And he’s running for president on a platform the likes of which brought him his unheard of popularity in the first place. Now is the moment for the Democratic party to finally wake up and vote him in. Who am I talking about? I’m talking about Bernie Sanders, of course. But you already knew that, because you read the title of this piece and clicked on it. Also, and more importantly, because he’s the most popular politician in the entire country right now.

If you’re at all progressive or just plain care about anything unselfish, this should be a time to rejoice. But just try telling unselfish progressives that. Bernie Sanders is the most popular politician in the United States today. Have I said that twice already? He is. And yet some liberals are questioning why they should vote for this old white man, as if they’ve never heard of him before. As if he’s your run-of-the-mill old white male politician who has to prove himself beyond that shadow. As if he is not already the most popular politician in the United States and the change we’ve been looking for.

Bernie Sanders is the only candidate in the presidential running who has, right up front, given us a realizable, beefy platform for which he stands. (See video below.) Within 4 hours of announcing his candidacy for president, he raised over 1 million dollars in small campaign donations. Given these facts, why is it that even my progressive friends are turning on him based on the very racial, gender, and age discriminations that they claim to abhor? You know… the ones they hate Trump for? Are they high?

Well, yeah. Some of ’em. But they’re also scared that he will somehow magically throw the election to Trump, despite polling that shows otherwise, and are sick of the symbol of elderly white male power. Sadly, it’s that kind of fear-based thinking that brought us the uber-flawed candidate Hillary Clinton and swung the 2016 election to Trump in the first place. That and Russian meddling. That, that, and treason, most likely.

So, if you find yourself having to defend Bernie to people who are afraid to actually stand up for the things they believe in and/or are rightfully sick of the white male power structure, please remind them to vote for him for the following becauses….

–Because he has an actual platform that is actually good for the country.

–Because he’s not interested in pandering to his audience; he is who he says he is and we all already know that.

–Because he is the only reason anyone feels it’s necessary to appear progressive this go-round.

–Because he’s right when he says that his “crazy” ideas of 2016 have been adopted, because the nation heard them and loved them.

–Because you can have dark skin and/or a vagina and/or youth and still promote the same broken patriarchal system. And that, not progressivism, is a turnoff nowadays. (For more on that, please see Clinton, Hillary.)

–Because,  oh yeah, because he is still the most popular politician in America. How is anyone overlooking this striking fact? Don’t we want the most popular politician in the country who is also the most progressive and on our side to run? Why are we afraid the most popular politician will lose? Are we afraid of winning?

Yes, Bernie is old. And white. And male. But this is the question: Do we want real change or superficial change? He represents real change in a way I have yet to see any other candidate represent, except, maybe, Elizabeth Warren. But whereas Bernie will not cave to Trump’s bullying tactics, she already has by getting that DNA test. Whereas Bernie will not pander to you to pretend he isn’t an eccentric kinda person, she tried to go full Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez with failed “Look at me, I’m just like you” slice-of-life live-streaming events. So, I’m not sold on her being capable of surviving The Donald’s schoolyard tactics.

All of that said, Bernie is running as a Democrat, right? So he’s not splitting the vote in any way. If he wins the nomination, great! If he doesn’t, we all get behind whomever does, because AT THAT POINT, even the most obvious panderer (Lookin’ at you Corey Booker), admitted middle-of-the-road Democrat (Amy Klobuchar, if she can stop throwing things at coworkers for five seconds), and  pre-anointed one who has it all superficially–skin color, gender, age–but who smugly and kinda psychotically laughs about her own policy as a prosecutor to jail parents for their children’s truancy (say hi to the people, Kamala Harris) will look like a progressive revolutionary when compared to Trump or any shoe-bottom sticky stink the Republican Party backs, should Trump… you know… join the rest of his administration in being fired or going to jail before then.

Look, I’m a white guy so I cannot tell you that were I anyone else I wouldn’t completely overlook Bernie because of the symbol of his age/race/gender. Maybe… maybe. But I’d like to think that after decades of false promises from all the other great white hopes I’d be able to spot the real thing in the room and also spot the phonies from my own race and/or gender. I’d like to think that real change would still mean more to me than symbolic change. And if not, I’d like to think he’s a symbolic change, too, in that he is a progressive Jewish atheist. And also the one old white male worth voting for. And also, despite all of the symbolic reasons people may have to hate him, he is the most popular politician in this country.

Unless I’m thinking of Joe Biden. Thank god he’s not an old white guy, right?