Talking Points

Will science save us?

Tuesday's elections continue to make headlines, but the big news at the end of the week was the announcement of a new antiviral treatment for COVID-19. According to Pfizer, which developed the drug, Paxlovid cuts the risk of hospitalization or death by 89 percent. The drug doesn't prevent infection, so it's not exactly a cure. Combined with vaccines, though, it could reduce the pandemic from a social crisis to a seasonal annoyance.

That's not the only good news from the scientific world. On Friday, The New York Times reported a Russian project that provides heat using a small, sea-borne nuclear reactor. Although there are genuine risks, nuclear energy is the most plausible low-emissions alternative to fossil fuel. That means it's an unavoidable part of any serious response to climate change.

Combined with other recent developments such as the malaria vaccine, these innovations encourage a certain optimism about the future. Despite fears of cultural decadence and technological stagnation, scientific research continues to generate new tools for addressing real problems. 

Those tools aren't solutions. There will likely be other pandemics. And more widespread use of nuclear power won't stop climate change. But these developments are good reminders that technological ingenuity is not dead — and remains our best hope for coping with some of our own worst tendencies.