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  • Susan Gallagher

The Lysol Lectures

It’s not my job to spout off about personal political views—that’s not what they pay me for. But like any child of the environmental movement, I have strong feelings about how any politician embraces (or rejects) basic science, especially as they set policies affecting the whole planet. When those on either side of the aisle fall short on critical scientific analysis, I’d be the last one to come to their defense.

And yet, here I am.

Unless you’ve been living under a rock lately (and honestly, these days it’s not my business what it is you’re doing in your own home) you’ve probably heard all the hullabaloo over President Trump’s disinfection dialogs—the Lysol lectures where he mused aloud over things like lighting up our bodies from the inside with infrared rays or injecting caustic cleaning products as potential treatment for Coronavirus.

The media’s gone bonkers and is still talking about it days later. It’s all over my social media feeds as friends go back and forth—“That’s not what he said!” “Yes, it is. Just listen!”

But as an educator, I have to ask, whatever happened to the concept of No such thing as a stupid question?

Okay, I agree that a nationally televised press briefing, where your comments can be played and re-played by the media ad nauseum, isn’t the best place to do your thinking out loud. Maybe it’s understandable that a nation frightened by this global pandemic is looking to leaders right now for facts over fantasy.

But let me remind you of a few of the crazier questions we humans have recently contemplated:

Are there useful antibiotics in dirt? Or in this mold?

Can we create artificially intelligence termites?

Does Antarctic ice point the way to monster black holes in outer space?

Is that 24-year-old Dutch kid on to something with his crazy ocean-cleaning machine?

Can that yew tree over there, or these MICROSCOPIC INJECTIBLE ROBOTS! fight cancer?

And you know what, the answer to every one of those zany questions is yes. Yes, because science is loony tunes like that, and sometimes you have to ask the absurd questions to get the paradigm-shifting answers.

So, politics aside, I think it’s best not to quash curiosity in any form. To paraphrase the host of one of my favorite podcasts, everyone should feel free to ask smart people dumb questions. Because the more we criticize those who do, the longer it takes to discover all the seemingly impossible underpinnings of our bodies, our world, and our existence.

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