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in which a random fact leads to a political realization

A doctor’s predictions about whether or not various victims of assassination could be saved with modern trauma medicine.
Casualty rates in american wars.

The importance of medicine in keeping people alive is hard to appreciate. It’s easy to say that the US life expectancy has more than doubled since the nation’s inception, but it becomes much more powerful when framed in more immediate terms. For example, if my family had lived 230 years ago, I would be middle-aged and my parents would more than likely be dead. Even when looked at like that, though, it seems far away: 230 years is a long time, and every bit of technology that we consider modern was developed much more recently than that.

This brings us to the links above: even though some wounds are still unsurvivable, that category of wound is growing ever smaller. Even better, it’s shrinking fast. Compare the percentage of fatal wounds in Vietnam to the casualty fatality rate of Desert Storm. Consider that we’re approaching the same amount of time since Desert Storm as existed between that war and Vietnam, and things start to look relatively good for casualties.

It’s actually kind of a relief: I know that, despite my best efforts, there exists the potential for me to be injured in combat. I have only one course of action under my control to minimize that risk, which is to fly at the utmost of my ability and seek always to extend that ability, and while I’m certainly doing that, it means that it is physically impossible for me to reduce that risk beyond a certain point. Even if I fail, though, and am injured, I have a better chance for survival than at any time in the past. It may seem like grasping at straws, but to me at least it just feels good to know that the risk of death is constantly shrinking.

I’ve always been of the opinion that the development of science and technology is inherently good. Even in the pathological case of nuclear weaponry, which in the opinion of many would improve the world by never having been invented, the United States was helped by the sheer fact of having developed it first. The fact that neither Japan or Germany developed it, the fact that it wasn’t developed anywhere in Europe or Russia or the rest of the world, didn’t help any of those nations much. Refusal to work on new tech on moral grounds is self-defeating, because it does nothing to ensure that nobody else develops the technology. The only possible good comes through getting there first.

Medicine is a much less ambiguous field: only the insanely religious* believe that its development is not inherently good. It doesn’t get the press that computer and electronics technology does, but it’s still developing at an impressive pace. It is in my direct self-interest to ensure that the rate at which medicine and trauma care develops is maximized. That rate depends on a huge spread of things, luck among them, but the easiest** for me to affect are the economic incentives and the cultural enthusiasm for science in the nation. I affect these by voting for a candidate who will help steer the nation in a direction I approve of. What I’m looking for is a candidate whose health care plan specifically mentions encouraging research and development, and whose agenda includes steering the nation towards science and technology.

If you look at Obama’s health plan, and Clinton’s, and McCain’s, you’ll see one candidate who mentions advancing medical research: Obama. Obama’s tech policy is pretty good as far as it goes, and wins some points for specifically mentioning net neutrality, but Clinton has a policy better suited to the kind of hard science I’m talking about. McCain hasn’t even consider science or tech to be an issue worth having a position on. That’s a bit bothersome, because science isn’t just about technology, it’s about the knowledge that means the difference between life and death for every single one of us. We live on average twice as long as our ancestors of 230 years ago because of science; I want a candidate who will help our descendants see similar gains.

This didn’t start as a political rant, but it evolved into one as I kept thinking about the implications of what I was saying. Most people I know are pretty sure at this point who they’re going to vote for anyway, but if you happen to be undecided: please vote Democrat. Please vote, period. But vote Democrat. More lives than those of the troops overseas depend on it, in the long term.


* Used in the literal sense of people whose religion leads them to behaviors which can be classified as insane. I assert that rejection of modern medicine on religious grounds is one such behavior.

** “easiest,” here, only makes sense in relation to the other things I might possibly do to affect that rate: personally develop a new treatment, for example, or make material contributions to the state of the art in relevant research.

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