When the president of South Africa implied recently that AIDS may not be caused by a virus, his statement was met with shock by much of the world. After all, scientists established the link between human immunodeficiency virus and AIDS years ago. But unfortunately, ignorance about--or even blatant disregard of--the science behind many of the world's most controversial issues is becoming all too common. No part of the world is immune. Just look at the "Frankenfood" scare in Europe. Consumers there are refusing to eat food products that contain contributions from genetically altered plants, despite growing scientific consensus that these foods are safe. And here in the United States, many public school systems are downplaying the scientific theory of evolution in their classrooms.

This disregard for science is even more distressing in light of some of the very real problems that will affect every nation in the coming decades. The...

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