On Science and Humanities

Thursday, January 24th, 2008

Chris Mooney on connections:

If science today isn’t learning much from the humanities, neither is it learning enough from those with expertise in politics or in communication. And it shows. Consider the experience of American science in the 2000s. Despite producing more Ph.D.s than ever—with 29,854 in 2006 representing an all-time high according to the National Science Foundation—science found itself continually outraged by inaccurate media coverage of science; poor science education and widespread public science illiteracy; a resurgence of anti-evolutionism; and the Bush administration’s assault on scientific expertise on issues like climate change.

Science today doesn’t have any problem producing; but it has a huge problem connecting.

Alas, while some in science are beginning to recognize this problem, for others it still remains off the radar. Part of the problem may be that science convinced itself, not so long ago, that it had actually vanquished the problem highlighted by Snow. In particular, about a decade or more ago came claims (originating with literary agent John Brockman) that a so-called “third culture” had come to the rescue and bridged the gap. “Third culture” scientists were typically thought of as including people like E.O. Wilson, Stephen Jay Gould, Stephen Pinker, and especially Richard Dawkins. During the 1990s and beyond, these scientists sold lots of popular books—and that, of course, represented a core element of their success.

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