Magazine article Issues in Science and Technology

A Humanities Policy?

Magazine article Issues in Science and Technology

A Humanities Policy?

Article excerpt

More money for the humanities? By all means! As Robert Frodeman, Carl Mitcham, and Roger Pielke, Jr. point out in "Humanities for Policy--and a Policy for the Humanities" (Issues, Fall 2003), there has been a shocking decline in the U.S. government's commitment to the humanities in the United States during the past few decades, diminishing our ability to deal creatively with important social problems.

An obvious example is nuclear waste. Regardless of one's views on the virtues or vices of nuclear power, current arrangements for waste storage are clearly inadequate. Yet local opposition to developing long-term storage facilities or even to transporting waste to a facility elsewhere is often fierce. Scientists and engineers characteristically dismiss this opposition as irrational, but regardless of its source, the opposition is as real as the waste that engenders it. If more humanists and social scientists had been involved in plans for waste disposal, some of these concerns might have been anticipated and addressed.

Moreover, the humanities don't just offer perspective on the human dimensions of the waste disposal issue; they also offer insight into the science itself. After all, the science supporting the proposed repository at Yucca Mountain has been seriously criticized from within the scientific community, despite decades of work and billions of dollars spent. Could this money have been spent more effectively? Very likely. Historians who have studied large-scale science and engineering projects in diverse settings could have offered relevant insights and advice, both at the onset of the project and as difficulties arose along the way. Few scientists and engineers think of the humanities and social sciences as resources that could help them do their job better, but they should.

That said, a federal policy for the humanities is another story, for federal support is a two-edged sword. …

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