Bringing the Two Cultures Together through A World of Light and Color

By Mian, Shabbir M.; Marx, Jeffrey D. et al. | Forum on Public Policy: A Journal of the Oxford Round Table, Summer 2008 | Go to article overview

Bringing the Two Cultures Together through A World of Light and Color


Mian, Shabbir M., Marx, Jeffrey D., Pagonis, Vasilis, Forum on Public Policy: A Journal of the Oxford Round Table


Introduction

Fifty years ago, C.P Snow delivered his lecture, The Two Cultures and the Scientific Revolution, in which he spoke at length of the mistrust and differences between scientists and literary intellectuals. As a well-respected Cambridge physicist and novelist, Snow had all the credentials and experience to tackle this unspoken subject. That, of course, did not spare him from criticism, and four years later in 1963, he wrote a book The Two Cultures: and a Second Look as a follow-up to his lecture where he clarified some of his earlier statements and reemphasized his main thesis. Snow argued that the lack of communication between the two groups, better described in contemporary terms by intellectuals from the arts and humanities, and science and technology, poses a serious challenge to solving problems that plague society, and thus presents an obstacle to improving the quality of life locally and globally (Snow 1963, 90). In fact, he lamented not calling the original lecture "The Rich and the Poor" (p. 74), which would have preserved his end goal. As an academic, Snow viewed education as the key to bridging the communication gap between the two groups so that society as a whole can prosper (p. 23). He did realize that his vision was colored by his experiences in Europe, in general, and in the United Kingdom, in particular (p. 66). Snow noted the divide between and the different cultural mindset amongst the two groups was much smaller in the United States primarily because of the educational system (p. 66). Nevertheless, the divide was, and, to some extent, is still present.

In many parts of the world, students are required to choose their major field of study and then exclusively work in that field. This form of early career specialization has its advantages but has also lead to the kind of problem Snow describes in his lecture. In the United States, students follow a general education curriculum in high school all the way through their undergraduate degree after which point they specialize. The reduced rigor in a major field of study at the undergraduate level is remedied once students go to graduate school. Most colleges and universities have undergraduate general education curriculums that typically require students to take courses from the arts and humanities as well as the sciences in order to produce well-rounded or liberally educated individuals. We define a liberally educated person as one well grounded in the arts and humanities as well as science and technology and who is a global citizen capable of thinking critically and acting humanely. Whether the United States educational system is successful in producing such a student maybe debated, but at least the educational philosophy is in line with Snow's recommendation for increased communication between the "two cultures."

In the United States, science undergraduate students enroll in far more courses from social sciences, arts, and humanities than non-science majors do in science and mathematics. Perhaps nothing can be done about this inequality. However, if the courses non-science students enroll in sour them on science, then no good comes of this arrangement. A brief review of United States society shows that people with little or no scientific background are more likely to be policy and decision makers than science students. For example, a report from the Congressional Research Services for the 110th U.S. Congress (Amer 2008) shows that out of 540 members, there are only three physicists, three chemists, one microbiologist, and one biomedical engineer, which represents less than 2% of the total number of congressional delegates. There are 23 additional members who have professional degrees that require a science background; namely, thirteen medical doctors, three nurses, two dentists, two veterinarians, one psychologist, one pharmacist, and one optometrist. This represents another 4% of the total. That leaves well over 90% of the members of congress with little or no experience with science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). …

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