As a scientist, I'll say of course! But really, it's an interesting question, especially considering the common opinion that science is for the smart, and English is for the dumb. Eli Lehrer goes into the question in great detail, but the essence of his position is that bright students can succeed in any field, and tend to move towards those that are more profitable. I agree with that, but Mr. Lehrer thinks this trend can (and should) be changed by redirecting private and public funds towards the humanities; I don't see why.

For instance, he laments a lack of funding for undergraduate research in the humanities, but,

Of course, assisting in research is more problematic for students in the humanities. "I can’t really send an undergraduate to the library to read an article because he might get something totally different out of it than I would," says Carol Kaske, an English professor at Cornell. "We can’t do undergraduate research the same way they can in the sciences."
Going to the library to read an article isn't real research. Real research is what you do after you know all the background information. Real research is the process of discovering or creating something new. Real research is standing on the shoulders of giants, not just looking around for giants. Going to the library (or the internet) can be part of it, but I get the feeling that what passes for research in most humanities departments is wholly different from scientific research.

From the humanities classes I took as an undergrad, my impression is that the vast majority of humanities study consists of activities smart people do on their own in their free time: read stuff, think about stuff, and then talk about stuff with their friends. It doesn't take someone with a Ph.D. to discern the symbolism in a Robert Frost poem or to speculate on demographics and voting patterns. There are certainly some excellent professors in these fields that add an enormous amount to the knowledge base (and write the books we love to read), but most of that is incidental to the actual study of humanities in most universities. This is probably why many smart students feel bored and apathetic towards the humanities.

An example from my own life. As a requirement for graduation I had to take three "cohesive" upper-division courses in a field unrelated to my own; I chose to take some film classes, because there weren't any annoying prerequisites. I took "History of American Film", "History of German Film", and "Musicals" -- all upper-division classes, and all filled with film majors. I had to write several essays for each course, and I was afraid that I wouldn't know what to write about because these were the first film classes I'd ever taken. Nevertheless, I my fears abated after the first few discussion sections when it became obvious that everyone was free to write about whatever they wanted, and most of the film students were about as deep as Sean Penn. I got As on all my papers with minimal effort, despite rarely going to class other than when the professor was showing a movie I particularly wanted to see.

The point isn't that the sciences are "better" than the humanities -- whatever that even means -- but that there are fewer people who can succeed in the sciences than who can succeed in the humanities. Here's a Venn diagram.

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I don't really mean the title of this post, but I needed a sufficient rib for the Trackback section of this indulgence in science-guy hauteur by Michael Williams. Michael takes from an Eli Lehrer piece comparing the broad fields of... Read More

I don't really mean the title of this post, but I needed a sufficient rib for the Trackback section of this indulgence in science-guy hauteur by Michael Williams. Michael takes from an Eli Lehrer piece comparing the broad fields of... Read More

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