07 May 2009

Looking for cultural leaders

C.P. SnowToday is the fiftieth anniversary of C.P. Snow’s The Two Cultures. In my view, much of the book’s reputation rests on this fantastic quote, where Snow describes discussions with his colleagues in the humanities on science:

Once or twice I have been provoked and have asked the company how many of them could describe the Second Law of Thermodynamics. The response was cold: it was also negative. Yet I was asking something which is about the scientific equivalent of: Have you read a work of Shakespeare’s?

I bring this up not only because of the anniversary of the book. I bring this up because of a recent spat of political leaders who are doing the equivalent of insisting that Shakespeare wrote The Da Vinci Code.

Cases in point, all members of the U.S. House of Representatives:

A lot of fellow science bloggers are pointing out these mistakes, but what I really want to know is this.

Why aren’t professional science organizations calling them on it?

Why don’t we have organizations like the American Association for the Advancement of Science, or Sigma Xi, or the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology, or any of dozens of other scientific societies, saying, “This is not acceptable for political leaders to be saying”?

Frankly, these kinds of comments are so badly inaccurate that they should be subject to as much social censure as calling someone “macaca.”

1 comment:

Roger G-S said...

They'll wear that condemnation like a badge of pride - and their constituencies will cheer them on for it.