Wednesday, 7 October 2009

Two Cultures- are we any better?

I started re-reading CP Snow’s New Men a week or so ago and coincidentally there have been several comments in the press about his ‘Two Cultures’ lecture which was given 50 years ago. Snow’s premise was that the two cultures of Art and Science didn’t mix and that this division was a hindrance to solving the problems of the world. He also highlighted the lack of scientific understanding in the population generally – suggesting originally that few people would be able to quote the second law of thermodynamics whereas many could quote Shakespeare.

Are we any better? Let’s look at Snow’s later comparison (he admitted that thermodynamics may be rather advanced.) Could you give a simple explanation of mass, acceleration, antibiotics, cable-stayed bridges? What about Romeo and Juliet, The Mona Lisa, The Hobbit, African Queen? No googling!

There’s an article in today’s Times by William Waldegrave in which he claims that we can be more optimistic about bridging this gap. The comments on this article don’t seem to agree.

There was another related report on Today yesterday. An analysis of science students’ essays showed significantly more spelling and grammatical errors in UK students’ work than the essays from overseas students. So perhaps the budding scientists are still backward at the art of communicating in English. We could argue, of course, that communication skills are so fundamental that they should permeate all cultures. You can hear the Today item here.

I’ve been increasingly concerned about a different set of cultures – those of the public and private sector. We’ve seen attempts to impose the practices from the latter on the former with limited success. So are we seeing another division of the world? More of this later.

Postscript: I’ve just spotted two radio programs discussing the CP Snow lecture in the present context. I haven’t listened yet but I’ll try to do so soon.

Times Waldegrave article

BBC Two Cultures broadcasts

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