Science and the arts need not be strangers

William Waldegrave in The Times:

ScreenHunter_03 Oct. 07 10.49 Newton wrote as much about early Christian doctrines as about optics; Coleridge and Davy planned to share out all literature and science between them; Shelley turned his brilliant classical mind and poetic sensibility to the celebration of reason and science, which he taught himself in his own time while he was at Eton.

So how come, 50 years after Snow, and just as he said, we still meet people who would think it shaming to admit difficulty in reading but who boast (sometimes untruthfully) about their incompetence at basic mathematics? How come the phrase “computer nerd” runs off the tongue more easily than “painting nerd”? Or that a cultured dinner party in W8 might find it odd if no one knew the name of the director of the Tate but not of the Science Museum? (It would not be our dinner party, I must add, as I am privileged to be Professor Chris Rapley’s chairman.) Some of the cause lies in the intense and exclusive nature of the science community itself. Science and medicine and engineering are, except in rare cases, co-operative, social activities. They require long and often extremely challenging training, at the end of which people share a powerful common culture and language that excludes others, not least because so much time is physically spent together in the workplaces of laboratory, hospital or design centre. At the end of it you are part of a priesthood; it would be contrary to human nature not to have a certain contempt for those outside the pale.

More here.

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