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May 7 was the 60th anniversary of the delivery of CP Snow’s famous lecture, The Two Cultures and the Scientific Revolution. It is dimly remembered as a lament about the mutual incomprehension between arts and sciences, wrapped up with some pompous anecdotes about Oxbridge high table and airy generalisations about the dynamism of scientists. Some of it is absurd. Snow dismisses George Orwell’s 1984 as pure Luddism, “the strongest possible wish that the future should not exist”. (Orwell old chap, relax and enjoy the fruits of technological progress!) That Snow’s lecture is remembered at all is probably thanks to an acidic rebuttal by the literary critic FR Leavis.
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Nevertheless, Snow was on to something important. His message was garbled, in fact, because he was on to several important things at once. The first is the challenge of collaboration. If anything, The Two Cultures understates that. Yes, the classicists need to work with the scientists, but the physicists1 43 Battery Loader EP-4004 with traces of exploitation 0048MP ModelProEicher Wotan (3018) Mit Sichereits.1968-1972 Trattore Tractor 1 32 Model1 16 ERTL IH 5488 TRACTOR NIB also need to work with the biologists, the economists must work with the psychologists, and everyone has to work with the statisticians. And the need for collaboration between technical experts has grown over time because, as science advances and problems grow more complex, we increasingly live in a world of specialists.
The economist Benjamin Jones has been studying this issue by examining databases of patents and scientific papers. His data show that successful research now requires larger teams filled with more specialised researchers. Scientific and material progress demands complex collaboration.
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Snow appreciated — in a way that many of us still do not — how profound that progress was. The scientist and writer Stephen Jay Gould once mocked Snow’s prediction that “once the trick of getting rich is known, as it now is, the world can’t survive half rich and half poor” and that division would not last to the year 2000. “One of the worst predictions ever printed,” scoffed Gould in a book published posthumously in 2003. Had Gould Kubota RM 2005V Mounted Plough 1 32 Model 4930 UNIVERSAL HOBBIES, he would have seen that between 1960 and 2000, the proportion of people living in extreme poverty had roughly halved, and it has continued to fall sharply since then. Snow’s 40-year forecast was more accurate than Gould’s 40 years of hindsight. Even when we fancy ourselves broadly educated, as Gould did, we may not know what we don’t know. That was one of Snow’s points.
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June means Pride Month for LGBTQ people around the world, and this year Houston will celebrate its 41st Pride celebration. Born from the Stonewall Riots on June 28, 1969 in New York, a group of LGBTQ... Read more