[SIGCIS-Members] Science wars quote that scientists can teach English but not vice versa

Alberts, Gerard G.Alberts at uva.nl
Fri Oct 21 14:07:12 PDT 2016

Dear Tom, why, no, your quote rests on an anti-Snow type of argument. Snow's plea is for mutual understanding and dialogue. He tries to avert the possible disdain for the humanities. His crucial point is that we should all know the second law of thermodynamics as an assett of our cultural baggage, just the same as we know quote from Shakespeare. Gerard
Van: Members [members-bounces at lists.sigcis.org] namens Thomas Haigh [thomas.haigh at gmail.com]
Verzonden: vrijdag 21 oktober 2016 22:08
Aan: 'Lee Vinsel'
CC: 'sigcis'
Onderwerp: Re: [SIGCIS-Members] Science wars quote that scientists can teach English but not vice versa

It’s definitely a two cultures argument, but I think the quote was an updated version and nastier. Though I could be conflating after all this time.

In the bigger picture I guess the difference between Snow and the 1990s dialog was that Snow was bemoaning the separation of science and the humanities and limited engagement with science by non-specialists. Whereas in the science wars, scientists were complaining that humanities people were pretending to engage with science but messing it up or challenging its authority.


From: Lee Vinsel [mailto:lee.vinsel at gmail.com]
Sent: Friday, October 21, 2016 2:35 PM
To: Thomas Haigh <thomas.haigh at gmail.com>
Cc: sigcis <members at sigcis.org>
Subject: Re: [SIGCIS-Members] Science wars quote that scientists can teach English but not vice versa

I'm fairly certain that you are paraphrasing ideas from C. P. Snow's The Two Cultures, though the way I remember it is that scientists have some knowledge of literature whereas people in the humanities can't tell you what the laws of thermodynamics are.
But maybe you have something else in mind.

On Fri, Oct 21, 2016 at 3:32 PM, Thomas Haigh <thomas.haigh at gmail.com<mailto:thomas.haigh at gmail.com>> wrote:

I was looking for a quote I recall reading in the days of the “science wars,” probably late-1990s, from a scientist saying something like: “If all the English professors got sick and we were called in then we would so an OK job teaching Shakespeare etc. based on what we know and the inherent triviality of the humanities. Whereas if the physics professors got sick then the humanities people would be completely unable to step in, because science is hard.”

I tried constructing Google searches and doing Amazon’s search inside the book on Sokal & Bricmont’s Fashionable Nonsense and similar targets, but didn’t locate it.

NB: I’m just looking for the source here, not for people eager to reignite the science wars by arguing for or against the proposition.

Best wishes,


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