Archive for March 17th, 2010


Monbiot Misfires

March 17, 2010

This recent missive from George Monbiot pontificates about the trouble that scientists are now facing from a skeptical public, but he’s aiming at the wrong targets. Namely, I want to take issue with one nit-picky point of his. Check this out:

Views like [the cynical pissing and moaning of  windbag Gerald Warner] can be explained partly as the revenge of the humanities students. There is scarcely an editor or executive in any major media company – and precious few journalists – with a science degree, yet everyone knows that the anoraks are taking over the world.

I call bullshit. How the hell does Gerald Warner’s ridiculous article single-handedly indict the non-empirical side of the academy? Why pick on humanities students? What has humanities ever done to science?

Okay, sure, some humanists are complete fucking idiots. This isn’t a fault of the humanities. This is a fault of the fucking idiots who major in, and sometimes profess in, the humanities.

Same can be said for scientists. Some scientists are complete fucking idiots. This isn’t a fault of the sciences. Again, it’s the fault of the idiots.

Idiots bring it on themselves. Bad reasoning abounds, ladies and gents. It’s the job of academics — humanists and scientists alike — to unpack and dispel bad reasoning. Why create divisions where they don’t exist?

Second, if climate scientists need an ally in the public policy battle, they need look no further than the humanities. Why?  Because it is in the humanities that people study all manner of value and behavior that will or maybe can influence public policy. Here is where collaboration can happen, kiddos, where the critical discussions about right and wrong, good and bad, just and unjust, all take place. The humanities are where the human re-enters the object-oriented picture. The views thrown around in the humanities, coupled with the observations introduced by the sciences, will either galvanize or set the trajectory for most of our contemporary policy discussion.

Yeah, yeah, I know Monbiot is introducing some half-baked psychological picture about the power of misinformation. That’s interesting. It really is. But it doesn’t explain whey we get this silly criticism of the humanities.

I just want to make sure we don’t, in hasty irony, jump to conclusions and propose that the scientists can row this boat alone. We need scientific input in the climate debate, to be certain, but we can’t rely on scientists alone. Rah, rah home crowd.


Venus Lie Trap

March 17, 2010

Here’s something to follow up on the earlier discussion regarding the life of the mind.

In “The Big Lie About the ‘Life of the Mind,'” the columnist “Thomas H. Benton” argues thatgraduate school in the humanities is based on “structurally … limiting” the potential employment options of students. He is right, just as he is correct that there is a special place in hell for those professors who avoid their responsibilities in making graduate training honest and humane. Still, he is wrong when he concludes that graduate school in the humanities is a “trap” and a “lie.”

I am arguing here for the life of the mind, or at least a version of it. I was inspired to write this by the recent articles on the topic written by Benton (aka William Pannapacker, a professor of English at Hope College), and the intense and passionate response they provoked among this newspaper’s readers (The Chronicle, February 12). It would be difficult not to feel moved by the arguments and anecdotes that readers shared.