The Two Cultures in 2011

From The Ten Things Everyone Should Know About Science

Scientists have been complaining for decades that, while they would be ashamed to admit knowing nothing about Jane Austen’s novels, literary colleagues can get away with total ignorance of relativity and quantum theory. As Larry Summers noted on his installation as Harvard University president in 2001, students rarely admit to never having read a Shakespeare play but find it “acceptable not to know a gene from a chromosome or the meaning of exponential growth”.

In Britain, it is socially acceptable for an arts graduate to say with a certain insouciance: “I failed chemistry GCSE” or “I scraped a C grade in maths.” But a scientist would be brave indeed to reply: “Well, I only got a D in English literature.”

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