Macalester should facilitate dialogue between humanities and sciences

By Nelli Thomas

Although many Macalester students double major or minor in both sciences and humanities, the large divide between Olin-Rice and Old Main is rarely recognized and discussed. I am a biology major with a premedical emphasis, but I’ve spent a good amount of time in other buildings around campus and I’ve recently been exposed to some new ideas about my chosen field of study.

To me, it seems that most scientists view their studies as objective analyses of natural phenomena. Some people even view science as the search for “truth,” which it most certainly is not. Truth has complicated associations of philosophy and religion, and to me science is more the study of proof, or disproof, to be more accurate. The point of the scientific method is that we are always working with a hypothesis that has not yet been disproven. Millions of tests can be run that support a theory, but the method implicitly recognizes the possibility that a test will be run in which the results are different.

These foundations are often overlooked, and the idea of science to most people is often very complicated.

As we all know, with knowledge comes power, and the sciences hold most of the cards in medicine, technology and the environment. Unfortunately, how this knowledge is created is not the efficient, logical and transparent process that many scientists either think or hope that it is.

For the most part, for a scientist’s results to be shared with the rest of world, it must be accepted by a peer-reviewed journal. This process is subject to politics, trends and biases that trouble many, including professors on our campus. Recently an environmental studies professor told me that he had changed his study of research when he first became a professor because he knew that he needed to produce papers on currently popular areas of research to be published. Recently the journal Energy & Environment rejected a well-researched paper suggesting that some claims of climate change are not as bad as they seem. They were criticized for rejecting the paper because of their pro-climate change agenda.

I’m not saying that science is chasing wild geese and that no empirical matter exists, just that we are incapable of understanding the way things “really” are because of our human perspective and prejudice. The position of science within American and global cultures needs to be recognized and studied by students of this college. It is dangerous to ignore the complex relationships formed between culture and science and how they can positively or negatively affect different groups of people, animals, plants, and other organisms.

Students are currently organizing an open discussion between biology professors, students and anyone interested in this topic for next semester. I hope that many attend and that events like these will help the Macalester community recognize and respond to this important issue.

Nelli Thomas can be reached at [email protected]