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A Faustian bargain

Gregory A Petsko

Genome Biology 2010, 11:138  doi:10.1186/gb-2010-11-10-138

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Speaking out for the humanities

Maureen O'Malley   (2011-01-17 14:03)  University of Exeter

As a philosopher of biology, I wish to offer thanks for this editorial and its inclusive scope (literature, arts, humanities, social sciences). While it is addressed to a specific situation in the US, the argument holds across the world, including the UK, where a similar climate prevails. Education is structured differently here (someone learning about biology from an undergraduate level onwards need never encounter any subject outside biology again), but the same caveats about fickle fashions, shallow knowledge bases, and the unpredictability of sources of scientific inspiration still apply. It is unusual for a scientist to speak out so strongly for the arts and humanities, and very encouraging to see that valuable insights from such a range of disciplines can be put to work on the pages of a prominent scientific journal. A collaborative goal for endangered and non-endangered disciplines might be to devise and foster teaching practices that go beyond a traditional 'two cultures' perspective in education. Programmes along these lines exist in North America, Europe and further afield. If the argument of the editorial is correct, and I think it is, it is in everyone��s interests to support such programmes before the extinction of stand-alone arts and humanities departments.

Competing interests

As a philosopher of biology, I declare a deeply vested interest in the continuation of the humanities.

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