Two cultures, three cultures, and feeling dizzy

2628723One of those people that have initials for their first name, CP Snow is famous and infamous for a lecture given 50 years ago at Cambridge University. In “Two cultures and the Scientific Revolution”, Snow indicted the humanities for halting the progress of society. The literary inclined Universities were unwelcoming to the knowledge and methods of technologists and natural scientists. (A likely third culture might be social scientists, whether angels or devils, I don’t know if Snow specified.) In the New York Times book review section Peter Dizikes, a science writer, thought again about the Snow essay and tried to get something fresh and contemporary out of it. And it seems quite a struggle to make that text speak again. The world seems less binary without the Cold War. Dizikes concludes hurriedly:

the aspect of “The Two Cultures” that speaks most directly to us today. Your answer — and many different ones are possible — probably determines how widely and deeply you think we need to spread scientific knowledge. Do we need to produce more scientists and engineers to fight climate change? How should they be deployed? Do we need broader public understanding of the issue to support governmental action? Or do we need something else?

The equivalent of the “two cultures” is a bureaucratic decision about what kinds of big science to fund? I guess that means the humanities lost, but then again it was never their war…