The love-hate relationship between science and humanities
Politics has a technology problem, science has a humanities problem. Willful ignorance meets righteous arrogance; what we need is more respect and collaboration.
Politics has a science and technology problem. Not enough politicians have a scientific education, and legislative bodies lack proper understanding of the scientific method; not enough decisions are based on freely available scientific data. Too many politicians can’t stay on top of emerging technologies, which results in knee-jerk regulations or wild, wild west.
This is a topic that surfaces at scientific conferences and tech get-togethers; it makes scientists go gray and shake their fists at clouds. I share the sentiment.
Science and technology have a humanities and social science problem. Not enough scientists have the skills to communicate effectively, and many don’t even see the need to engage with non-experts. Too many tech leaders see an engineering degree as the gold standard for running a business and a science Ph.D. for understanding the world.
This is a topic that comes up among communicators, marketers, and journalists; this is why so many non-scientists roll their eyes and adjust their IQ down when a scientist starts to talk about their work. I share the sentiment.
I feel both privileged and out of my mind for having chosen to spend so much of my life in between these worlds. I don’t want to fuel the flame: I have had amazing opportunities to use my storytelling and writing skills in the service of science and technology communication. I can personally testify that these worlds make a beautiful and fulfilling match.
I can also personally testify that it can get damn frustrating. I am not smack in the middle; I am a storyteller, not a scientist. Surrounding oneself with people who have deep expertise in science and technology can really damage the self-esteem of a liberal-arts practitioner. Oh, the complex ideas, the ruthless analysis, the impenetrable jargon! I confess: I had my IQ tested just to convince myself that I’m not stupid. Call me vain or insecure, but I find solace in this mantra:
“I am not stupid; they are just not strong communicators. I can help them! I am not stupid; they are just not strong communicators. I can help them! I am not stupid…”
A job worth doing
Communication is considered a “soft skill” that can be indulged once a company is of a certain size and deep enough in the black; marketing is something dirty and only needed by greedy businesspeople who lack world-changing ideas. A good product will sell itself and truth will prevail.
There is something appealing about the naivete of such a world view. I, too, want to believe in the Truth and our ability to see It; I, too, want to believe that justice is served and good deeds rewarded, both in this life and in the next (should you lean that way). But in the end, I choose to believe in the complex beauty of the human condition. We don’t see the Truth, but we see many delightful smaller truths; good deeds are not always rewarded, but somehow we keep finding new ways to do good nonetheless. Strike us down, and we keep coming back up (yes, like a bad rash).
Science and technology require prowess, prudence, and perseverance. They also need more attention from people who are not experts and who spend most of their energy on other topics. Politics and humanities require expertise, empathy, and endurance. They also need to be taken seriously, because they have serious consequences to all, scientists and technologists included. Bridging the gap can be frustrating, but it’s a job worth doing.
I am not stupid; they’re just not strong communicators. And I can help!