Science vs Humanities

I found this gem on Reddit the other day and I saved it to share with you guys because it is a clusterfuck of horrible. According to the story that came attached to the picture, it was a print add in either a university promotional catalog or the campus newspaper – I can’t recall which. Either way it was an ad for Humanities department, which was clearly written by an idiot.

Wait, hold on – before you scold me for being a science geek elitist, please take into account that I have great respect for folks in humanities. I read a lot of books and I sometimes fancy myself a literary critic of certain genre works, so believe me – I have nothing against the good folks with Literature degrees. I think they are not only good people, but also productive members of society – we need folks who are well read – if nothing else just to point me towards good things to read, so that I can inject condensed knowledge and beauty into my cranium by the way of well written prose and/or poetry.

I mock business majors, and people with fake degrees (communications anyone?) but I don’t think I have ever said a bad word about writers, poets, literary scholars and philosophers. I am constantly humbled by their knowledge and consider them to be a fellow species of nerd, even if they wont admit it. So it actually pains me to see shit like this being used to advertise humanities:

Science vs Humanities

Science vs Humanities

Let’s count all the things that are wrong with this picture:

  1. Blatant anti-intellectualism and disregard for the sciences – check
  2. Lack of understanding of what scientists actually do – check
  3. Implication that science does not concern itself with ethics – check
  4. Lack of understanding what cloning is – check
  5. Finally, what’s most baffling – and indication that the author of said avert does not understand what Humanities do either – also check

The first point is especially annoying, because they should have known better. The whole “what has science done?” cliché is old and tired and needs to go die in a ditch. Hollywood loves this damn trope, but university professors should know better. Shouldn’t universities foster a culture of appreciation of knowledge in all shapes and forms? Isn’t the point of liberal arts education to give student a broad understanding of all different fields of knowledge? Isn’t science education just as important as education in literature, philosophy and arts? Apparently not, according to whoever make this advert. It strikes me as childish.

I would love to hear why is it not a good idea to clone a damn dinosaur. I read Michael Crichton’s book, you know – the one with a park full of Jurasic period critters, and the main thing I got out of it was that greedy assholes will always ruin a good thing. That was the main message – don’t be a greedy fuck, and don’t underestimate mother nature, because that bitch is fucking awesome. The rest was pretty much “OMG, dinosaurs are soooo rad, and I know Unix!”. Or something like that. I don’t actually remember a big speech about playing god being in there, though I think they added one in the movie adaptation. I thought that Jeff Goldbloom talking shit about science was a bit out of place, seeing how the entire breakdown of security in park was basically the fault of Newman from Sinefield. But I digress.

My point is that there is no compelling reason not to clone a dinosaur. If we could do it, it would be an awesome experiment, and we would learn a lot from it. Hell, we are already cloning Woolly Mammoths so I really don’t see a problem here. What is the ethical conundrum here? How could an embryonic Jurassic lizard fuck things up for everyone?

I mean, maybe if you let it gestate, be born, then feed it for a few years, let it grow to full size, then piss it off and let it loose in a major city – yeah, that could be a problem. Not a problem with science itself mind you, just a problem with your stupid brain not comprehending the fact that it is not actually legal to release large wild carnivorous animals in cities.

Do you know what you call a scientist who clones a T-Rex, and lets him grow to full size without putting in appropriate safeguards? A fucking idiot who deserves to be eaten. Here is a little anecdote about elephants you might have seen on a motivational poster somewhere: allegedly circus animal trainers tie a baby elephant’s leg to a wooden post to prevent them from wandering off. Over the years the animal learns that tugging on the rope is fairly useless, and by the time they are fully grown they actually stop trying. So when the trainer ties a mature elephant to a tiny wooden stake, with a flimsy rope that would never hold it, the animal stays put because it remembers the rope being unbreakable.

While this story is likely bullshit, it illustrates an important concepts: we know how to deal with big animals. The reason why we don’t have elephants, lions, tigers and dragons rampaging though the cities every other day is that we have devised methods to tame and subdue them. Also, dragons don’t exist but that’s besides the point. While a Tyrannosaurus might be big and scary, it is an animal just like an elephant. Put it in an elephant pen with a huge ass reinforced fence (you reinforce the fence by weighing the damn thing, cross comparing with elephant weight and adding shit to the fence until it can withstand that much weight) and it will stay put. Unless it can “Hulk jump” like a boss, of course. But that’s not really something the animal can keep hidden. If it never jumps while it’s a baby, it likely won’t jump when it’s mature. And if it does jump like a motherfucker, then you put a roof over the pen.

In fact, you don’t even need to build all of this in advance. You will have plenty of time to incrementally improve your new pets habitat as it grows. A baby dino can probably be kept in check with a piece of rope, and a rubber band around it’s snout. If you are worried about it rampaging across the city, you can humanely put it down long before it becomes larger than a horse.

Unless of course you happen to be an idiot who thinks that cloning means “to make an exact copy, like on a xerox machine” which it does not. And being a humanities major does not exempt you from this little thing called “research”, which I affectionately call “five fucking minutes with Google”. I would hope that any aspiring literary genius wanting to write a story about the dangers of cloning would take at least 5 minutes to make sure they know what they are talking about. I mean, it’s not Hollywood kids – if you want to make literature, then you need to at least try to make sense. Unless of course you want to write the next Twilight or 50 Shades, in which case college education is the worst thing you could do to your brain. If you have ever taken a single literature or creative writing course, you know way to much about story structure, plot, character development and literary devices to write like Stephanie Meyer or E. L. James.

What I would really like to know is the reason why the creator of this image thought that the job of a humanities major is to teach scientists about ethics. Last time I checked, morality fables were kinda low brow. A story titled “A scientist made a dinosaur, and then got eaten because hubris is bad” ain’t exactly something to aspire to, isn’t it? It’s very much an old and tired cliché. I’d hope you would encourage students to write something more ambitious than that. To say something new and interesting about the human condition.

A wise man once said that a picture is worth a thousand words, and I think I just proved that. I created well of a thousand word shaped knowledge bearing data objects, ranting about a very dumb image from the internet. I ought to have better things to do with my life than that, but I do not, and that’s why you love me. If I wasn’t around to tell you about all the insignificant stupidities that really grind my gears, who would. I provide a valuable public service here, damn it!

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18 Responses to Science vs Humanities

  1. Peter GERMANY Safari Mac OS says:

    Where can we send you money for your service?
    At least to make you remove the ads…

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  2. i am more concerned with that last point of yours.

    5. Finally, what’s most baffling – and indication that the author of said avert does not understand what Humanities do either – also check

    because everything else.. well it’s advertising. People who do such are quite often far away from such trivial things like facts. It’s not the job of whoever did this to make cloning-dinosaurs look like a good idea or just to not-lie. His job is to get people to study humanities.

    But that last point? That point tells us he totally fucked up what he should accomplish. Whoever paid him and used his work was an idiot (even more so if he works for something university-related, what would suggest that he should be interested in hard sciences and how they are recieved publicly too)

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  3. astine Mozilla Firefox Windows says:

    Luke, I don’t think you read Jurassic Park very well. The whole “science out of control” tends to be dialed up to eleven in Crichton stories. The whole point of the book was was the dinosaurs confounded the expectations of the scientists and surmounted their reasonable safeguards. They attempted control but chaos reigned supreme.

    Giant electric fences: shut down by a disgruntled employee.
    Saline dependency: the dinosaurs change their diets.
    Making all the animals female: they freaking spontaneously change genders.

    In the end we find out that not only did the dinosaurs escape, but that they were out all along and now they’re reeking havoc on the North American ecosystem. The whole point is: you can’t control nature, because you can’t possibly anticipate all of the variables.

    And, you know, to some degree he’s right. Witness the damage of introduced species and some of Monsanto’s self-destructive crops. These result of people doing things that seem totally reasonable and finding out later about the consequences. Of course, it’s a lack of scientific knowledge, not humanities knowledge that’s caused the problem in either case, but that’s beside the point.

    I think the recruiting poster is technically correct, even if it hits all of your hot-buttons Luke. True, good scientists take ethics into account, but good ethicists also take science into account. This doesn’t change the fact that the scientific method is not generally used to address ethical questions. (It’s a well known logical axiom that one cannot argue from an *is* to an *ought* without an implicit *ought*.)

    Sure, they caricature science, but it’s clearly supposed to be humorous.

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  4. vukodlak SERBIA AND MONTENEGRO Google Chrome Mac OS says:

    Well what did you want them to do? Put “Science can tell you how to clone a dinosaur – Humanities can get you a job in McDonalds” doesn’t really sounds all that appealing either :P

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  5. Luke Maciak UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Windows Terminalist says:

    @ Peter:

    I take cash. Put it in an envelope, then go to your local library and find a copy of “A Brave New World” by Huxley. Put the envelope inside, then replace the book on the shelf then head straight to the restroom and wash your hands. A man with a glass eye will enter and ask you whether you have ever seen a sun set over the sea of glass. Tell him “I have paid the tribute” and exit the lavatory.

    Or, I could put up paypal link if you guys would want to give me free money. :)

    @ Dr. Azrael Tod:

    Yep. The worst thing here is that someone in humanities had to commission it and they inadvertently made their own department look bad.

    @ astine:

    Yes and no:

    Giant electric fences: shut down by a disgruntled employee –> that’s partly an HR issue and partly a security and access control clusterfuck. A single employee should not have the capability to sabotage an entire park security system. They fucked up on the logistics and design stage, and then miss-managed their staff. Science did not even enter into equation here.

    The saline dependency and the sex change were oversights. If I remember correctly Hammond was in a rush to open the park to the public – not everything was ready, security was shit, there was a skeleton crew running the show. Plus, no one did long term studies on how these animals are going to behave in the wild and most scientists were not very happy with the whole “let’s make this a tourist trap” side of the project…

    Main object lesson of Jurassic Park is more or less “the fact that it worked in the lab, does not mean it will work in the wild” – which is more or less something that most of us knows and have seen. Also, cutting edge science experiments don’t make good amusement park attractions.

    @ vukodlak:

    I would avoid the whole competition with science angle and play up the real practical benefits of humanities education. Maybe something along the lines of “you will never again lose an argument with a mere mortal” kind of thing. I don’t know if you ever tried to argue with a philosophy major but you quickly notice that:

    - They have a huge vocabulary
    - They will throw Latin at you
    - They will point out all the logical fallacies in your arguments
    - They will condescendingly quote famous philosophers to shoot your points down

    Even if you win the argument, you end up feeling stupid and uneducated. It’s a humbling experience. :P

    Or, if you want to win over the majors for Lit department, mock Twilight. “Tired of the paranormal romance? Try real literature” – insert poignant quotes. I can’t think of any right now, but sometimes you read a sentence in a book and you go:

    “Wow, that’s one sexy turn of motherfucking phrase! Bookmarkd!”

    Put some of these in there. Then again, what do I know – I have neither degree in humanities nor experience in marketing. :P

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  6. Kim Johnsson SWEDEN Google Chrome Windows Terminalist says:

    Dragons don’t exist? :(

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  7. John Hoover UNITED STATES Google Chrome Windows says:

    I wonder if someone in humanities could help you find a sense of humor, or do that do that? maybe you could tell us.

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  8. Bearfoot Mozilla Firefox Windows says:

    And we wonder why scientists have a reputation for being stuck up and humorless.

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  9. McBob Mozilla Firefox Windows says:

    You, sir, are the idiot. It seems that you are unaware that the Humanities includes Ethics, which is the humanity in question being used. You’ve also never heard of hyperbole used to capture people’s attention? It’s a good thing you’re not an advertising exec, because you have no grasp of human nature. That is a very funny ad that will definitely get people interested in that Humanities department.

    And no, Science does not teach Ethics. Ethics is a Humanities class that most Scientists are required to take, so your implication that Science covers Ethics is at best ignorant; at worst fraudulent. There is a lot of different careers paths that people can take in University, but taking the Humanities as a minor is a choice that few people will ever regret.

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  10. Luke Maciak UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Windows Terminalist says:

    Damn, a lot of haters today. Did I get linked in some anti-science publication or something?

    Double standards much guys? So I guess what you are telling me is that when humanities uses hyperbolic exaggeration, and misrepresents scientific method and slanders my field labeling all scientists as unethical and inherently dangerous that’s fine because it’s humorous. When I make a joke post, humorously ranting about said misrepresentation I am suddenly stuck up and humorless? Really?

    McBob wrote:

    There is a lot of different careers paths that people can take in University, but taking the Humanities as a minor is a choice that few people will ever regret.

    Did you miss the entire section where I talked about how much respect I have for people studying humanities, and how I think it is an awesome and very important field to study? I am not putting down humanities. Hell, I personally think that science students should be required to take more literature and philosophy classes because that stuff is important – it makes you grow as a person. I’m trashing a dumb poster which makes scientists look like unethical dipshits, and humanities people like ignorant assholes. It makes us both look bad.

    It’s shit like this why I have such a low opinion about folks in Marketing.

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  11. Lurkerdragon UNITED STATES Internet Explorer Windows says:

    I think someone needs to point this out to you. You’re that guy, the guy people are friends with because they feel sorry for him but don’t really like him because he’s a complete jerk. Please do them a favor and drink some bleach.

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  12. SpyOne Mozilla Firefox Windows says:

    I guess everything has the potential to offend someone.
    Case in point: why do you casually dismiss Communications as a “fake degree”? Is Communications Sciences not a rigorous enough discipline for you? Is Public Speaking not an art form worthy of study, in your opinion?
    My Father taught Communication Sciences for 22 years, and from him I learned the importance of communicating clearly and well.
    If nothing else, he taught me that if I am writing for publication, I should be sure to spell Michael Crichton’s name correctly, and to proof-read my work so I can spot where I used the word “thing” where I meant “think”, which a spellchecker will miss.
    Since you seem to regard writing as a worthy field of study and endeavor, while at the same time dismissing speech as pursuing a “fake degree”, one would think you’d put in the effort to make sure you wrote well. I always do, even if it is just a quick email to family. But then I was raised by someone with s degree in communications.

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  13. Luke Maciak UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Windows Terminalist says:

    @ Lurkerdragon:

    Bwhahaha, U mad bro? What could I have possibly said to offend your tiny, tiny underdeveloped reptilian brain so much?

    @ SpyOne:

    Ah, now we are getting to the bottom of the butthurt. Listen, I mean no offense to you dad – I’m sure he is a wonderful, educated man. I never said that the courses taught under the fold of “communications” are useless. To the contrary, as you said yourself they things like public speaking should be (and usually are) general education requirements at any liberal arts school. Your old man is doing work that is both noble, necessary and useful. I salute him, and if I ever met him I would probably think highly of him – I have nothing but respect for people working in education. It doesn’t really matter what you teach – most college courses are important and useful.

    Now I assume you are new here and you haven’t lurked on this blog before. If you did, you would notice that I use this thing called humor. The elitist science jerk is sort of my go-to shtick. Usually it doesn’t offend people because, well, most of my readers are like minded folks who are in on the joke. Case in point, most of us had a friend in college who failed bunch of science classes, could not cut it in humanities and ended up graduating with a “low barrier to entry” degree in communications, nutrition, phys-ed or business something like that.

    I usually rip on business people for having graduated with fake majors but they don’t care because they are making a lot of money with their degrees (as they should) so an opinion of one internet nerd does not really concern them. Plus they are not that great at reading comprehension… But I can see how communications majors (lovely people as they are) would get upset.

    So listen. Let’s bury the hatchet. I apologize. I did not mean to make unwarranted digs at your degree of choice. I have nothing against communications professors – more power to them. They are doing a great, and their department is indeed necessary. Degrees such as communication are absolutely vital to any college just like a kidney is absolutely vital to a living organism. Without such majors a lot of students would simply flunk out, but instead they can graduate with legitimate 4 year degrees. I think that’s great because during those 4 years they still have to take all kinds of gen-ed requirements – so no matter what they end up as better, more culturally enriched people.

    Oh, and please do not ever take anything I say seriously. You should know better than that.

    Thanks for typo corrections. I really appreciate your proofreading effort. I’m only a human and I make mistakes just like everyone, but I really appreciate when my fans take time out of their busy day to do the difficult job of proofreading my ramblings. :)

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  14. SpyOne Mozilla Firefox Windows says:

    @ Luke Maciak:
    I’m not as offended as maybe I seemed, and I guess I’m not as funny as I thought, either. Which is oddly appropriate. ;)

    And while I might disagree with your science-elitist persona about non-science fields being the easy-button path to a degree, I’d certainly agree that they CAN be. In fact, I think that may be the root cause of a lot of what’s wrong with our schools today:
    If you can’t actually hack it in college, change majors to something where the answers are more subjective. Then, if BSing your way through doesn’t work, you can always just beg the professor to fudge your grade a little, because if you flunk out they’ll draft you and send you to Vietnam where you’ll be killed. So your professor decides that your idiotic interpretation of the material is “interesting” and “thought provoking”, and you get a C.
    This produces a glut of people with degrees, especially degrees is areas where “correct” and “incorrect” are less than clear-cut. The most qualified of them get jobs in the relevant field, and the least qualified of them are qualified to do nothing but teach.
    Don’t get me wrong: a lot of teachers in this country teach because they love it, and would get snapped up in a heartbeat if they wanted to work in their field instead of teaching it. But a lot of other teachers teach because they can’t get/keep work doing anything else that pays as well.

    I wonder if my father ever realized that the people doing a lousy job preparing students for the demands of being a university student (every year he had to send students from ComSci102 back to ENG101-English as a Second Language because they just weren’t up to speed) were the same ones who used to beg him not to flunk them so they could keep their draft deferment.

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  15. This is hilarious. I love you. See you on RSS. XD

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  16. Alfonso El Sabio UNITED STATES Safari Mac OS says:

    … and Art will teach how to DRAW them correctly … (now get off my lawn!)

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  17. accidie AUSTRALIA Google Chrome Windows says:

    @ Luke Maciak:
    Yep, it’s good being a philosopher. However, it’s bad when you discover you’ve inadvertently taught your teenager to argue like one.

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  18. Pingback: Return from the Dead: of Mamoths, Tasmanian tigers and dinosaurs « Gnstr's blog PHP

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