In Defense of…Frontiers of Science
Written by Bwog Staff
Welcome to Bwog’s latest feature, “In Defense Of…” Here, a writer defends something that most students consider useless, inferior, or downright loathsome. In doing so, Bwog hopes to bring you a new perspective, and give the subject the appreciation it deserves…or not. In our second offering, J. Bryan Lowder offers some thoughts on a much-discussed and often unloved Core class.
Alaskan Gov. Sarah Palin may soon be “a heartbeat away” from leading the United States. Allegedly, Palin also believes in intelligent design. I hope Matt Damon and I aren’t the only ones who think this is a problem. What may be even more problematic, however, is that Palin is not alone. An August 2006 article in the journal Science found that in 2005, only 40% of Americans accepted the idea of evolution, second in the survey only to Turkey. Far from a simple theological disagreement, the intelligent design movement represents an outright rejection of scientific, rational thought at a time when it is most important.
This brings me to Frontiers. We’ve all heard the joke that Lit Hum and CC are really just preparatory courses for future cocktail parties. Maybe so, but I doubt that any half-sober student can leave those seminars without having been exposed to at least a few life-changing ideas. This “enlightenment by osmosis” is really the point of the Core, and so, while you may not remember how to figure the luminosity of a star (or even what that is), you should leave Frontiers at least having learned how to think scientifically.
Humanities people: I already know what you’re going to say – as an English major, I’m one of you. Frontiers is too hard; it’s not relevant to your intellectual interests; the professors are boring, etc. Science people: from the perspective of a science writer, I also think I understand your point of view. Frontiers is too easy; it’s redundant; the humanities kids are stupid, etc. I suspect that the reality of the situation lies in the middle.
The humanities majors need a dose of rationality every once in a while. They also need to understand what quarks are, why the stars shine, and how babies are made (Tolstoy elides that last bit, you know). I agree that Frontiers may be “too hard” in the sense that, at times, the problem sets tend to obfuscate the more interesting, “big picture” ideas. Other courses, such as Janet Conrad’s Physics for Poets or Amber Miller’s Intro to Cosmology, would be good models for improvement. As for the professors, you have to realize that scientists generally find it difficult to communicate their ideas to the layperson, hence the need for science writers. I would bet, however, that using your well-honed close-reading skills you could distill the salient points from a lecture.
The science kids need to step-back from the equations from time to time and really think about the concepts that underlie their work. Perhaps it is redundant, but so are a lot of things. Artists still have to take Art Hum—welcome to Columbia. As for the humanities students’ stupidity, just remember that their tax dollars will be funding your experiment one day, so you had better get them on board now.
The point is this: just as everyone benefits from reading Hegel, everyone is better for having sat through Helfand. Frontiers may not be as intellectually exciting as shooting wolves from a helicopter, but taking it will make you a more informed, rational thinker. And let’s face it; some of you will eventually be in Palin’s place. Do you really want Matt Damon trash-talking you?