Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Science Must Learn From The Humanities

The other day I was teaching about the cell cycle and mitosis, when a colleague of mine who teaches history walked in and saw the whiteboard. "Wow, this is so technical," he said, "I just teach history." Assuming that he thought that history was less important than biology, I seized the moment and reminded him of the crucial role of historians. Scientists create technologies that improve life, but historians remind scientists not to destroy the world with that technology -- we call them "whistle blowers." 

The scary thing is that history repeats itself. Nuclear energy is great, but then we now have nuclear weapons. Biotechnology is great, but now we have exquisitely refined chemical and biological warfare. Chemical engineering is great for extracting oil and natural gas from the ground, but unregulated hydrofracking pollutes the environment and causes cancer (1) in those who live nearby. You see, science is just a tool. How humans use science is what makes it great or terrible.  

My recent editorial (2) for Cancer InCytes magazine discusses some lessons we learned from reading the historical accounts of a Nazi concentration camp during World War II. These concentration camps not only killed millions of people, they were places where cruel and unethical medical experiments were done on prisoners (3). 

As a science teacher, it's my job to help my students understand science and to move along the course -- if they so choose later on -- of becoming a scientist. If they don't learn to respect the value of the humanities (i.e. literature, history, sociology, etc.), then they risk becoming scientists who wield science in a very destructive way. 


[1] Karen J. Miller. PREVENTION IS THE CURE. Cancer InCytes 2012, 2(1):e.

[2] David H. Nguyen. CAN MORALITY BE LEGISLATED? Cancer InCytes 2013, 2(2):e. 

[3] Methodist Hospital, Houston (2012, December 6). Survivor of Nazi 'twin experiments' talks to doctors about human subjects research. 

Category: Lessons From Science

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