Are you up for the fight? An arts critic for science

“It’s always wise to start that discussion by stating that Newton’s laws of motion and Darwinian evolution aren’t merely examples of western hegemony,”

writes Philip Ball in today’s Guardian, and adds:

“I’m going to try to be like an arts critic, but for science. There are all sorts of questions to ask about science, beyond whether it’s correct or not.”

And right he is! But he will be well advised to tread carefully, because this topic is a mine field. Sokal affair, anyone?

The author of the column is Philip Ball, a science writer from London. He entertains two blogs, one of which —homunculus: postings from the interface of science and culture— seems to be closer to the topic of his Guardian column than the other on water in biology.

Already with his first article –that I found balanced and well argued– Ball attracted over 80 comments, most of them negative, ironic, or plainly dismissive: “Looking forward to reading about the new spring collection of lab coats,” writes one commentator, who seems to have real trouble seeing any connection between science and art.

In my very first post on Feyerabend’s The Tyranny of Science, I have already discussed the arrogance scientists can display towards the humanities.

I am really looking forward to how Ball’s columns will develop. Good luck! You will need it …


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6 thoughts on “Are you up for the fight? An arts critic for science

  1. You write:

    ‘In my very first post on Feyerabend’s The Tyranny of Science, I have already discussed the arrogance scientists can display towards the humanities.’

    Perhaps if ‘the humanities’ displayed even the slightest interest in actually understanding the bits of science they are so often commenting on in, for example, the national press, and if their ignorance didn’t have such huge social impact (BSE, Climate Change, MMR, anything to do with ‘radiation’ be it from mobile phone masts or leaking nuclear plants).

    My experience of scientists tends to find them better read in, for example, fiction or art or music then a literary critic or writer will be in even simple chemistry or biology.

    So perhaps if the humanities stop dismissing science as something unpopular & uncreative people do and actually bothered learning about how, for example, their computer works, there may be some more common ground.


  2. Dear Ky,

    thank you very much for your comment.

    I have a degree in philosophy and now do computational research in cancer biomedicine, and thus know people from both camps. Many of my scientist friends are very well read; many of my friends in philosophy and political science are up-to-date with scientific developments — personally I don’t see a huge cultural gap, rather a lot of common ground: most of my friends in biology would be very hard pressed indeed to explain how their computers works, just like the philosophers and sociologists.

    The only thing I do observe – and your comment is a very good example – is the arrogance science-minded people often display towards ‘the humanities’ (without specifying which one they are referring to).

    Kind regards,


    1. Thanks for replying Florian. My responses:

      You were first to use the term humanities without specifying which you refer to.

      I’m a Politics & Economics graduate with an ongoing interest in science who works in IT Training & Technical Support. My academic background is pretty much purely humanities and my knowledge & interest in science is solely grounded in personal interest in the subject. Far from being science biased/minded I’m as soft & roundly headed as anyone who’s studied polisci & sociology for a while 😉


    1. Yeah, that is a pretty awful example of pig-headedness from a scientist! Still, it’s easily outweighed by the ignorance displayed in any column by Simon Jenkins that comes within 1000 miles of science. Altho tbf that applies to almost any topic Jenkins approaches 😉

      I did find this illuminating though:

      ‘What’s bothering Feyerabend is not rationality per se but an overkill of rationality that leads to dogmatism and complete abstraction’

      I think this is a universal flaw of life lived solely in the academy in any given subject!


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