Science, Maths & Technology

Are two cultures a bad thing?

Updated Tuesday 5th April 2005

Derek's response to the first lecture of the 2005 series of Reith lectures

Lord Broers makes a number of points in his lecture: that we underrate the influence technology has had in shaping the past; that we underestimate the power it has in shaping our future; that technology has been, and will be, overwhelmingly, an influence for the good. In all of these it seems, to me at least, that he is right.

He also makes another point, however, about which I am not sure. That is, he seems to think that scientists ought to communicate their knowledge to the public, and that the public ought to pay attention to such knowledge.

One reason which he gives for this is that it will help to dislodge the unjustified suspicion the public has of technology.

Section of a jet engine [Image: MujtabaTM under CC-BY-NC licence] Creative commons image Icon MujtabaTM via Flickr under Creative-Commons license
Section of a jet engine [Image: MujtabaTM under CC-BY-NC licence]

Running through the lecture there is the thought that this lack of knowledge is, in itself, a fault. In this, he echoes CP Snow’s lecture, The Two Cultures, which bemoaned the fact that while scientists are expected to know their Shakespeare, those in the arts are not expected to know – and generally don’t know – the second law of thermodynamics.

I side with those (such as FR Leavis) who think Snow was wrong. What is important about technology is that it works and that people make good use of it.

For neither of these is it necessary that people know how how it works. What is important about Shakespeare and music is that they are appreciated with understanding. So it is important that people know their Shakespeare, but not important that they know the second law of thermodynamics, or how a telephone, or indeed a jet engine, works.

It is important that someone knows how they work (otherwise we would not have them) but I can’t see why we all should.

Further Reading

The Two Cultures debate - a collection of weblinks exploring the Snow-Leavis controversy in greater depth

The Two Cultures and the Scientific Revolution
CP Snow, Cambridge University Press

Other responses to this lecture

 

For further information, take a look at our frequently asked questions which may give you the support you need.

Have a question?

Other content you may like

BSE and vCJD: Their biology and management Copyrighted image Icon Copyright: Used with permission free course icon Level 2 icon

Science, Maths & Technology 

BSE and vCJD: Their biology and management

The furore surrounding the so-called 'mad cow' diseases is an important and controversial episode of recent years. Although it peaked several years ago, the topic is still of great medical significance, influencing the way the public thinks about and experiences science and scientists. All of which is touched upon in in this free course, BSE and vCJD: their biology and management.

Free course
15 hrs
Reith 2005: The Triumph of Technology - Working Together: The need for collaboration Copyrighted image Icon Copyright: BBC article icon

TV, Radio & Events 

Reith 2005: The Triumph of Technology - Working Together: The need for collaboration

Lord Broers takes on the subject of collaboration for his second lecture - but what do our team make of his views?

Article
What is technology? Copyrighted image Icon Copyright: BBC article icon

Science, Maths & Technology 

What is technology?

It might seem a straightforward question, but technology is about more than gadgets and gizmos as Andy Lane explains

Article
Reith 2005: The Triumph of Technology - Nanotechnology and nanoscience Copyrighted image Icon Copyright: BBC article icon

TV, Radio & Events 

Reith 2005: The Triumph of Technology - Nanotechnology and nanoscience

Lord Broers suggests that the future of technology lies in a very, very small direction indeed.

Article
Reith 2005: The Triumph of Technology - Technology will determine the future of the human race Copyrighted image Icon Copyright: BBC article icon

TV, Radio & Events 

Reith 2005: The Triumph of Technology - Technology will determine the future of the human race

In the first of his Reith Lectures series, Lord Alec Broers suggests that technology will determine the future of the human race. Do our experts agree?

Article
A partial history of OU adventures in lego engineering Copyrighted image Icon Copyright: The Open University article icon

Science, Maths & Technology 

A partial history of OU adventures in lego engineering

Radio 4's More or Less looked at the force required to crush Lego bricks. Tony Hirst digs through 20 years of Lego at the OU...

Article

Science, Maths & Technology 

Design Behind the Bike

The Design Behind the Bike Series explores the effect of science and technology on cycling and explores how the development in technology has changed bike design and build over the last 100 years. The series of five films explores the development of technology, components, materials and innovation used to build and design new bicycles for the current market. The series includes the history of the bicycle, Materials explores the products available to build bicycles, Frame Design looks at the developments in design techniques, the Wheels film explores the different components and their structure and Aesthetics looks at what influences the designer and the consumer. The films form part of the Open University Course T317 and T174

Video
45 mins
Taxes and privacy: A tech business reading list Creative commons image Icon Quagmire's Photos under Creative Commons BY-ND 4.0 license audio icon

Science, Maths & Technology 

Taxes and privacy: A tech business reading list

Tax judgements, privacy concerns, wonky algorithms, Labour's digital plans and antitrust worries. OpenLearn brings you a quick guide to a busy day of technology stories.

Audio
5 mins
Cyberwar: Transcript Copyrighted image Icon Copyright: The Open University article icon

Science, Maths & Technology 

Cyberwar: Transcript

Can we protect ourselves against a cyberattack? Digital Planet tried to find out, as this full transcript records.

Article