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Minding the Gap: A Medical School Looks at the Divide Between the Sciences and the Humanities

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Special Issue of Technology in Society Celebrates 50th Anniversary of C.P. Snow's "The Two Cultures and the Scientific Revolution"

NEW YORK (May 19, 2010) — In 1959, noted scientist and novelist C.P. Snow gave the Rede Lecture at the University of Cambridge. His lecture, "The Two Cultures and the Scientific Revolution," called attention to the gap between the sciences and the humanities, and how this divide fractured the academy and undermined its ability to address the world's problems.

In the 50 years since Snow's lecture, universities have often sought to bridge the two-culture divide through academic programs which draw upon both the sciences and humanities. In this tradition of interdisciplinary scholarship, the Division of Medical Ethics at Weill Cornell Medical College is publishing a collection of essays commemorating the 50th anniversary of Snow's lecture in a special issue of the journal Technology in Society. The essays are from an academic seminar conducted last year at the Medical College featuring contributions from leading academics and policymakers from the sciences and humanities.

"C.P. Snow made a much-needed set of observations concerning academia and, while much has changed in the last 50 years, his lessons continue to have resonance. I commend my colleagues at Weill Cornell Medical College for bringing together these valuable perspectives and renewing this important dialogue," says Dr. David J. Skorton, president of Cornell University and a contributor to the publication. "As a university president, one of my top priorities is bridging 'the two cultures.' This is accomplished by encouraging multidisciplinary collaboration, based on the premise that neither knowledge nor solutions to problems fall neatly into specific categories but require broader perspectives."

The special issue was guest edited by Dr. Joseph J. Fins, a physician-ethicist who is chief of the Division of Medical Ethics at Weill Cornell Medical College and professor of medicine, public health and medicine in psychiatry; and Dr. Inmaculada de Melo-Martín, a philosopher who is associate professor of public health at Weill Cornell Medical College. Professors Fins and de Melo-Martín jointly wrote an introductory essay to the collection and contributed essays.

"The central question is how we can achieve a balance between the sciences and the humanities. While that question may never be definitively answered, it is critical that we keep asking it. What is interesting for Weill Cornell Medical College and particularly the Division of Medical Ethics is that the development of bioethics has become a sort of third culture that can help bridge the gap Snow described. Understanding science requires a humanistic lens," Dr. Fins says.

In his essay, Dr. Fins focuses on Snow's 1961 visit to Wesleyan University (Dr. Fins' alma mater) as a fellow at the Center for Advanced Studies in the Liberal Arts, Professions, and Sciences. Dr. Fins notes that Snow's time at Wesleyan warrants examination "because it illuminates his career as a whole while providing a snapshot of the global political and cultural zeitgeist of his times, and illustrates how a liberal arts institution thought to foster dialogue between the disciplines."

In her essay, Dr. de Melo-Martín challenges some of Snow's underlying assumptions about the "two cultures" argument. She notes that the problem is the result of a particular conception of science and scientific knowledge that reduces the knowable to that which is measurable.

"As a philosopher at a medical school, I think that anything we can do to bring about a dialogue between the two cultures is a good thing," Dr. de Melo-Martín says. "Especially if it brings more attention to the humanities."

In addition to pieces by Drs. Skorton, de Melo-Martín and Fins, essays also included contributions from Rodney W. Nichols, president and CEO emeritus of the New York Academy of Sciences; Bruce Jennings, of the Center for Humans and Nature; Stephen R. Latham, of the Yale University Interdisciplinary Center for Bioethics; Stephen G. Post, of the Center for Medical Humanities, Compassionate Care, and Bioethics at Stony Brook University; and Philip Kitcher, of the Department of Philosophy at Columbia University.

The Division of Medical Ethics at Weill Cornell Medical College is in the Departments of Medicine and Public Health.

Weill Cornell Medical College

Weill Cornell Medical College, Cornell University's medical school located in New York City, is committed to excellence in research, teaching, patient care and the advancement of the art and science of medicine, locally, nationally and globally. Physicians and scientists of Weill Cornell Medical College are engaged in cutting-edge research from bench to bedside, aimed at unlocking mysteries of the human body in health and sickness and toward developing new treatments and prevention strategies. In its commitment to global health and education, Weill Cornell has a strong presence in places such as Qatar, Tanzania, Haiti, Brazil, Austria and Turkey. Through the historic Weill Cornell Medical College in Qatar, Cornell University is the first in the U.S. to offer a M.D. degree overseas. Weill Cornell is the birthplace of many medical advances -- including the development of the Pap test for cervical cancer, the synthesis of penicillin, the first successful embryo-biopsy pregnancy and birth in the U.S., the first clinical trial of gene therapy for Parkinson's disease, and most recently, the world's first successful use of deep brain stimulation to treat a minimally conscious brain-injured patient. Weill Cornell Medical College is affiliated with NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital, where its faculty provides comprehensive patient care at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center. The Medical College is also affiliated with the Methodist Hospital in Houston, making Weill Cornell one of only two medical colleges in the country affiliated with two U.S.News & World Report Honor Roll hospitals. For more information, visit

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