Sheril in the New York Times

By Chris Mooney | June 3, 2008 1:59 pm

Following a Natalie Angier story about a science and humanities blending curriculum at Binghamton University, Sheril wrote in to the paper–and actually got published. Here’s what she had to say:

As the product of an interdisciplinary graduate program, I cannot overemphasize the value of opportunities like Binghamton University’s New Humanities Initiative.

Years after receiving my degree, I continue to inhabit the space between the sciences and humanities as a scientist at Duke working on environmental policy and as a science writer.

Experience has taught me neither field can be addressed comprehensively through a single lens, and we make the greatest strides and forge new directions through the convergence of people and philosophies.

Sheril R. Kirshenbaum
Durham, N.C.

Amen to that….here’s to more combinatorial, interdisciplinary personalities like Sheril–we sorely need them.


Comments (10)

  1. Walker

    Humanties are crucial to performing top quality research in the sciences (I am strong believer that every mathematics major be required to take a course in epistemology). But isn’t this what an undergraduate liberal arts education supposed to be about? If we at the university did our job properly at the undergraduate level, why should this be necessary at the graduate level? What is it about this material that makes it inappropriate for the undergraduate level?

    Being a writer is crucial to being a professional scientist. But if it is just a matter of writing, then this work sounds more remedial than interdisciplinary to me.

    In my mind, graduate school is not so much about learning new scientific material (theoretically, a liberal arts education should have gotten you to the point where you can do this on your own). It is more about learning to contribute meaningfully to the body of scientific material.

  2. Congratulations on getting published, and a hearty “well said!” to the letter itself.

  3. Yay, Sheril. Well said indeed.

  4. Thanks Chris et. al.

    All I can say about getting some ink in the Times is that I’m honored. And obviously, learning from the best đŸ˜‰

  5. Dark Tent

    In light of all the BS on WMD, aluminum tubes and the like that the NY Times printed that was used as a rationale for invasion of Iraq, the editorial page would seem to be the only thing of any value in the NY Times.

  6. Linda

    Beautifully written, let it resonate…

  7. Chris,
    First, I’ll add my congradulations to my Roomie. She does good work.

    Second, I’d like to address Walker’s thesis: Yes, a quality liberal arts education both can, and should do everything Sheril describes in her letter, and the NY Times describes in its article. Unfortunately, many larger state univerisities have moved so far away from an integrated liberal arts focus that graduuate schools have to readd this to the curriculum. If an undergraduate at a school over more then 4000 students get an interdisciplinary focus in their Bachelor’s program, iti is usually as a freshmen, and then academic specialization takes over. By the time they graduate four years later, they have long ago forgotten the cross-disciplinary topics they were discussing.

    So if graduate schools need to bring back that focus, I’m ok with it. At least someone is.

  8. The University of Florida has recently undergone a budget contraction of historic proportions. Sadly, it is the humanities that have received the heaviest blow from the budget cuts. As a scientist who has developed and fostered interdisciplinary programs, I am convinced that this form of administrative myopia is guaranteed to produce mediocrity. Interdisciplinary science programs, especially those including a role for the humanities, are the future of the modern university. At UF, the academy has been deconstructed to a single metric: research dollars. Such a narrow definition of scholarship is ultimately antithetical to creativity and innovation. Moreover, science and technology lack context and ethics if not developed with the guideposts provided by history, philosophy and literature.

    Unfortunately, I see a trend among the putatively state supported institutions to devalue the humanities in favor of science supported by donors, corporations, and private foundations. Without the objective freedom allowed by public dollars, the academy will continue to be progressively beholding to vested interests who are willing to pay for programs and targeted research, especially those likely to result in patents and copyrights. Increasingly, state lawmakers acquiesce to, or even champion, the politically popular notion that universities should be able to pay their own way. In the end this will result generations of graduates without the capacity to think critically about their values.


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About Chris Mooney

Chris is a science and political journalist and commentator and the author of three books, including the New York Times bestselling The Republican War on Science--dubbed "a landmark in contemporary political reporting" by and a "well-researched, closely argued and amply referenced indictment of the right wing's assault on science and scientists" by Scientific American--Storm World, and Unscientific America: How Scientific Illiteracy Threatens Our Future, co-authored by Sheril Kirshenbaum. They also write "The Intersection" blog together for Discover blogs. For a longer bio and contact information, see here.


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