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Opinion

The two
cultures

By Professor Jeya Henry , 02-Jul-2010

Over 50 years ago, Charles Percy Snow CP Snow the acclaimed scientist and novelist, presented his Rede lecture at the University of Cambridge titled 'The two cultures'.

Snow's thesis was that a lack of appreciation and understanding between sciences and humanities led to 'two cultures'. He went on to argue that this chasm was a major impediment in solving some of the global problems.

How have we fared in the intervening half a century in bridging this fissure?

Whilst much progress has been made in melding these disciplines, a great deal still remains to be done.

As the debate on genetically modified crops, nanotechnology, organic foods and health claims re-emerge, they all have one theme in common: the capability to solve some of the global food issues, whilst at the same time, the need to communicate uncertainty and risk to the public. This clearly requires a critical nexus between science and humanities.

As the US astrophysicist and author Carl Sagan once said: "You can get into a habit of thought in which you enjoy making fun of all those other people who don't see things as clearly as you do. We have to guard carefully against it."

Whenever public opinion conflict with scientific fact we must respond with appropriate aplomb. At the heart of liberal education is the view that humans are capable of respecting and responding to others' ideas.

We all have a role to play in this challenge.

Jeya Henry is Professor, Human Nutrition at Oxford Brookes University.
You can email him at:
jhenry@brookes.ac.uk

Jeya is also director of the Functional Food Centre at Oxford Brookes, which is hosting a major conference on functional foods in November. Click here for more details.