Friday, 11 June 2010

Goldacre on humanities graduates

I have some sympathy with each of the following statements individually. But coming together in one article they constitute a pretty relentless attack on "humanities graduates" and do nothing to heal the Two Cultures divide.

They also perpetuate the thoroughly unhelpful stereotype, not just among humanities graduates but also younger people with a leaning to arts, language or social sciences - who considerably outnumber the science fans - that physical scientists are cold, arrogant and superior and regard themselves as almost infallible.

Goldacre's thoughts
“It predictably generated a small flurry of ecstatic pieces from humanities graduates in the media, along the lines of science is made-up, self-aggrandising, hegemony-maintaining, transient fad nonsense;”

“Statistics are what causes the most fear for reporters, and so they are usually just edited out, with interesting consequences. Because science isn't about something being true or not true: that's a humanities graduate parody.”

“But it also reinforces the humanities graduate journalists' parody of science, for which we now have all the ingredients: science is about groundless, incomprehensible, didactic truth statements from scientists, who themselves are socially powerful, arbitrary, unelected authority figures.”

“And humanities graduates in the media, who suspect themselves to be intellectuals, desperately need to reinforce the idea that science is nonsense: because they've denied themselves access to the most significant developments in the history of western thought for 200 years, and secretly, deep down, they're angry with themselves over that.”

All quotes from Goldacre, B., 2005. Don't dumb me down. The Guardian, 8 Sep. Available at:


  1. OK - glib assessments of the capabilities of humanities graduates working in science journalism may be unhelpful and not consistently on the mark. But these quotes are from one article that was published 5 years ago. That's hardly a 'relentless' campaign.

    My own reading of Goldacre's output is that it is largely evidence-based (as in the recent piece criticising Guardian journalist Campbell, which inspired Laurance's critique in The Independent). I don't think he makes any claims to be perfect, though suspect that he enjoys a provocative sense of humour. For my money, his success in getting a national newspaper to run a weekly column on science and statistics is a major achievement in science communication.

  2. Oops - my mistake: Campbell's piece appeared in The Observer. Important to get the facts right!