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Why Engineering Freshmen Should Take Humanities Courses

Soulskill posted about a year ago | from the need-to-sleep-some-time dept.

Education 564

Lasrick sends in an article from John Horgan at Scientific American explaining why he thinks engineering freshmen should make a bit of space in their course-load for the humanities. Quoting: "But it is precisely because science is so powerful that we need the humanities now more than ever. In your science, mathematics and engineering classes, you're given facts, answers, knowledge, truth. Your professors say, 'This is how things are.' They give you certainty. The humanities, at least the way I teach them, give you uncertainty, doubt and skepticism. The humanities are subversive. They undermine the claims of all authorities, whether political, religious or scientific. This skepticism is especially important when it comes to claims about humanity, about what we are, where we came from, and even what we can be and should be. Science has replaced religion as our main source of answers to these questions. Science has told us a lot about ourselves, and we’re learning more every day. But the humanities remind us that we have an enormous capacity for deluding ourselves."

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Oh, gag me. (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44109653)

The humanities are subversive. They undermine the claims of all authorities,

BULLSHIT.

The "humanities" in modern American academia are so fucking orthodox they might as well be called the "government worship department."

Re:Oh, gag me. (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44109751)

haha yeah, my thoughts exactly, not just in the USA either.

Humanities = bunch of wankers who have no interest in science.

Re:Oh, gag me. (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44109773)

but they do introduce Engineers mainly male engineers to to girls something that normally dosnt happen much briefly.

Re:Oh, gag me. (0, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44109891)

but they do introduce Engineers mainly male engineers to to girls something that normally dosnt happen much briefly.

If by girl you mean a female body with an empty head that acts like a flower pot, you might have a point.

Re: Oh, gag me. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44110093)

That's doesn't mean you can't have fun with them. All my engineering classmates are so damn boring to hang out with as we'll as poor wingmen.

Re:Oh, gag me. (0)

SerpentMage (13390) | about a year ago | (#44109821)

I agree and this is why we have Fox News. People questioning everything and putting a tin foil hat on everything. It is utterly amazing these days that no matter what the fact presented there is somebody there saying, "no wait this is wrong it is X". And this effen X is so out in never never land that you have to ask yourself WTF! As another poster wrote we need to get back some Critical Thinking classes not humanity classes.

Here is what this guy said:

"We live in a world increasingly dominated by science. "

BULLSHIT! Going back to my original point, people are asking all sorts of stupid science questions. Take the example of man made global warming. This is a huge debate and I understand what is going on. BUT NO... we must continue to debate! We must continue to do nothing, nada, zip, zilch! Here is the irony, IMO climate change is one of the first things in my mind that we humans on a global scale have decided to stick our heads in the sand and chant "kumbaya". I am not saying use only electrical vehicles. I am saying are we prepared against floods, hurricanes, and so on. Looking at the world I would say, "no we are not." That is the irony in this entire debate. We are not dominated by science, but irrationality and because we feel it in our gut.

Re:Oh, gag me. (5, Interesting)

mwvdlee (775178) | about a year ago | (#44109951)

"We live in a world increasingly dominated by science. "

That's like saying "We live in a world increasingly dominated by reality".
If science doesn't match reality, than it's not science (or atleast the specific scientific theory is broken).
Humanities is religion for people who don't believe in a deity.

Re:Oh, gag me. (1)

VortexCortex (1117377) | about a year ago | (#44110079)

"We live in a world increasingly dominated by science. "

That's like saying "We live in a world increasingly dominated by reality".

That's like saying, "We don't live in a world increasingly dominated by unreality." -- An increase of those graduating with degrees in the humanities vs sciences would tend to prove this statement false.

Re:Oh, gag me. (1)

Intrepid imaginaut (1970940) | about a year ago | (#44110085)

Agreed.

Re:Oh, gag me. (4, Interesting)

Jane Q. Public (1010737) | about a year ago | (#44110097)

"Humanities is religion for people who don't believe in a deity."

I think it's the other way around. I think majors in the humanities should take some engineering courses... like some basic math, and formal logic.

Then maybe "the common man" would have a little bit better basis to assess what effect "science" issues are having on them, on society, on government.

GP brings up the subject of AGW, and that's a great example. A great many folks have no way of evaluating what's being said, so they just pick a source to go with, whether that's Scientific American (just for example) or Fox News, or (far worse than Fox, according to a recent Pew study) MSNBC.

I'm not taking sides here. I'm just saying that's not informed decision making.

Re:Oh, gag me. (3, Insightful)

sg_oneill (159032) | about a year ago | (#44110007)

I agree and this is why we have Fox News. People questioning everything and putting a tin foil hat on everything.

And anyone who's done a humanities course in media knows that, and in fact where probably the first to start pointing out that there is absurd shit coming out of the television right now.

Don't shoot the messenger dude. Fox news was a frigging case study in media abuse in our department long before the wider population started noticing that stuff was not right.

Re:Oh, gag me. (3, Insightful)

Karmashock (2415832) | about a year ago | (#44110013)

Yep.

The sad thing is that they COULD be all those things but they're not.

They don't even encourage freedom of thought or expression. Its all the same memorize that, repeat this, agree with this position or lose points. Its worse then science because science is at least objective.

The humanities are by their nature SUBjective but are frequently taught as if they are objective without providing any means of testing or disproving anything.

In science, 1 person can disagree with 1,000,000 people and be right. And be proven right. And have his name go down there after as the guy that was right when everyone else told him he was wrong.

Can you do that in the humanities? Nope. Being right or wrong is mostly a popularity contest. Its politics.

Re:Oh, gag me. (4, Interesting)

solidraven (1633185) | about a year ago | (#44110099)

Don't forget the stereotype wannabe communists!

I agree engineering students should get some basic classes on economy and maybe one on communication so they stop making awful presentations. But psychology, sociology, etc., hell no! First of all, it should be the other way around. I have yet to meet a research psychologist that actually uses statistics correctly. And political science and philosophy majors tend to lose flat-out in debates against engineering students, simply because the latter knows how to analyse the situation correctly. Engineering is more about analysing problems, seeing the possible solutions for said problems and then implementing them. Arguing and being sceptic is based on the same premises. So in fact it should be the other way around.

If it's the other way around it might also make more of them fail, reducing the over-supply of humanities majors.

Re:Oh, gag me. (1)

Jawnn (445279) | about a year ago | (#44110167)

The humanities are subversive. They undermine the claims of all authorities,

BULLSHIT.

The "humanities" in modern American academia are so fucking orthodox they might as well be called the "government worship department."

This after conducting an exhaustive survey of "modern American academia's" humanities offerings, I suppose. Oh... no? Well then. Let me offer my own observation. Yes, it's equally provincial, but hey, you opened that door....
At the university _I_ attended, even the science and engineering departments had a fair share of skepticism, especially when it came to orthodox "authorities".
You might want to be a little more careful in your sweeping generalizations. More to the point, you might want to work on your logic. Just because your academic experience was light on humanities does not mean that they are not "subversive". That's rather the point of TFA - that academia, particularly science and engineering tracks, needs more of that.

Better idea: (5, Informative)

TheEyes (1686556) | about a year ago | (#44109661)

Scientists should take courses on Rational Thinking [lesswrong.com] . That's basically what you're after here, and it has the advantage of specifically targetting the problems you are trying to address, rather than taking the shotgun approach and trying to get every STEM student to become a Renaissance Man.

Re:Better idea: (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44109709)

Ideally that's what science courses are.

Re:Better idea: (2, Insightful)

SerpentMage (13390) | about a year ago | (#44109865)

No, that is not correct.

Science is about experiments and replication. Rational Thinking or Critical Thinking is the ability to dissect the topic and apply a rational thought behind it. This is not about repeatability or being lead by the facts. This is about being able to make decisions when the facts are too fuzzy to come to a real conclusion.

Take the theory of evolution. It sounds good, but outside of a few simple examples (real life encounters replicated) it has not been proven. Yes we see the bones, but for all purposes this could be creationism. Before you yell, that is BS, the question is how do you know it is BS? This is where critical thinking comes it. It allows you to accept the theory of creationism and then build arguments against it using rational arguments. For all we know it might be possible that there is a god that did this, though the probability is quite small. BTW don't believe I am for creationism. I am not, but I also understand in this case it is critical thinking that needs to stand up, not science, since the science is still incomplete.

Don't believe me in this? Look back at the theory of tectonics. Until about 60 years science believed A, and kept on believing A. Even when presented with other facts science believed A. Then somebody came along and said B in a very strong manner, and people had to admit that A was wrong even though their science said it was right. This is an example where we need more critical and rational thinking skills.

Re:Better idea: (3, Insightful)

Sique (173459) | about a year ago | (#44110035)

Take the theory of evolution. It sounds good, but outside of a few simple examples (real life encounters replicated) it has not been proven.

Beside the fact that scientific theories can't be proven, we have a pretty good record of being right due to the theory of Evolution. It makes some specific, testable claims. For instance, it claims that you will have homologue organs (organs developping from the same part of the developing embryo) in species that are related, and analogue organs (organs fullfilling similar tasks, but develop from different parts of the embryo) in species that are not. Take for instance the fluke of whales and the tail fin of fishes. They are analogue organs, but develop from different parts of the embryo. The fluke develops from the part of the embryo that normally creates legs, and the tail fin comes from the end of the spine. Thus, fishes and whales are not directly related, and at least one has ancestors that didn't have anything compareable with a tail fin (the cow-like predecessors of whales). Tail fin and fluke are thus analogues, but not homologues.

Thanks to the theory of Evolution we have a pretty good idea what kinds of fossils we can expect to find, and where. It's for instance quite unlikely to ever find the remainings of sixlegged vertebrae, or insects with a lung.

Re:Better idea: (1)

sonamchauhan (587356) | about a year ago | (#44110121)

Or that a skilled designer used common, non-unique internal design features for his creations that are related... Like Ikea furniture

Talking about design features, consider the same relative size of the sun and moon (the ring of fire during an eclipse). Crazy coincidence, planetary evolutionary or design feature?

Re:Better idea: (4, Insightful)

beelsebob (529313) | about a year ago | (#44109725)

In your science, mathematics and engineering classes, you're given facts, answers, knowledge, truth. Your professors say, 'This is how things are.' They give you certainty.

Humanist misunderstands what Science and the Scientific method are, tells us we need to be taught to question things, when the entire basis of the field is questioning things, and never believing anything to be fact, knowledge or truth.

Re:Better idea: (1)

AdamWill (604569) | about a year ago | (#44109765)

"Every week, hockey-playing science writer John Horgan takes a puckish, provocative look at breaking science. A teacher at Stevens Institute of Technology, Horgan is the author of four books, including The End of Science (Addison Wesley, 1996) and The End of War (McSweeney's, 2012)"

Re:Better idea: (5, Insightful)

mjwx (966435) | about a year ago | (#44109787)

In your science, mathematics and engineering classes, you're given facts, answers, knowledge, truth. Your professors say, 'This is how things are.' They give you certainty.

Humanist misunderstands what Science and the Scientific method are, tells us we need to be taught to question things, when the entire basis of the field is questioning things, and never believing anything to be fact, knowledge or truth.

So what you're saying is that 1st year Humanists need to take an engineering course?

I'd definitely agree with that.

Re:Better idea: (1)

Dahamma (304068) | about a year ago | (#44109837)

I'm not saying I agree with everything the guy says (and he clearly thinks his point is much more insightful than it really is), but I also can't say I ever REMOTELY saw any attempt in *freshman* math or physics classes to question what was taught...

And, whether you agree with it or not, he addresses your exact point in his last 2 paragraphs. Might want to read to the end next time before commenting on his "understanding"...

Re:Better idea: (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44110195)

I ever REMOTELY saw any attempt in *freshman* math or physics classes to question what was taught...

I did..it was done in a place called a laboratory where claims made in lectures could be tested in numerous and varying ways. Obviously you didn't 'get' what lab work was about, supposing you actually did any...

Re:Better idea: (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44109915)

Humanist misunderstands what Science and the Scientific method are

The certainty of science demonstrated in the the above statement.
The problem is the delusion that the scientific method protects us from bias.
The same certainty that sustained eugenics as a scientific discipline for decades.

Re:Better idea: (1)

IRWolfie- (1148617) | about a year ago | (#44109943)

Yes, someone who thinks science professors say things like "This is how things are" and expects science students to just accept it, have never been a university science undergraduate.
It's more like the professor suggests something then everyone questions the idea if it's not apparent where it came from.

Re:Better idea: (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44110041)

Humanist misunderstands what Science and the Scientific method are, tells us we need to be taught to question things, when the entire basis of the field is questioning things, and never believing anything to be fact, knowledge or truth.

And yet here I sit, an engineer, who questions everything. That stuff they taught you as "fact" in high school... becomes a rough approximation when you get to university level. That stuff they taught you as "fact" in your first year physics class... becomes a rough approximation compared to your fourth year physics class. So on it goes.

If scientists and engineers never questioned "facts" we would never advance. Remember, "science" told the people the world was flat until a few hundred years ago. The earth was the centre of the known universe until a couple of hundred years ago. The atom was an indivisible unit until 80 years ago. Protons and neutrons were the indivisible unit until 40-odd years ago.

Nothing is "fact" - yet. When everything is "fact" there will be no more questions, and that will be a mighty boring time.

Re:Better idea: (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44110091)

Humanist misunderstands what Science and the Scientific method are, tells us we need to be taught to question things, when the entire basis of the field is questioning things, and never believing anything to be fact, knowledge or truth.

In principle, yes. In practice, not nearly enough. Go read "Cargo Cult Science", and where Feynmann claims we've learned in the meantime... really? Go check the assumptions.

Especially in "hard science" fields like computer science, especially especially in the "security research" part, go try and find proper use of scientific method. Most "reports" and "papers" by "researchers" employed by vendors are really just vehicles for FUD in a nicely respectable white coat sauce.

Still and all, I don't disagree with the premise that engineers need a little humanity. Hard sciences have a tendency to become myopic in dehumanising ways. There's also a broader problem of too many PhDs [slashdot.org] and too much overspecialisation, but let us not digress.

Re:Better idea: (3, Insightful)

Dahamma (304068) | about a year ago | (#44109741)

Wait, you think taking a few survey courses in non-technical subjects is molding a student into a "Renaissance Man?" I can't even imagine how horribly boring you must be in any social function...

There is NOTHING wrong with an engineer learning about history, religion, literature, psychology, etc, as long as - which is what the article points out - you approach it with a sense of uncertainty, doubt, and skepticism. In fact, I find it patently absurd that anyone who considers themself remotely intelligent or rational could argue breadth of knowledge is a bad thing.

Re:Better idea: (3, Insightful)

IRWolfie- (1148617) | about a year ago | (#44109957)

You aren't doing a degree in engineering to learn about "history, religion, literature, psychology", so yes if it takes away from your engineering subjects it is a bad thing.

Re:Better idea: (3, Informative)

Pseudonym Authority (1591027) | about a year ago | (#44110087)

No. It's called a University for a reason. The entire point of assembling a wide array of experts in many fields in one place is so that ideas between them can be easily exchanged. If you want to only study one thing, go to a trade school to be a plumber or something.

Re:Better idea: (1)

IRWolfie- (1148617) | about a year ago | (#44110191)

You are mistaken if you think universities are organised solely so that people of completely different disciplines can interact. Maybe that was true to an extent in the 13th century, but it sure isn't now. Why do you think that universities are arranged into schools and departments around specific expertise? It is so that relevant experts can be gathered together.
Undergraduate students go to university to pick up expertise in fairly narrow and specific topic areas. If you want to become a jack of all trades stick to high-school.

Re:Better idea: (2)

Sique (173459) | about a year ago | (#44110211)

Actually, it does not take you away from your engineering subjects. History of engineering itself is a wonderful topic, and it helps you to understand many of today's building codes and regulations. And the history of engineering can only be understood if you know about the intellectual climate at different points in time, the barocque idea of Nature being an immense and intricate clockwork, for instance.

Re:Better idea: (2)

Intrepid imaginaut (1970940) | about a year ago | (#44110043)

There is NOTHING wrong with an engineer learning about history, religion, literature, psychology, etc, as long as - which is what the article points out - you approach it with a sense of uncertainty, doubt, and skepticism. In fact, I find it patently absurd that anyone who considers themself remotely intelligent or rational could argue breadth of knowledge is a bad thing.

Shouldn't the well rounded stuff have been dealt with in high school?

Re:Better idea: (1)

Pseudonym Authority (1591027) | about a year ago | (#44110113)

That teaches you the basics, and ideally it should teach critical thought, but it does not and cannot do so on the same level as an education whose goal is not to teach facts, but to expand the mind. High school is for learning basic algebra, that everyone needs to know (even drug dealers had better know how to convert grams to ounces to kilos, etc...). Higher education is supposed to require a truer understanding (though it also fails at this all too often). Sure, any high school student can tell you that Oedipus murdered his father and fucked his mother, but could they give you a better answer as to why he gouged his eyes than `cuz he fukd hiz mom dats gross as shit dude!'?

Re:Better idea: (1)

IRWolfie- (1148617) | about a year ago | (#44110223)

I think you are underestimating the average high school educated person with a sweeping generalisation. The average high school student is not a club-wielding troglodyte.

Re:Better idea: (1)

Pseudonym Authority (1591027) | about a year ago | (#44109849)

Yudkowsky is an arrogant cunt. Don't listen to him.

Should take law (5, Interesting)

anarcobra (1551067) | about a year ago | (#44109669)

Engineering students should take courses in law so they can have some idea how to avoid legal problems.
Also, it could give us some lawyers who actually know what they are talking about.

Re:Should take law (5, Informative)

SerpentMage (13390) | about a year ago | (#44109761)

We do in Canada. Granted the course was a simple introduction, but it sure helped me understand the legal system and its underpinnings.

Re:Should take law (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44109863)

Yep, nothing like a litigating engineer!

Re:Should take law (5, Interesting)

Vintermann (400722) | about a year ago | (#44109897)

Law students should take courses in statistics, statistical modelling, and applied statistics in the social sciences. So that they avoid elementary mistakes like the prosecutor's fallacy [wikipedia.org] , and so they could systematically identify biases in their own profession.

Re:Should take law (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44109931)

There are places where this is practised. As an undergrad at a technical university, I went thorough a semester of Civil Law with elements of Labour Code and Copyright Law. There was also two semesters lecture on Economics.

I would have thought it more important (5, Insightful)

Chrisq (894406) | about a year ago | (#44109671)

I would have thought it more important that humanities students take a basic science and engineering course, so they at least have some understanding of how things work, scientific method, and what a theory is. I think the idea that scepticism comes from humanities rather than science is a joke, and shows a complete misunderstanding of falsifiability and Karl Popper [wikipedia.org] 's work on the philosophy of science.

Re:I would have thought it more important (1)

Intrepid imaginaut (1970940) | about a year ago | (#44109715)

Yes! This! A thousand times this! PLEASE let me never have to deal with anyone who thinks some contrived term someone pulled out of their bottom to create the tools to describe an invented social-philosophical-literary issue is as worthy as a differential equation again.

Re:I would have thought it more important (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44109733)

I agree. Letting engineering students focus solely on engineering courses, and humanities students focus solely on the humanities show a close-minded and narrow focus.

At the time I didn't recognise its value, but my university had 4 mandatory humanities courses from the first semester. Writing and Literature, World History, Ethics, and the last one varied depending on the professor you had, I got Political Sciences. Way back then the only non-engineering career taught at my school was Business Administration, and I think they also had the Humanities requirements there; nowadays they teach Law and a few other things, I haven't kept up with it.

Point being, keeping solely to subjects and courses on your field of study for the ultimate goal of getting a job is kinda like min-maxing...except that in real life it's not a good thing.

People that do, could be missing out on something really great stuff that they might enjoy, and many years down the road it might even be a career-limiting factor.

Re:I would have thought it more important (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44109827)

I find it a bit ludicrous that Slashbots believe engineers are taught anything resembling the scientific method.

Re:I would have thought it more important (1)

Vintermann (400722) | about a year ago | (#44109903)

You do know that Karl Popper was a humanities professor, right?

Re:I would have thought it more important (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44109945)

If there is one reason why an engineering (or maths &c.) student should take a humanities course, it is to first-hand witness how unscientific most of the field which guides many (political and company) policy decisions really is. Out of necessity, I recently had to read up on several different humanities fields, including psychology, sociology and pedagogy, and I was flabbergasted both by fields vacuity and by the scope of its apparent influence.

Re:I would have thought it more important (1)

Jawnn (445279) | about a year ago | (#44110199)

I would have thought it more important that divinitystudents take a basic science and engineering course, so they at least have some understanding of how things work, scientific method, and what a theory is.

TFTFY.
Please do not conflate the mindless adherence to religious dogma with open-minded wonder and the pursuit of the answers arising therefrom. Religion pretends to know the unknowable. Humanities disciplines offer something quite different, and that something can be of tremendous value to the scientist. It did set Bacon on his path, after all.

Or ... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44109683)

Why Humanities Freshmen Should Take Any Courses BUT Humanities:

1. to stop saying BS and pretend you serve a purpose.
2. goto 1

Humanities can't explain the need for humanities (4, Interesting)

blarkon (1712194) | about a year ago | (#44109685)

In general, advocates of the humanities have done a poor job of explaining why they are necessary. Which is problematic given that one of the things one would hope that someone in the humanities could do was come up with excellent persuasive arguments about things.

Re:Humanities can't explain the need for humanitie (2)

AdamWill (604569) | about a year ago | (#44109779)

I think it's just Americans.

The rest of the world doesn't even comprehend this bizarre concept of 'the humanities' that you've invented, and would outright piss itself laughing at the ridiculous arguments about its 'necessity' or otherwise in which you manage to tie yourselves up.

'Justifying their existence' is trivial, but also unnecessary: to the demand, I reply 'ars gratia artis'...

Re:Humanities can't explain the need for humanitie (4, Insightful)

lxs (131946) | about a year ago | (#44109869)

It's not just Americans, but it is the idea that everything you learn must be done in the interest of making money.
The Humanities are important because they link people with their culture on a deeper level than the latest blockbuster does. They enrich the soul and give you a place in eternity, which in turn boosts your self esteem and reduces depression. Even the things your average geek enjoys like video games and science fiction are informed on a deep level by culture and the arts.

In short, Humanities deal with the things that make life worth living. Dressing it up as hard science does both science and the arts a disservice.

Re:Humanities can't explain the need for humanitie (4, Insightful)

Prune (557140) | about a year ago | (#44110169)

Great post! As someone pointed out in the discussion to a similar story a few months ago, once civilization gets above the level of mere subsistence, culture is pretty much the entire point of human existence--something I wholeheartedly agree with, even though I'm an engineer.

Re:Humanities can't explain the need for humanitie (1)

iSpiderman (2949417) | about a year ago | (#44109991)

I think it lacks a bit of openness and empathy to claim that they '[they] have done a poor job of explaining why they are necessary'.

If you read any book of Dan Ariely (or even more profound, Daniel Kahneman), you could discover that we often act in very irrational ways, which also influences us in our everyday live, which does not exclude engineering work or scientific research (e.g. read the example of Kahneman, where he explains how he changed his way of going through exam papers).

Furthermore, it has a direct link to neuroscientists like David Eaglemen, which shed(s) light on similar issues from a different ( 'scientific') perspective.

There are many more examples from philosophy, economics, etc which could potentially (re)form the world view of any one of us (IMHO especially rational thinking engineers/scientists).

It is very well possible that they have done a poor job to convince you of their necessity. Regarding me, they have done an exceptional job.

He seems to have it completely back-asswards... (1)

RadioElectric (1060098) | about a year ago | (#44109995)

He may have found a way to teach the humanities that "give you uncertainty, doubt and skepticism" but those concepts are fundamental to understanding how science works and students should be getting them in their science courses. As much as some scientific education is didactic fact-loading, it is equally possible to deliver a humanities course which is dogmatic - and possibly more common seeing as the route between a text and its accepted interpretation might be significantly more difficult to lead a student through than the route between some scientific evidence and the theory that it supports.

I am also confused at how him defining psychology as a "soft" science then allows him to lump it in with the humanities?

and the other way around (5, Insightful)

stenvar (2789879) | about a year ago | (#44109693)

Engineering students should take humanities courses, and they often do. But humanities students should also take science and engineering courses. It's called a liberal arts education, and it should be mandatory. No English major, anthropologist, or historian should get a degree without demonstrating a reasonable understanding of statistics, calculus, physics, chemistry, and computer science.

Unfortunately, most people educated in the humanities are thoroughly ignorant of science, engineering, and mathematics. As a consequences, they are completely baffled by how the modern world works and then proceed to produce utter garbage in their own fields as a result.

Re:and the other way around (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44109747)

It is mandatory in some European countries at least (PL here).

Re:and the other way around (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44109755)

Especially lawyers, politicians (who are typically former lawyers), and business executives. They probably take more humanities courses (especially ethics and philosophy) than most majors but somehow it doesn't make them any more ... human, or ethical.

Maybe spending too much time learning about humanity just makes you cynical.

Re:and the other way around (1)

cyocum (793488) | about a year ago | (#44109759)

I would love to see physicists stop writing garbage like this [doi.org] which is completely ignorant of the literature it purports to analyse. There are so many problems with the basic data gathering here that I don't know where to even start. They seem to think that literature research and argument on the Táin stopped somewhere in the 1960's and they seem to think that using a known modern editorial admixture is the same as the original text.

Re:and the other way around (1)

stenvar (2789879) | about a year ago | (#44110025)

Your criticism of their choice of data set may or may not be valid. Your condemnation of the entire work ("garbage") is not and reflects a lack of understanding of the scientific method.

Re:and the other way around (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44109977)

Small wonder then, that sociologists can get away with making up data for their "research" for years and years.

I've always seen it as more than a little ironic that the stereotypically "math is hard" crowd ends up in fields that are laden with large-scale studies that can only tell us something useful by the good grace of statistics applied correctly. Statistics being a field which is finnicky and tricky and hard enough that you can't leave it to a run of the mill mathematician, you need a statistician. "Lies, damned lies, statistics" is so easily true it's not funny.

This because numbers are one thing, assigning meaning correctly to them quite another. Now we try and have a crowd that isn't so good with numbers attempt exactly what they're poorest at. Indeed a small wonder that the peers supposedly reviewing those who make up sociology study data don't have the wherewithal to notice what is happening. And who wants to perish? Best to keep on publishing, even if the data you're working from is crap, or entirely made up. There's strong incentive here, and little to no oversight.

It isn't just sociology. Another big offender is medical research, though the modus operandi (cherry picking data) and reasons (there's real big money riding on positive "results" from studies sponsored by big pharma) are a little different. It's still quite a lot of numbermancy, though.

There's still more. "Studies" proving whatever a lobbyist organisation wants proven (RIAA/MPAA/BPI/* are big on this, obviously, to the point that numbers keep on getting quoted from studies nobody can even find any longer) or government consultative scientists getting booted for failing to toe the desired policy line (e.g. Prof. Nutt), or even such mundane things as traffic cameras and road safety claims. We're shockingly bad at numbers outside of the hard sciences where failing math will simply mean nature disagrees with you, and that means you lose. In the humanities, though....

As an engineering student (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44109695)

I was always taught the opposite...

Re:As an engineering student (2, Funny)

Chrisq (894406) | about a year ago | (#44109699)

I was always taught the opposite...

Are you in the faculty of contradiction?

Same everywhere (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44109703)

As someone with an engineering and philosophy degree, I found the humanities are just as deluded if not more so. Sure there is room for interpretation in a way that isn't possible with a science that has a greater likelihood of having a verifiable subject matter. But too often that interpretation is a narrow path. Don't believe me. Try supporting something outside the canon of though in humanities and you will face just as much dogma as anywhere else. The Humanities have their idols too, and they don't want to change them like either.

Re:Same everywhere (2)

lxs (131946) | about a year ago | (#44109909)

So it was useful to you. By experiencing both worlds you taught yourself to recognize bullshit.

Complete BULL SHIT (4, Interesting)

ANonyMouser (2641869) | about a year ago | (#44109707)

Learning Science/Engineering **should** teach logic and an understanding of fallacies. These are the most subversive skills one can have because few things in society measure up when you can see why they are incomplete or just plain wrong.

Re:Complete BULL SHIT (1)

ANonyMouser (2641869) | about a year ago | (#44109739)

On the other hand I see allot of so called engineers here in /. that really need to realise they are deluding themselves.

In Australia... (2)

GumphMaster (772693) | about a year ago | (#44109719)

The majority of engineering programs I have seen in Australian universities include non-technical content in the form of humanities, economics, accounting, and law units. Is this unusual? They are supposed to produce well rounded engineers, but generally demonstrate that square pegs and round holes are only sometimes compatible.

Philosophy (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44109721)

Idealism -- the world as it appears
Materialism -- the world as it is.
Duality -- world as it appears and world as it is.

Spirituality is delusion. You will be born again into a new reality like a babe.

I am happy... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44109723)

... to see, that the consensus so far is that rather the opposite is required (i.e. humanities majors taking science courses...)

Humanities not science? (1)

DaPhil (811162) | about a year ago | (#44109757)

The article seems to imply that the humanities are not science, but helping the real science (and lists engineering, of all things). I completely disagree!

Science is a way of thinking, an approach --- you can and must apply it to everything: Humanities as well as Natural Sciences as well as Engineering. It includes rigorous work, sceptical thinking, an open mind, etc. --- and it is necessary for ALL scientists to follow, regardless of their field.

Re: Humanities not science? (1)

Ricwot (632038) | about a year ago | (#44109877)

Except we can't analyse a book in the same way we analyse a boson, or a molecule in the way we analyse a song.

Differences between even Chemistry and Physics are so great that if you want to go back to the old terms, literary analysis is science, it uses peer reviewed evidence based thinking, just like all of our fields of study.

Re:Humanities not science? (1)

lxs (131946) | about a year ago | (#44109971)

When the only tool you have is a hammer...

You know the rest.

Wait what (5, Insightful)

Azure Flash (2440904) | about a year ago | (#44109789)

"In your science, mathematics and engineering classes, you're given facts, answers, knowledge, truth. Your professors say, 'This is how things are.'"

That's a funny way to hear "those are only approximations", "there's always going to be some margin of error" or "we're not 100% sure how this behaves".

Re:Wait what (4, Insightful)

Zaelath (2588189) | about a year ago | (#44109993)

Yes, if anything taught me to be skeptical it was my science courses; they teach you over and over again how every model you have is a shitty approximation that helps the level of understanding you need for that course. e.g. the model of the atom changes *drastically* between it's primary school introduction, to high school, to undergraduate, to post graduate courses.

The humanities course were full of people that were extremely confident that their morals were correct and universal, there was a much tighter focus on what to think rather than how to think.

I see a lot more people with humanities backgrounds being very confident that God is real and Climate Change is not, and for the same reasons.

Fix the other thing (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44109823)

If your engineering course isn't teaching you to be sceptical, then the problem is that your engineering course needs fixing. Have you ever met a successful engineer that doesn't take the manufacturers spec sheet with a pinch of salt?

obvious reason would be (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44109847)

to meet some women.

science is noisy (2)

mandginguero (1435161) | about a year ago | (#44109867)

Many recorded signals and data are filled with noise making it difficult to tell what you are looking at. I guess it depends what level of science education you deal with, but when I teach, students look at the figures and graphs presented in the literature. Some of the effects are easy to see, others are very subtle. A basic understanding of statistics is critical for describing how we come to measure phenomena. From statistical mechanics, to understanding co-morbid disease, or computer vision, probability distributions show just how variable most things in the world actually are. If you tried to stop a stopwatch at the 1 second mark many times in a row, very rarely do you actually hit the goal, but if you plot your responses they will cluster around a mean of more or less 1 second. A large part of forming a scientist is knowing how to play in these distributions of samples.

What about the process of science? Framing a good question is hard. Is the question testable? 'What does the universe look like' is an ill posed question for a scientist. What form could the answer possibly take? If you can whittle it down, say 'what does the universe look like in the infrared spectrum.' Ok, this we can start collecting data to address, but can you still say what the answer might look like? The more specific the question, the better. If you can't clearly say what form the answer will take, then how can you expect to find it in the data?

How long have we been searching through SETI data? How will you know what evidence of communication from an extraplanetary source looks like? Is it more likely that we will find false positives, or let actual alien missives go undetected?

I think with regards to what the humanities can contribute to science education, philosophy and framing of questions is huge. Ultimately the scientist and philosopher are starting the from same place - wanting to answer a question, the difference is in how they go about finding the answer. Communication skills can never hurt scientists either - how many of you have tried to pick up a journal article expecting it to make sense on the first read? Anything that can help frame and communicate uncertainty would benefit scholars of science, but I think it naive to imply that these skills and foci are not already taught in science curricula.

Scientists and engineers are innately skeptical (5, Insightful)

physicsphairy (720718) | about a year ago | (#44109885)

In my experience, scientists and engineers come ladled with doubts on human authority. In fact, it is often something that derives their dislike of the humanities—they trust numbers and figures, but when it comes to interpreting poems or arguing politics, their skepticism leads them to wish little to do with it. (and if it's not skepticism then it's their relative lack of skill)

I go to an engineering school which has almost no arts program. (Some english, history, and philosophy -- just what we need for general accreditation.) Although I myself am pretty keen on literature and many of the humanities, I hear all the gripes from the engineers. And I can tell you exactly what is wrong with this "scientists need humanities to understand such and such" approach. Scientists and engineers understand exactly what they need to achieve what they want, and thoroughly resent being shoe-horned into somebody else's idea of a well-rounded graduate when it has absolutely nothing to do with their personal interest or goals.

If you want the STEM crowd to embrace the humanities, stop trying to justify why they should join your program and come up with a new program especially for them. Let their literature be Isaac Asimov and Frank Herbert. Teach them "Art in Fractional Dimension with Computer Generated Imagery." Give them a music class where they build instruments and synthesizers. Let them walk into the classroom and feel on the very first day like they have something to contribute.

When science and math students walk into a humanities classroom and all their talent and ability in math and science is immediately considered moot, it's not them rejecting the humanities, it's the humanities rejecting them.

Engineers are pre-wired with doubt and skepticism. (2)

brainchill (611679) | about a year ago | (#44109893)

You say we need this to learn uncertainty, doubt and skepticism? .... silly, silly, silly ... Maybe you missed the obvious but real engineers and scientists are pre-wired with doubt, skepticism and an every questioning, non-believing nature. We end up being what we are because we question everything, we want to know why the things are the way that they are, why things work the way that they do etc. I don't know any real engineer or scientist that is willing to leave well enough alone or do something just because it's "the way things are supposed to be" As for uncertainty ... that's a science unto itself. We all know that the world is chaos incarnate but that doesn't keep us from trying to spot the patterns :D

The humanities can be too hard (4, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44109905)

I almost flunked out of college in computer science because I couldn't pass my humanities classes. I had to take writing 5 times in order to finally pass--and I mean literally 5.

American English is my native language, and I'm much better at spelling and grammar than most people I know. I just can't think of things to say about literature and history for which I care nothing. In other words, my computer science brain is not well-versed in the ancient art that they eloquently call "bullshit".

A failure of primary and secondary education (1)

GauteL (29207) | about a year ago | (#44109913)

If students graduate from university without a knowledge of the world outside their field, this is a despicable failure of the primary (and secondary education). Most education systems are built to give us a broad knowledge at a lower level and let us focus as we move up the educational pyramid, because only the rare renaissance genius has the ability to excel in everything. This story makes it seem as if John Horgan has some fantastic idea about giving us a broader education, but the only difference is that he feels we are focusing too early.

That, and he shows the amazing arrogance (and ignorance) to assume that his field is the important one, which the oher parties should study. Does he not think that chemical engineers may receive the same curiosity and refusal to accept "facts" from simply studying chemical science? The may also get relevant domain knowledge.

But there is one important reason why (male) engineering students may want to study humanities; your chances of procreating may increase massively. If for no other reason, then for the sheer number of women attending these courses.

Bullshit (0)

vikingpower (768921) | about a year ago | (#44109925)

Edward Snowden has a scientific education, and ( still ) did what he did. 'Nuff said.

Re:Bullshit (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44110037)

Former president G.W.Bush supposedly went to school. He is dumb as a boot. 'Nuff said.

"All" authorities? (4, Insightful)

crioca (1394491) | about a year ago | (#44109927)

The humanities are subversive. They undermine the claims of all authorities, whether political, religious or scientific.

But not academic.The humanities have become woefully dogmatic and riddled with citogenesis, where theories without a solid body of supporting evidence are held up as solid platforms from which other assumptions can be made. Then again, perhaps the humanities could use an influx of students of engineering and hard sciences. Could be entertaining... [wikipedia.org]

This argument needs a scientific approach! (3, Insightful)

Stolpskott (2422670) | about a year ago | (#44109969)

The problem with what Mr Horgan is advocating is that his argument is based on his view of the Humanities subjects that he teaches, and the way he teaches them.
His view of science subjects, as fields dominated by facts and accepted doctrine based on those facts is an accurate representation of the way science subjects are taught by many teachers, but it does not match the science teaching I received from the teachers and lecturers throughout my school and university life.
There, I was taught that scientific "facts" are opinions tested and supported by experimentation, and which have not yet been proven incorrect. I was taught to consider the experiences of others, but to keep my eyes open and brain engaged, observe the world around me and to form my own opinions, then conduct my own experiments to determine the validity of those opinions. I was given the freedom to decide on the nature of those experiments - did I want to form experiments with a goal of proving and supporting my opinions (the "bias for confirmation" approach, and one in which Mr Horgan is right - we do have an immense capacity for self-and collective delusion), or did I want to actually test the accuracy of those opinions by trying to disprove them?
In short, my science teachers taught me to see all sides of a question, consider as many variables as I could find, look at things as they are instead of how I would like them to be, and form opinions based on those observations. But also to continuously re-evaluate my opinions in the light of any new information that comes to light.
I cannot comment readily on the teaching of the Humanities subjects, as from the age of 14 I concentrated exclusively on the mathematics and science disciplines, plus the fact that some of my friends were starting to experience a pronounced swelling in the chest area. However, my anecdotal recollection is that a lot of my humanities lessons were dominated by "facts" based on what was written in the Bible, a history book, geological or archaeological "facts", and accepted grammar in foreign languages.

On that basis, I feel a more accurate target for his attention would be the teaching methods in schools across all disciplines, where the individual teachers discourage independent critical thinking in favour of memorizing lists of "facts" designed to (1) prepare students for an exam, and (2) give the teacher an easier lesson plan with less preparation.

Humanities Professor Recommends Humanities? (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44109979)

So, a professor who teaches humanities at a time when getting a job is difficult, getting a job with a humanities degree is considered a joke, and the president has put out a call for more STEM graduates, says that STEM students should take a humanities course (like his!) because it is a necessity. I wish I could believe there is no self-serving interest.

humanities? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44109985)

I don't want to force people to learn things that won't be useful for them. Not everyone needs humanities to be a fully functional human being. Saying otherwise is just absurd.

Humanities ARE the most deluded. (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44110005)

Sure, humans have an innate capacity for deluding themselves.

But if you look at what the field of dedicated humanities "researchers" have produced, it staggeringly dwarfs the delusion of ordinary people.

More "humanities" equals more delusion, not less.

Reading the kernel source (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44110015)

Reading the kernel source has taught me that we have an enormous capacity for deluding ourselves.

Answer: To meet women (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44110021)

Most hard core engineering programs have a disproportionately small number of women. Humanities courses offer a chance to meet more... ;-)

The truth is... (1)

Seumas (6865) | about a year ago | (#44110101)

The truth is that everyone wants to manipulate science and engineering to do their bidding and see things their way king of the same way religious people keep trying to equate science to religion or creationism to scientific theory.

Some will insist scientists and engineers should take philosophy.
Some will insist on law.
Some will insist on theology.
Some will insist on women's studies.
Some will insist on green-studies/eco-whateverism (ie, not the science focused one).
Some will insist on basket weaving.

Re:The truth is... (1)

Intrepid imaginaut (1970940) | about a year ago | (#44110143)

Agreed completely, although technically basket weaving is engineering.

To meet chicks (2)

macson_g (1551397) | about a year ago | (#44110119)

To meet girls. Simple!

More significant problem. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44110133)

The more significant problem is that we now have a school system that is 100-150 years out of date.
Freshmen of any kind, should stick to what they chose and NOT experiment. Feel free to learn new things after you have job and financial security. Just look at the author's age, 50-60 years old.
Stand out if you want to, but make sure you have a safety net, because nobody will give a damn if you fail, not even the one that gave that bright idea.

No skepticism in Maths/Science?!?! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44110171)

BS. Science/Maths is all about, "I won't believe you until you prove it. Put your money where you mouth is."

Seriously, how did BS like this get published?

Humanities advocates dont "get" science. (1)

140Mandak262Jamuna (970587) | about a year ago | (#44110205)

This is the general problem with all humanities "leaders". They go by some vague first principles and do not think it all the way to actual practice. Yes, in theory Science you can question anything. But in scientific debates, we don't give equal time to both sides. The side that has more evidence gets more time.We give more time to the "answerers" than "questinoners". We don't believe the questions must be answered within a certain time limit or the debate should be resolved in a timely manner, If the arguments are inconclusive there is no need to pass a judgement. In fact no one really passes "judgement". All sides present evidence and scientists vote with their feet and work on the side they think is right.

I am arguing all the scientific journals collective form a long scientific debate, each sci entist asking himself/herself asking a question she/he may think as relevant and present evidence. The questions keep fragmenting, they keep presenting evidence and eventually science comes to some kind of consensus without anyone particularly named judge or calling an end to debate.

One of them main things these humanities guys don't get it, though you can question anything, you have to accept and concede when the evidence goes against you. No matter how seriously you believe it, if it is wrong, if it is shown to be wrong, you can not dredge up all old questions all over again. There is no shame in being wrong, or changing one's mind after being persuaded by evidence. There is nothing off the record.

Of course I am generalizing based on long flame wars on creationist / evolution fora. May be I am wrong. Also scientists should also present all evidence against the point they are advocating. Like me admitting that I am generalizing based on a limited self selected subset of humanities people.

Humanities tag (1)

aPoorBoy (2809507) | about a year ago | (#44110215)

Is there an actual "humanities" tag in slashdot?
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