‘Life depends on science but the arts make it worth living’

Scientist claims true fulfilment is achievable only through the humanities, writes Rebecca Attwood

The arts and humanities are “superior” to science, a top cardiologist has argued.

John Martin, director of University College London’s Centre for Cardiovascular Biology and Medicine, has 53 patents, 20 staff and has founded a biotechnology company.

But, speaking at the launch of Humanities Matter: The Campaign for the Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences last week, he said he was “not a very good scientist” and that his success was due to having studied philosophy before training as a doctor.

Science encourages the idea that humans are just “molecular machines” that have to be made more efficient, he said, and its job is simply to measure the universe and predict its activity. But humans are more than this; they have a soul, Professor Martin said, and it is the job of the humanities to help people achieve their destiny as “true human beings”.

He said he told his students that they were repairing hearts “so that our patients can fulfil themselves by enjoying art, literature and music”.

If Einstein had not written down E=mc2, another scientist would one day have done so, he claimed, but no one else could have written Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony.

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Humanities Impact Evident

“Impact” is a slippery slope of a concept, especially for the arts and humanities. It will vulgarise our research, protest high-minded academics, and turn first-rate universities into second-rate companies. How can you measure the impact of an activity whose worth is not only self-evident but too rich and too nebulous for functionalist metrics? While it may be justifiable to scrutinise the return on investment in science, technology, engineering and mathematics research, the humanities, so different in kind and output, cannot possibly be subjected to the same process-driven methodology.

Well, up to a point, Lord Copper.

The research excellence framework impact pilot exercise, just completed, set out to answer the question being asked, ever more insistently, by the Treasury: “If public funding is poured into university research, what does the public get for its money?”

Five disciplines, including English, were invited to test a methodology to identify and rank the impact of research outside the academy.

From the start, it was clear that special pleading for English would only sound the death knell for the humanities. They are the poor relation of the research budget anyway. For goodness sake, let’s protect what we have, even if it’s only crumbs from the rich man’s table. For if we believe in the value of what we are doing – and I have yet to meet a humanities scholar who does not – then surely we should be able to defend it with the articulacy and verve that is our trademark.

Read full story, and also the article on ‘novel ideas‘.

Value in the Arts? @timeshighered

“One difficulty is that the defenders of liberal education – essentially education aiming at producing enlightenment rather than the ability to fix computers, get clients off drink-driving charges or mend broken limbs – are never sure what terrain to fight the philistines on. Defending an education based on Matthew Arnold’s “the best that has been thought and said in the world” against those who want more plumbers, those who believe against all the evidence that a focus on STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) subjects will create a second Industrial Revolution, and those who just don’t see the point of educating the lower orders in the first place is no easier now than when he wrote Culture and Anarchy almost 150 years ago.

There are three different arguments that most people defending the arts and humanities will run; they are not at odds with each other, but none is completely plausible, even when not vulnerable to the snort of disbelief that would greet anyone appealing to Newman’s claim that the object of a university is to produce “gentlemen”. Nor does it help the arts and humanities that the best arguments favour what the Americans call “the liberal arts and sciences” rather than the arts and humanities in particular.”

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