Sunday, September 26, 2010

Harvard Science Course Titles: Cool or Condescending?

  • Science of the Physical Universe 22: The Unity of Science: From the Big Bang to the Brontosaurus.

  • Empirical and Mathematical Reasoning 14: Fat Chance.

These are the examples used by Adrienne Lee, a history student at Harvard, to argue that [link via Christopher Shea at Brainiac]:

These ridiculously named classes are a manifestation of a general bias within the Core and General Education programs that all students who choose to concentrate in the humanities are both incapable of doing math and science and completely uninterested in those subjects.

Here's the contrast with titles of humanities courses:

Science and math concentrators often find humanities courses just as challenging or uninteresting, but at least they get treated like adults. “Western Ascendancy: The Mainsprings of Global Power from 1600 to the Present” sounds just as respectable and intellectually fulfilling as anything I could find in the history department. It isn’t called “The West: Why We’re Awesome” just to attract the attention non-history buffs.

* * *

I checked the General Ed course page at Harvard; here are a few more that fit this genre of course titles:

  • Science of the Physical Universe 27. Science and Cooking: From Haute Cuisine to Soft Matter Science.

  • *Science of Living Systems 24. From Neurons to Nations: The Science of Early Childhood Development and the Foundations of a Successful Society.

  • Science of the Physical Universe 28 (formerly Science A-50). Invisible Worlds.

  • Science of the Physical Universe 20. What is Life? From Quarks to Consciousness.

I'm still trying to figure out which is worse: "Fat Chance" (filed under Empirical and Mathematical Reasoning) or "Evolutionary Biology: Sex, Survival, and the Orgy of Species" (under Science of Living Systems).