I welcome liberal arts graduates’ forays into science, I do. I thought it brave and provactive of John Carey, erstwhile Merton Professor of Modern English at Oxford, to declare that the most imaginative and interesting writing in recent times was in the sciences, or produced by popularisers of science.
That said, when I read even a throwaway remark like this:
BBC News reports that the gene that allows most Westerners to consume cow milk effectively only appeared in the last few thousand years
Apparently it gave humans such an enormous advantage that it subsequently spread like wildfire through Western Europe.
Tom Coates, links for 2007-02-28
I shudder. It reminds of the time I was my University’s captain on the quiz show University Challenge, back when the question master was Bamber Gascoigne. I asked him in the green room (wine and free fags) why the programme didn’t have more science questions. “We don’t consider science to be part of general knowledge”, he drawled.
Since then, in the reincarnated version of University Challenge, Gascoigne’s replacement, fearsome political interviewer Jeremy Paxman stumbles bravely through the many science and maths questioned now included. A good thing too.
Science is beginning to win the day, and it pulls the Arts in its wake – and the so-called Social Sciences are reeling under the onslaught of sheer empiricism and sense, the confusion so memorably and amusingly exemplified by the great Alan Sokal’s Social Text hoax.
There are setbacks. The speedy departure of Larry Summers from Havard after his defensible remarks about contributory factors to the predominance of men in senior faculty positions in Maths and Sciences was a deplorable but temporary burp from the self-ordained progressive, noisy and supposedly left-leaning bien-pensants.
The facts are the facts. Read Nick Cohen’s recent interview with Simon Baron-Cohen about autism and the ‘male brain’. The things Baron-Cohen is saying now simply could not have been said a few years ago. Witness the disgusting treatment meted out to E.O.Eilson when he wrote Sociobiology: The Modern Synthesis.
So back to the point. Things Arts graduate might bear in mind. The BBC is never in the vanguard of Science reporting and more often than not gets it wrong.
The emergence of the lactase persistence variant is a relatively recent evolutionary event, appearing in Northern Europeans only 10,000 to 12,000 years ago (approximately with the time that animals were domesticated).