Exactly half a century ago, a well respected British scientist who was also a man of letters gave a lecture that still reverberates. C. P. Snow's "The Two Cultures" evoked a dangerous split between scientific and literary cultures. At the height of the Cold War, this spectacular failure to communicate seemed to Snow to threaten Western preeminence. Two decades after communism's collapse, the "two cultures" thesis remains pertinent, albeit in dramatically new contexts. An entirely new era of biomedicine and biotechnology has dawned, but not, by any accounting, an equally new biopolitics or bioethics. Personalized genomes, stem cell research, synthetic life forms, biomimetics, and a host of other technologies place the state of the art far out ahead of popular understanding, and its ethical implications have not been adequately explored either by scientists or those who hold political power. In other realms, the science/society point of intersection is no better charted: the impact of digitization on reading habits and the future of libraries and "old media" (newspapers and magazines); implications of devoting food crops to biofuels; the role of expertise in the adjudication of policy debates on global warming; “geoengineering” and the management of planetary resources in a world still riven by nationalism.
In our writing workshop, we will focus on producing an extended journalistic work of publication quality that probes some aspect of the often uneasy interface between science or scientific ideas and social and political issues. As in the companion version of the course given in the Spring, this section will devote considerable attention to the problem lay writers face in building relationships with scientists. Each student will be responsible for devising a realistic strategy for reporting a story of their own choosing whose writing will occupy about half the term.