Science-divide issue extends beyond Yale

As I start my third year at Yale, I can’t shake the feeling I have been sold short on my education. When I received my acceptance letter, I was promised it all: thought-provoking class discussions on philosophy and cutting-edge research, all in a beautiful Gothic setting. Reality is much crueler: Yale takes students well-rounded by the years of high school’s ambition and forces them to be lopsided.

When we are young, we are brought up to believe not only that we can do anything we want, but also that we can do it all. Yale sets us straight: Most of us, no matter how brilliant, capable or eager, are unlikely to master subjects all across the board. So, once here, we are forced to choose: Which skill sets will we feed and nurture, and which will be left to atrophy?

As others have mentioned, this choice is most acute for those among us interested in both science and the humanities. As I have come to realize, science classes’ numerous prerequisites monopolize their students’ already strained schedules. Upper-level laboratories dominate afternoons with their twice-weekly, four-hour-long meetings, which, inexplicably, last only half a semester. The result is that few among us are able to straddle both fields for long. And so, though Yale prides itself on being both a research university and a liberal arts college, it is only one of these for each of us.

Yet my goal is not to complain melodramatically, nor is it to bemoan the fate of the science major, relegated to the farthest reaches of the campus. For upon closer reflection, the turf war between Science Hill and rest of campus is really just one battle in a higher-stakes conflict on a national scale.

It seems as though, nationally, there is a fundamental lack of communication between the scientific community and those for whom their research is intended. This segregation is particularly acute in government: Scientists tend to stay in the lab away from policymakers, broadcasting their views through technical papers read only by their peers, and policymakers tend to make decisions irrespective of current scientific understanding.

As a result, both sides suffer: The scientific community’s inability to effect change has left America’s schoolchildren scrapping the bottom of the international rankings when it comes to math and science, putting our nation’s future at risk. More immediately, American research has also begun to fall behind international standards. Yet, paradoxically, funding for the NIH has seen its first cut in 36 years, resulting in a massive 12 percent drop in research grants. Now only two or three of every 10 requests for funding are approved, and lead investigators, even at Yale, spend the majority of their time writing grants rather than actually performing experiments.

These realities have far-reaching consequences, as America relies on its scientific community more than it cares to admit. In the last 30 years, NIH-funded research has decreased mortality from stroke and coronary disease by an outstanding 70 percent and 63 percent, respectively. Similar contributions in cancer research have brought about the United States’ first decrease in cancer deaths in recorded history. Loss of future scientific achievements has enormous implications in terms of health care and insurance costs, and for the remainder of our national economy.

Moreover, as science-related issues such as abortion, stem-cell research and global warming continue to gain prominence nationally, we can no longer afford to base our policy on abstract understandings or personal beliefs. Life-and-death decisions such as these must be made with the full available knowledge, with all resources employed. As such, the lines of communication between those with scientific understanding and those with the ability to enact change are imperative.

How, then, is this mammoth task to be accomplished? On a national level, scientists must be included in advisory positions. The scientific community must break out of its comfort zone and engage the public head-on. Yet adjustments on this scale are slow and inefficient.

So we return to Yale, a university whose graduates advance to positions of power across the globe. Is this institution responsible for providing them with a broad education, sciences included, no matter the inherent difficulties? Or is the burden on the students themselves?

For perhaps, after all, it is not the University that has sold us short: Perhaps we have too easily surrendered our dream of becoming Renaissance men and women. Maybe it is we who have too easily succumbed to the national status quo and too enthusiastically subscribed to the labels of Group III or Group IV. And, if this is the case, then perhaps is also we who, by understanding and confronting the issues, will have the power to reclaim the common ground somewhere between Science Hill and LC that we each lost in the name of higher education.

Amanda Rubin is a junior in Pierson College.

Comments