SADANAND: Neglecting science has its costs

My first reaction to Michael Magdzik’s Jan. 17 editorial lamenting the science distributional requirement was one of anger. The poorly constructed piece hammers home the worst Ivy League stereotypes of entitlement and grade grubbing, making this proud ’07 Yalie cringe. Magdzik criticizes science classes for being full of grade-addicted pre-meds but then hypocritically admits that one of the major reasons non-science majors like him avoid “real” science courses is the courses’ “potential for devastating a semester GPA.” Last I checked, hard work is an admirable quality and if you came to Yale expecting to rack up all A’s, then you came for the wrong reasons. Additionally, in complaining about the paucity of quality science classes for non-science majors, the author apparently neglected to use the OCI website — MCDB 105 already closely matches what he conceives as “Public Science.”

So to say this editorial made me — and many others, judging by the comments — upset is an understatement. But upon further reflection, I felt profoundly sad. Magdzik’s dismissiveness toward the value of science — he writes “the science credit often gets in the way of classes the student would find more interesting and derive more intellectual stimulation from” — is unfortunately representative of the attitude of many people at Yale and in the world generally. According to a 2009 Gallup poll, only 40 percent of Americans believe in evolution. A significant minority do not believe in man-made climate change, more parents are choosing to skip essential childhood vaccinations, there are growing concerns about the necessity for antibiotics in livestock — I could go on and on with scientific issues that every citizen should be aware of. The lack of scientific literacy is not confined to any particular demographic and some of the blame can and should be placed on scientists, who are often poor communicators. But if Yale students who aspire to be the future leaders of the world — and who always claim to be good citizens — cannot muster enthusiasm for science, something is wrong.

I have always been befuddled by how high-achieving high school students with several AP/IB science classes under their belt enter Yale and suddenly develop a fear of all things science. The easy scapegoat is Yale’s science curriculum, but I can attest to the efforts Yale science faculty have made (both in my time as an undergraduate and now as a graduate student) to improve the offerings for non-science majors. As Magdzik himself notes, education requires some level of engagement. However, his article is far from engaged. He complains about how horrible science classes for non-science majors are while refusing to actively participate — or to seek out more challenging and “intellectually stimulating” science courses. That’s called whining.

Magdzik may have hoped that his editorial would provide a compelling argument to eliminate the science requirement, but in my view it achieves the exact opposite. The Yale science requirement should stay as is, for the sake of a balanced education. Scholarship encompasses more than English, history and political science classes — and for the record, I took and enjoyed classes in all three of those subject areas. If you are choosing your courses solely based on your future career then I respectfully suggest that you are missing out, limiting your education and undermining Yale’s aspiration to build “a company of scholars.”

Saheli Sadanand ’07 is a graduate student in the Department of Immunobiology. Contact her at saheli.sadanand@yale.edu.

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