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June 13, 2007


Dave Rintoul

In case you missed it, and you are wondering whether to listen to this talk, let me urge you to do so. Nalini’s plenary was excellent; she is an inspired, intelligent and articulate voice for fostering interactions between scientists and other scholars. I noticed that nobody left the room during the talk, or during the questions, it was that good. Thanks to John Calderazzo for inviting her!

The rest of this may be off-topic on this thread (maybe it deserves its own thread), but it seemed to be the best place to post this comment.

I am also a scientist (biologist) attending this conference, it is the second ASLE conference that I have had the pleasure of attending. It is always good to listen to the talks, meet ASLE members, and put some faces with the names of folks whom I have read. Nevertheless, I have noticed, both in Boston 4 years ago and here this week, that the gulf between science (and scientists) and humanities scholars is still wider than it needs to be. In listening to some (not all) of the talks, there is often an undercurrent of “us and them” when referring to writers and scientists. In some cases, it is almost as if the speakers are talking about an alien race when they discuss “scientists”. Since ASLE members, compared to many other humanities scholars, are probably the most vested in learning about science and especially biology, this is a bit disturbing. At least to me, since I am reasonably sure I am not an alien. Nor am I unique; it helps to remember that many scientists share your passion for finding a better understanding the world. We may have different methods, but we all have the same goal. Therefore, I have a couple of suggestions, to go along with these observations.

Nalini’s talk hopefully gave you some ideas about how to foster cross-disciplinary collaborations and projects, but here are some others. If you have a visiting writer whose work might be of interest to folks in your science departments, make sure that their departments are on the mailing or email list for the announcements. Conversely, get on the mailing list for seminars in appropriate departments for your interests (e.g. biology, physics, geology, geography etc.). You may not find all of those seminars palatable, but I suspect that a couple of them each semester will be interesting, and maybe even useful. Attending science seminars, and inviting scientists to attend your readings and other events, will foster the interpersonal relationships that lead to productive collaborations. If possible, attend an appropriate scientific meeting if it is held at your college or university. You may not understand all of it, but it will lead to questions and contacts that should eventually lead to a better understanding.

Forgive me if you already do some of these things, and please do add to the comments if you have other ideas that work to bridge this unnecessary gulf.


Terrific, Dave, and thanks for the advice. I'm an English-y person who goes to science talks, but I don't often think of inviting science-y folks to our talks. I do teach articles by scientists who work at my university in my first-year composition class, though, and that seems to help create a sense of bond.

Brian Rhea

Agreed...this presentation was amazing. Quirky, entertaining, and packed with useful info! A must-listen.

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