‘A Faustian bargain’: on the value of the humanities

Perhaps my own background will interest you. I started out as a classics major. I’m now Professor of Biochemistry and Chemistry. Of all the courses I took in college and graduate school, the ones that have benefited me the most in my career as a scientist are the courses in classics, art history, sociology, and English literature. These courses didn’t just give me a much better appreciation for my own culture; they taught me how to think, to analyze, and to write clearly. None of my sciences courses did any of that.

– from Prof. Gregory Petsko’s open letter to the President of SUNY-Albany, in response to the announcement that the departments of French, Italian, Classics, Russian and Theater Arts at that school are being shuttered. Prof. Petsko writes a monthly column for Genome Biology, on the relationship between science and society. Core students — no strangers themselves to the value of the humanities, as well as the social and natural sciences — will recognize the references elsewhere in his letter to the writings of Dostoevsky, Dante, Voltaire, and Goethe.

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