Is Science Enough?

Editor’s Note: This article was originally published on Friday, February 27, 1959.

We were shown an interesting letter the other day, written to a Washburn senior who had applied for a fellowship under the National Defense Education Act. The letter explained that the original number of fellowships, 1000, had been cut to 160 due to the failure of Congress to appropriate the necessary funds. The letter went on to explain, “Apparently, the decision was to use this reduced number of fellowships to support new programs, with emphasis placed upon scientific and technical fields.”

This expression of a rather common attitude, that we must bend all our efforts to turning out engineers and scientists in an attempt to keep up with the Soviet Union, is especially disturbing to us, for we feel that this semi-hysteria can do irreparable harm to our society, which is dependent on the broad outlook fostered by a liberal education.

But there is a trend in our society to view science as the be-all and end-all, the only road to salvation, “our only chance.” Now, there is no denying that we are living in a time of violent change, and that this change is based primarily on scientific advance. But no area so limited can hope to provide all the answers to the many human problems of a human society.

This is not to say that some areas of knowledge, notable the newer sciences such as psychology, have not attempted to find these answers and to explain and predict the individual on a group scale. While their statistical success has been reasonably good, they are, for the most part, forced to admit that they cannot completely reduce the individual to a formula. (This is not to say that some groups do not continue to attempt this, especially in business ares. Williiam H. Whyte, in The Organization Man, presents a delightful discussion of this practice and its failure.)

To return to our subject; the philosophy that our salvation lies in the hands of our engineers and physicists is extremely disturbing, particularly for those of us who have had an opportunity to observe at first hand one of the magnificent training grounds for such people. The average student as such an institution is marked by all sorts of interesting qualities; an almost fanatical devotion to his field of study, a staggering ability in that field, and a frightening lack of any familiarity with other fields.

Let us make it clear that we do not intend a blanket condemnation of science and engineering students – indeed, we were privileged to know several students and faculty members at this institution who exhibited all the qualities which go into the making of an educated, cultivated person. But we came away with an undeniable impression that these were, if not the exception, at least the minority. We should also add that Washburn science students and faculty, possibly as a result of the liberal arts college atmosphere, exhibit a much more balanced set of interests and abilities than did those of the technical institution.

But we cannot applaud or even accept the theory that we should focus our college aid on the scientific fields. Certainly they should receive their share of aid, for they are indispensable to our society. But so are the humanities and the social sciences. The loss of any one of these fields can only result in a society which has an incomplete philosophy, an “Achilles’ heel” which so weakens us that we may not have anything worth saving.

When we see psychology being used for questionable purposes, and when we see nuclear physicists whose background in philosophy is so weak that they fall for a phony Communist line, we are worried. When we see industry, educators, and now government offering what amount to bonuses for entering science, and when we see students entering science for these bonuses when they have, by nature, much more to offer society through other fields, we are more than worried.

In short, we would urge a calm, balanced look at our educational problems, and a cool-headed attempt to solve these problems.

-News Ed.