Dr. Skorton, C.P. Snow and 'The Two Cultures'
Dr. Skorton's career path, like many faculty members and administrators at Weill Cornell Medical College, has bridged several different academic and cultural disciplines.
Taking the view of one deeply engaged in not only life sciences, but social sciences and the humanities as well, Dr. Skorton was at Weill Cornell on Thursday, March 19, to discuss science, ethics and society as they pertain to C.P. Snow's landmark lecture "The Two Cultures."
In 1959, Snow, a British scientist and novelist, delivered his lecture, which posited that a lack of communication between the cultures of the sciences and the humanities presented an obstacle in solving many of the world's problems.
To celebrate the 50th anniversary of Snow's lecture, which later became a book, Weill Cornell's Division of Medical Ethics in the Departments of Public Health and Medicine has over the past few months invited a number of speakers from varied academic and professional backgrounds to discuss Snow's thesis and how it has evolved in the half century.
Other scholars and writers, including Snow himself, indicated that the passage of time had done much to, if not eradiate the gulf between the two cultures, at least draw them closer together.
"C.P. Snow's book was one that I and many of you read a long time past," Dr. Skorton said. "Much has changed in the last 50 years since he analyzed society and found science and humanities utterly separate and almost incapable of communicating with each other. Today, were he with us, he might have to acknowledge that there are three cultures — the sciences on one hand, humanities cast on the other side, and the social sciences somewhere else."
The world outside of science and the humanities has also changed drastically since Snow's day.
Whether Snow's two cultures have indeed reconciled to each other to some degree, or the advent of a third "social sciences" culture has created the illusion of a narrowing division, Dr. Skorton stressed that in today's world, where the science of stem cell research must confront the ethics and morality of an American public that is hardly in accord on the issue, the need for bridges connecting these cultures has never been greater.
"We must find our way through the lack of consensus with regards to both medical ethics and our own professional code of ethics," he said.
Photography by Amelia Panico.