How many things did Proust remember? Ha! You can't count that high!

Chad OrzelIn a piece over at Inside Higher Ed this week, Union College physics prof Chad Orzel decries the acceptance of innumeracy among his fellow faculty members:

Intellectuals and academics are just assumed to have some background knowledge of the arts, and not knowing those things can count against you. Ignorance of math and science is no obstacle, though. I have seen tenured professors of the humanities say -- in public faculty discussions, no less -- "I'm just no good at math," without a trace of shame. There is absolutely no expectation that Intellectuals know even basic math.

But, wait, it gets worse! Not only are they innumerate, they're snobby and innumerate!

I read enough to have literature covered, even if my knowledge is a little patchy, and I took enough classes in college to have a rough grasp of history and philosophy, but art and music are hopeless. When those subjects come up in conversation, I just smile and nod and change the topic as soon as possible. On those occasions when I'm forced to admit my ignorance (or, worse yet, the fact that I don't even like classical music), my colleagues tend to look a little sideways at me, and I can feel myself drop slightly in their estimation. Not knowing anything about those subjects makes me less of an Intellectual to most people in the academy.

Yeah, well, let's see who gets the last laugh when it's time to figure out how the dinner check should be split. Orzel concludes:

Sadly, I don't know what other solution there is. It simply should not be acceptable for people who are ignorant of math and science to consider themselves Intellectuals. Somehow, we need to move away from where we are and toward a place where confusing Darwin with Dawkins or Feynman with Faraday carries the same intellectual stigma as confusing Bach with Beethoven or Rembrandt with Reubens.

Orzel makes some good points. And we don't care if he can't tell Beethoven from Bach. His upcoming book -- a series of discussions about quantum mechanics with his dog -- sounds very cool. And a little weird. In the good way.

photo: Chad Orzel

Comments

I think Orzel is 100% right. And I should know. My intellect is well respected. Why, just today I received a piece of mail addressed to "SMART Shopper". I rest my case.

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