One of the things I like about Sciblogs is that it is a convenient way to “mingle” with those from other scientific disciplines. More and more these days, I see the really impressive advances coming out of interdisciplinary research. For example the manufacture of new body parts is a nascent technology derived from medicine, biology and engineering.
Consequently, I find it quite disturbing when I hear comments from one field disparaging another. For example, in a recent discussion on Pharnygula one commenter described analytical chemistry as an area taken up by typically C grade chemists. This brought some rather sharp remarks from other commenters, who rightly so challenged the arrogance of this remark. Assuming it was another chemist who made the mark, he/she is overlooking the fact that analytical chemists play a vital role in allowing us to probe the world around us, and that they can be just as innovative and intelligent as any other area of chemistry.
I’ve also come across physicists (only a few) who seem to take excessive joy in quoting Rutherford – “All science is physics or stamp collecting.” A rather myopic view, and one that needs to be consigned to history. Granted physics may underlie all of the sciences, but each branch of science makes its own impressive contributions to our world. Biology tells us where we came from, how we work and gives us the knowledge which underpins medicine. Chemistry helps us explore our environment and merges with biology to develop amazing new drugs, it provides us with novel materials.
Our ventures into space have relied on all three fundamental sciences – physics, chemistry and biology.
Another type of snobbery is that which exists between what are sometimes referred to as the hard sciences (chemistry, biology, physics etc) and the soft sciences (sociology, psychology). Indeed you will find that there are those who believe that the “soft” sciences should not be classed as sciences at all. I find this quite shortsighted. These areas of science contribute to our understanding of how the human mind works and how we interact and create societies. If ever there was a time in history when we need to understand this it is now, as multiple cultures are attempting to occupy the same spaces. Indeed, I would suggest that if the term “hard science” should be applied to any category it should be the later two. In chemistry, it is challenging enough to deal with the oft unpredictable behaviour of molecules, but that is nothing compared to the behaviour of human beings. Psychology and sociology are making important contributions to everyday life.
As I see it, the most effective way forward for science, and humanity, is for the different branches of science to keep working together. In an environment where governments underfund and ignore inconvenient science, working together is incredibly important. There is so much we can learn from each other, and so much more that can be achieved collaboratively.