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The Internet Revolution in the Sciences and Humanities$
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Alan G. Gross and Joseph E. Harmon

Print publication date: 2016

Print ISBN-13: 9780190465926

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: November 2020

DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780190465926.001.0001

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The Internet and the Two Cultures

The Internet and the Two Cultures

1 The Internet and the Two Cultures
The Internet Revolution in the Sciences and Humanities

Alan G. Gross

Joseph E. Harmon

Oxford University Press

In a 1959 lecture delivered at Cambridge University, C. P. Snow famously argues that Western intellectual life is divided into two polar-opposite cultures—the sciences and the arts. In his view, most scientists are ignorant of the arts, “with the exception, an important exception, of music,” and as a whole non-scientist intellectuals—a group we will be calling “humanists”—have no conception of the “scientific edifice of the physical world … the most beautiful and wonderful collective work of the mind of man.” Moreover, Snow asserts that, besides this mutual ignorance, both sides underestimate, and even sometimes denigrate, the value of the other. He makes a telling point about the missed opportunities for intellectual advance entailed by the lack of lively commerce between the two groups: . . . There seems then to be no place where the cultures meet. I am not going to waste time saying that this is a pity. It is much worse than that. Soon I shall come to some practical consequences. But at the heart of thought and creation we are letting some of our best chances go by default. The clashing point of two subjects, two disciplines, two cultures—of two galaxies, so far as that goes—ought to produce creative chances. In the history of mental activity that has been where some of the break-throughs came. The chances are there now. But they are there, as it were, in a vacuum, because those in the two cultures can’t talk to each other. . . . Nowhere does Snow mention that, despite many cultural differences, the sciences and the humanities do have three central tasks in common: They generate knowledge, they communicate it, and they evaluate its quality. The thesis of our book is that, in both camps, the Internet has transformed and is still transforming these tasks in important and even similar ways. Nevertheless, for a variety of reasons, all based on differences between the two cultures, on their very different sets of social habits and attitudes, in the sciences the Internet revolution appears to be further along than in the humanities.

Keywords:   Academic cultures, Galaxy Zoo, Humanities, Ideal types, Knowledge dissemation, Natural sciences, Peer review, Protein Data Bank, Research dissemination, Scientific culture, World Wide Web

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