Two Cultures Revisited

A New Science Culture 

In 1959, British novelist and one-time scientist C. P. Snow delivered a lecture at Cambridge called “The Two Cultures and the Scientific Revolution.” He accused humanists of being scientifically ignorant and not knowing about the second law of thermodynamics—not to mention the non-conservation of parity. Science and literature—the humanities—were two separate cultures, which it was Snow’s mission to bring together—with science on top.

The talk, the Rede lecture, caused quite a commotion; it was reprinted many times and received much criticism from its targets: literary intellectuals of the day.

Most famous was a vicious ad hominem diatribe from enraged Cambridge literatus F. R Leavis. In his talk, the 1962 Richmond lecture, Leavis commented: [1]

The peculiar quality of Snow’s assurance expresses itself in a pervasive tone; a tone of which one can say that, while only genius could justify it, one cannot readily think of genius adopting it…Snow is in fact portentously ignorant…of history, of the nature of civilization and of the history of its recent developments, of the human history of the Industrial Revolution, of the human significances entailed in that revolution, of literature, of the nature of that kind of collaborative human creativity of which literature is the type, it is hardly an exaggeration to say that Snow exposes complacently a complete ignorance.

Brilliant rhetoric, but unfair, of course, not to say “astonishingly vitriolic,” as a later commentator put it.[2]  But Leavis was not without support. John Tasker, a fellow literary scholar, wrote:

He has shown, with powerful particularity, how shoddy critical values, pushing as they do the opportunist and the careerist, oust the superior and the genuine, with the result that great artists like James and Conrad go unappreciated with incalculable effects on their art, while negligible writers are honoured as classics … Though Dr Leavis has, over the last decade, received recognition of sorts, the Establishment, or pockets of it, still go in downright hatred of him; a pathological abhorrence persists; and each time he declines to pay homage to the latest ephemeral reputation, each time he profanes some venal superstition or desecrates a classic of our British Council or feathers the rump of a sacred cow, the old passions will recrudesce, the distemper intensify without prudence or thought, a state of neurosis be reached, and the disorder manifested in nothing more or less than this: they simply cannot leave him alone.

And, finally, commenting on Snow:

The real purpose of the [Rede] lecture was to advocate the expansion of technological specialization and to provide a rationale for the empire-building of scientific research in the universities. To this end it was necessary actually to discredit literary studies since scientific work was to be expanded to their detriment; and so Snow coupled his scientific chauvinism with a gratuitous and nasty attack on literature and the arts … He both encouraged and underwrote the arrogance of the scientific attitude and did all he could to destroy the confidence of the educators and students in the humanities.[3]

Snow nevertheless won the debate. My naïve recollection of Snow is of an amiable and successful man simply voicing common sense. But, reexamining the issue more carefully now, I’m not so sure.

Is there a problem with Snow’s argument? Did his critics have a point? One provocation seems to be C.P. Snow’s success as a novelist and his place in the political hierarchy as a respected government advisor. His academic opponents didn’t like that. There is also a little matter of prestige loss. Up until the time of Snow’s talk and a few years after, the humanities were regarded as the most prestigious part of the academy:

Snow developed an antipathy to ‘literary intellectuals’, especially to what he identified as their snobbish and nostalgic social attitudes, which was never to leave him … Snow was clearly frustrated at the extent to which a traditionally educated upper class continued to dominate public life in Britain.[4]

The fact is that in 1950s Britain, the humanities were supposedly where all the bright kids went. So yes, a threat to prestige undoubtedly was part of the reason for Leavis’s ire.

However, Leavis’s resentment at being culturally demoted is not a good argument, nor is it the main point. A closer look shows that Snow wasn’t really advocating just for science. He was much more interested in socially ameliorative technology. The Rede lecture is sprinkled with allusions such as “For, of course, one truth is straightforward. Industrialisation is the only hope of the poor” and facile assumptions about the ready transferability of technical expertise: “There is no evidence that any country or race is better than any other in scientific teachability: there is a good deal of evidence that all are much alike.” Not to mention an overriding concern for differences in wealth. Snow commented on his aim in a postscript:

It is over four years since (in May 1959) I gave the Rede Lecture at Cambridge. I chose a subject which several of us had been discussing for some time past. I hoped at most to act as a goad to action, first in education and second — in my own mind the latter part of the lecture was always the more pressing — in sharpening the concern of rich and privileged societies for those less lucky.[5]

In short, Snow was unhappy not so much about scientific illiteracy as about what he perceived as the barbaric indifference of the ruling literary class to the undeserved suffering of the third-world poor.

He quotes a respected scientist as saying: “Why do most writers take on social opinions which would have been thought distinctly uncivilised and démodé at the time of the Plantagenets.” Moreover—and this also upset Leavis et al.—Snow seemed to take a singularly one-dimensional view of cultural flourishing: material wealth—“jam today” in his words—was all that mattered. He also disdained what he saw as the selfish ethics and “Luddite attitudes” of famous writers such as D. H. Lawrance, T. S Elliot, and Wyndham Lewis. Frequent references to the ease with which wealth-producing technology could be transferred to ‘backward’ nations show that Snow’s main agenda was to advance, not science, but technocratic social justice.

Thanks to Snow, science, which is just the search for verifiable truth about nature, became inextricably entangled with moralizing about the marginalized.


Woke Science 

A version of this trend, latent for many years, has now recrudesced—to use Tasker’s words.[6] The two cultures are reborn, not as science and literature, but as science and identity politics. It’s moralism masquerading as science.  This has happened from top to bottom. At the top, for example, Marcia McNutt, Editor-in-Chief of Science from 2013–2016 and current President of the National Academy of Sciences, recently commented:

diversity is a topic that is very close to my heart ever since I came here to the Academy … Scientists in America are far more white and male overall than is the majority of the American population … I would like to have prominent representatives of the diversity of American scientists that we can use to encourage a more diverse science workforce.[7]

The italicized phrase is almost charming in its naivete, inviting a rebuttal such as “most nurses are female.” In other words, since there is no evidence of discrimination against women in science, “so what!” is the proper response to any disparity. Dr. McNutt is simply pushing for privilege for her side—women.

Similarly, Nature, one of the top two general science journals, has published no less than 19 editorials advocating social justice in science.[8] Social-justice pledges have been made by all the major scientific societies. Here is one from the American Chemical Society:

The American Chemical Society (ACS) is actively committed to cultivating a diverse, equitable, inclusive, and respectful community of chemistry professionals. Diversity, equity, inclusion and respect (DEIR) are among the core values of ACS…We will quantify and monitor DEIR metrics; evaluate the impact of administrative and governance actions intended to enhance inclusion within ACS; and build sustainable processes for addressing inequities in the scientific community.[9]

From top to bottom and from head office to the coalface, equity is everywhere.

Last year, I wrote about a tiny organization that was devoted to the study of animal intelligence, the Comparative Cognition Society (CCS).[10] CCS, for its 2023 conference, in addition to all the usual information—meeting place, speakers, symposia etc.—had a document describing what they called “allyship,” an “equity diversity and inclusion” initiative.  This year, in 2024, the CCS EDI committee has doubled down. To give an idea of the magnitude of the problem, I crave the reader’s indulgence for reprinting two of the relevant documents, which are embedded below. First is a thousand-word code of conduct. Bear in mind this code of conduct is being offered not to children or juvenile delinquents or criminal recidivists but to adult professionals—people who, in another age, would already know how to behave decently in a professional meeting:


Ccs Code of Conduct Oct-2022 by gould on Scribd

There follows a list of two committees: an Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (EDI) Committee–eight members–led by a female postdoc, and an Executive Committee—nine members—headed by a female assistant professor.

This Code of Conduct is interesting in several ways. It is redundant in the sense that many of its recommendations should be obvious. Yes, of course, a speaker should not be heckled or disrupted, and yes, it is ideas that should be criticized, not people. Although it’s worth noting that Leavis’s ad hominem critique of C. P. Snow, which was acceptable in the 1960s—Leavis was criticized but not canceled for his diatribe—would be condemned by the CCS rules. The claim that scientific advances and DEI are inseparable is almost certainly false, as is the concept of “structural inequity.” More on this document in a moment.

Next follows the hardcore of the Comparative Cognition Society’s efforts:

CCS Ally Training Document by gould on Scribd


Ally or Indrotinate? 

Three things may strike you as you read these documents: their recommendations and the treatments they propose.

First is the extraordinary amount of effort that must have gone into them. Their authors view “allyship” as a priority, higher or at least more passionately, than their scientific commitments. Their task is made easier by substantial resources made available for free by—…Microsoft! Check out Beyond Microsoft, and see dozens of videos and resources. The site proclaims: “We have an opportunity—and an obligation—to foster collective movement towards greater diversity and inclusion through our actions and partnerships.”  DEI is indeed a multi-billion-dollar industry.

Second, the text conveys a mixture of moods. On the one hand, the words are soft benephons; their purpose is welcoming, inclusive, safe, and supportive. But on the other hand, the word “ally” has military overtones. There is an invitation to snitch anonymously if the rules are seen—by anyone—to be broken, even long after the event; and the accused may not see the accuser, nor is the accuser required to first engage with the accused.

Third, in an era when the male gender role is under pressure, the spirit of allyship is unmistakably feminine. The ambiance is compassionate on the surface, not so much underneath.  Indirection, secrecy, and conformity are encouraged, rather than overt coercion; “power dynamics” are perceived everywhere. The leaders and most of the players are female: older women at the top—the National Academy and major journals—younger women at the level of small societies.

Finally, a word about the methods embodied in the allyship document. It is indoctrination of the  sort sociologist Kurt Back warned about years ago.[11] It probably would not pass an Institutional Review Board ethics assessment today, but, of course, it’s not classed as an experiment, so it doesn’t have to.

You can get the flavor by looking at the first recommended video from 2021, 30 minutes, one of many on the Microsoft site.[12] In this first video, a young Latina woman introduces a smiling lady professor who gave a popular TED talk and studies “the psychology of good people.” In other words, Professor Dolly Chugh is studying a moral issue as part of psychology, which is supposed to be science, not moral philosophy. No problem, she knows what “good” is. She tells us about “allyship” and how it is so much more than having good intentions. Being a good person is not enough!  Better to be just a “goodish” person who is constantly striving to be better. Work is required!

The talk continues in this psychotherapeutic mode with all attention being paid to who is prominent and who is ignored in a class or a group conversation, particularly on the demographics and the gender of neglected individuals. The one thing that is never mentioned is the quality of the speech, the ideas, the factual basis, of the topic being discussed. The focus of allyship is simply on equalizing everything by advancing groups that are perceived to be marginalized—and the speakers all know who they are—with no thought given to the content of speech, to what people are actually saying, to the substance of the discussion: Are some participants neglected for good reason? The professor doesn’t care.

Professor Chugh advocates the “woke mindset” which allows her to see blasphemy—injustice—everywhere. She confesses that she had to be reminded by a student that examples in a standard reading were “sexist.” But were they relevant to the topic? Never mind—Mild self-flagellation is standard practice in this context. There is a lot of “creating space” and “centering” not to mention allusions to “robust psychological research” supporting … what?Most research in this area is in fact worthless[13].


Unmasking allyship

“Allyship” is training in how to spread propaganda. At one point, the professor points out that a story, a striking example, is much more effective in changing opinion then mere data, which is probably accurate but is obviously hostile to science as a search for truth. Her aim is not to educate “allies” but to train them in how to persuade. Just as C. P. Snow sought to supplant literature with his socially conscious version of science, this new culture seeks to replace actual science with woke ideology.

What is to be done? Do we need a science-oriented F. R. Leavis to break the bounds of propriety and shock the world of science into realizing what has happened to it? Perhaps he would write something like this: “Professor Chugh and her ilk, uneducated in the exact sciences, smug in their self-interested moralism and ignorant of the First never mind the Second Law, propose to introduce the culture of the kindergarten, the morals of the first grade and the sentimentality of Barbie into the rational world of natural science.  Notwithstanding, their cunning story-telling, their mild self-mockery and false modesty—never mind, even, their feminine attractiveness—they are opposed to science and must therefore be rejected. If they cannot be educated, then they must be ejected, from the National Academy to the animal laboratory.”

But no, we can’t say that. It violates the Code of Conduct!

[1] Leavis, F. R. (2013). Two cultures? : The significance of C. P. Snow. Cambridge University Press

[2] From Two Cultures To No Culture, Civitas (2009) Introduction, Robert Whelan.


[4] Stefan Collini’s introduction to The two cultures? Cambridge, UP (1998).

[5] The two cultures: A second look (1963)  in The two cultures. Stefan Collini Introduction: Cambridge (1998).







[12] & You might also want to check out the videos on the Microsoft site by  intersectional CRT pioneer Kimblerlé Crenshaw and M’soft CEO Satya Nadella/

[13] Ioannidis, J. P. A. Why most published research findings are false   PLoS Medicine, August 2005 | Volume 2 | Issue 8; Stuart Ritchie Science Fictions: How Fraud, Bias, Negligence, and Hype Undermine the Search for Truth (New York: Henry Holt, 2020)

Photo by Jack Manning — Wikipedia


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