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Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Two Cultures (EXCELLENT read)

Almost two weeks ago I posted about the obituary for Alexander Grothendieck that was rejected by the journal Nature. Many math/science sites covered that little news story, and I sort of assumed by now it was over-and-done-with.  But even in death, as in life, Grothendieck seems to spread ongoing controversy!
Today, launching off that rejected obituary, mathematician/biologist Lior Pachter of UC Berkeley has posted a remarkable, really incredible and rich post I think, about the two "cultures" of mathematics and molecular biology, which he straddles, but finds little common ground on for its participants.
It's a long, and often technical post, but I think all should have a go at reading it (it may well require more than one sitting, and don't expect to follow all parts).  As a layperson myself, I'm more interested in the broad strokes he is painting than many of the technical arguments that I can't grasp. His "list of specific differences" between mathematicians and biologists is especially interesting, and Pachter is pessimistic about the relationship between the "two cultures," writing at one point, "The relationship between biology and mathematics is on the rocks and prospects are grim," and "The extent to which the two cultures have drifted apart is astonishing." As I implied in my original post (linked to above) I'm not so sure we really have a 'two culture' problem anymore (the term, as most know, comes originally from C.P. Snow over fifty years ago), so much as a fiefdom problem, with intense specialization having subsumed pretty much every field of technical study.

Anyway, if you're a working biologist or mathematician (or really, a scientist of any stripe) READ this piece!:


As I post this, there are 3 comments to Pachter's article; I suspect there will be many more over time.
Agree or disagree with him, there's LOTS to chew on.

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