A computer scientist urges more support for the humanities (opinion)

“Lior Shamir, a computer scientist who’s actively participated in efforts to increase participation in STEM fields, now wonders if she’s been on the wrong side.”

The theme of those academic meetings has been rather consistent: we must reach out to those lost souls who chose to study the humanities or social sciences and show them the light of STEM.

But as time has passed, and the deeper and more sophisticated the interventions have become, I’ve also begun to realize that I might be on the wrong side. During my attempts to understand the disciplines I was expected to encourage students to avoid, I was exposed to the many sides of the social sciences and the liberal arts that I was not aware of. I learned that scholarly questions can also be approached in ways that do not necessarily have to come down to a number and a P value, a formal proof and a protocol that can be replicated. I also learned that these paradigms can be effective in many cases where the hard sciences do not always have answers — questions related to social justice or inclusion of underrepresented minorities. The lab mind-set comfort zone that I believed to be the only way in which the universe could be understood was replaced with awareness that we can approach questions in other ways and through other methods that aren’t necessarily part of the STEM toolbox.

In fact, the more I learned about the liberal arts, the more my passion to participate in the missionary effort of converting students from the humanities and social sciences to STEM declined. As a scientist and engineer, I became concerned about the deterioration of the liberal arts and started to fear a world dominated solely by scientists and engineers. We must keep in mind that the strength of society depends not merely on its wealth and technological competitive edge but also on its ability to serve all its citizens equitably and help them become contributing members. The hard sciences alone cannot accomplish that mission. —Inside Higher Ed