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The Sciences

Our Two Cultures Conference Opening Skit--Interrupted by an Unexpected Ghost


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Just to add to Sheril's post--the "two cultures" conference was a huge success. And in saying as much, I'm not patting us on the back; rather I'm reflecting the overwhelming tenor of the enthused comments that we heard from those who attended the event. Beyond our planning roles, our individual contributions on Saturday centered on moderating the two afternoon panels. However, we also had the opportunity to introduce the event itself--and decided that an Oscars-style skit providing a little comedy would be the way to go. We didn't know what we were getting into. Just after we took the stage, and when we were about a third of the way into delivering our prepared lines--with the audience already laughing--the skit was dramatically interrupted by loudspeaker announcements, assuring everyone present that we did not have to worry about a fire in the building. For the audience, watching us onstage trying to recover from this unexpected assault apparently made the routine even funnier. Some even thought the voice was part of the act. It wasn't. And at least in the moment, we were freaking out. It is not exactly easy to act out a skit that you think has two characters, only to learn you'll be accompanied by a third, aetherial voice that's far louder than yours. I am not against the deux ex machina, in general, as a dramatic device--but if there's going to be one, I'd like to be the one that writes it into the script; and I'm sure any other dramatist would concur. Anyways, since we'll never do it again--uninterrupted or otherwise--here is the text of our intro skit for the two cultures conference in New York. Yes, it's probably funnier acted out, when the audience doesn't know what to expect--but we hope you'll enjoy it in print, too. And whenever it's available, we'll also post a video, so you too can see us get knocked off our rhythm by a voice from above, and laugh both with us and at us:

Sheril: Hi, I’m a scientist… Chris: ...and I’m a writer. [Awkward pause/ Sheril looks annoyed at Chris for cutting her off] Sheril: I want to welcome you all… Chris: [simultaneously] This conference is about the distance… [Awkward pause/Chris looks annoyed at Sheril] Chris: You were saying… Sheril: Thank you. Today we're here to celebrate a 50 year old lecture by C.P. Snow, and the fact that since that time, science has advanced and progressed so far that someone like me is able to utilize new tools for population modeling to better understand the life history of Cucumaria frondosa, a holothurian echinoderm… Chris: [Miffed] Whoa whoa whoa…The point of this conference is not to let scientists utter soporific technobabble that's going to make everybody in the room comatose. Sheril: Well, the point surely isn't to let writers spout pretentious rhetoric in a weak attempt at sounding smarter than they actually are… [Awkward silence] Chris: Sheril…I bet you wouldn't be able to recognize a great novel if one fell on you. Sheril: Chris…I heard you were never graded on a curve in your English classes because your professors didn't know how to do the math. Chris: Sheril…. why is it that every time you scientists give us a new technology that's supposed to improve the world, it instead ends up threatening civilization--like Twitter? Sheril: I didn't give you Twitter. I don't tweet. Scientists don't have time to waste on that nonsense: It's writers. You know, like those Discover magazine people and Carl Zimmer. Chris: [After pause] Sheril…can't we all just get along? Sheril: Well….I guess I'd better move on to what we're supposed to be doing: Welcome to New York Academy of Sciences Two Cultures conference, celebrating 50 years since C.P. Snow’s famous Rede lecture on the importance of building a bridge between the sciences and humanities.Chris: Here among leading scholars, scientists, politicians, and writers, we’ll explore the persistence of the Two Cultures gap and how it can be overcome. Sheril: Because the truth is that although we do bicker sometimes, this conference was actually our joint idea…. Chris: That's right, we originally thought it up because we were writing a 50 year anniversary book about C.P. Snow. Sheril: Which isn't out yet, and has had all content about C.P. Snow pulled in the editorial process. Chris: Right. But nevertheless, you'll see that the conference is structured as a kind of argument to bring Snow into the present moment. Where Snow postulated a rift between scientists and literary thinkers as a chief threat to social progress in his time, we want to suggest to you that perhaps today, the problem is the gap between scientists, and intellectuals generally, and everybody else. Sheril: And that's why we're going to be exploring not only the history of Snow's idea and its implications, but present-day divides between scientists and journalists, and scientists and politicians--indeed, above all, science and society. Chris: And by the end of the day, we hope you'll have heard enough to make up your own mind about precisely how the idea of the "two cultures" remains relevant--and what actions that fact, itself, impels us to take as we all work to advance the goal of a humane, and progressive, science-based civilization. Sheril: So, welcome.

And then Sheril introduced our first keynote speaker, E.O. Wilson....

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