IOP Group To Link Sciences, Humanities

A policy group within the Institute of Politics (IOP) is planning to start up a Harvard chapter of a national student group in order to encourage dialogue between students of the natural sciences and those studying the humanities and social sciences.

Two members of the Science and Technology Policy Group will attend a national conference in Washington D.C. today to learn how to launch a chapter of Student Pugwash USA at Harvard.

The group’s mission is “to promote the socially responsible application of science and technology in the 21st century,” according to the group’s website.

“The overarching goal of the group [at Harvard] is to bridge the gap between science with ethics and policy,” Aaron Huang ’03, one of the students who will attend today’s conference, wrote in an e-mail. “More specifically, we hope to get [future] scientists talking about politics, and [future] politicians talking about science.”

University President Lawrence H. Summers has long stressed the need for improving science education at Harvard, arguing that science literacy is too low among the majority of students in the humanities.


“Part of our task will be to assure that all who graduate from this place are equipped to comprehend, to master, to work with, the scientific developments that are transforming the world in which we will all work and live,” Summers told students and faculty last year at his installation speech, adding that scientists also need a thorough grounding in ethics and the humanities.

The Science and Technology Policy Group is currently planning a conference this coming spring that would include students from MIT and Boston University,

at which they will discuss the moral implications of the role universities play in developing technology that could potentially be used in warfare, and the effects of other scientific innovations on society.

According to members of the group, this chapter is an important—and necessary—first step in bringing together people from different disciplines.

“I personally see a dangerous gap between science and the social sciences,” said Winn Wasson ’05, a social studies concentrator planning to participate in the Student Pugwash chapter. “You have the politicians who may not know the scientific implications of their actions, and you have the scientists who don’t know the social implications of their research. We hope to help bridge that gap.”

SPUSA is a campus offshoot of a national organization that holds conferences promoting dialogue between professional scientists and politicians. The group takes its name from the location of its first conference, held in 1957 in the village of Pugwash, Nova Scotia, Canada, at which 22 eminent scientists gathered to discuss the threat posed by the advent of thermonuclear weapons. The conference in 1995 was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.