Having read Sozobe's post, one thing that occurs to me, and that laypeople don't know about the "hard" sciences, is how much a scientist's daily work is devoted to the soft sciences, and how much it helps hard scientists to have a foundation in the liberal arts. This ignorance has dangerous consequences in my old country, where education policies, progressively dismantle the liberal arts education in high schools.
Say you're a physicist, for example. You will spend a good share of your daily work as an amateur librarian, searching for articles in real-life and virtual libraries. Having retrieved your articles, you sit down and read them critically: What are the authors saying? What do they give the appearance of saying, but turn out not to say on a careful parsing of their language? Who are they primarily writing for, what are their interests, and what agendas might they pursue in making the statements they make? Does their story hang together, or are there gaps in it?
That's literary criticism -- stuff your high school taught you, not in its physics classes, but in English and maybe history.
More liberal arts ensue once you write
a paper. You've run your experiments. You're looking at a pile of facts and theories in front of you. Now you have to organize them into a story
, one that is both logical and interesting. Story telling, like literary criticism, was a subject of your high school's English lessons, not its physics lessons.
Speaking of English: English is a foreign language for most people in the world, including myself. You have to learn it, or you can't make it anywhere in science. Liberal arts again.
And speaking of "interesting": When physicists judge what's interesting and what's boring or even trivial, they don't use any hard science. Instead, they follow a commonly understood sense of aesthetics, not written down anywhere I know of, but nevertheless shared by most of the community. Liberal arts again.
Considering the importance of the humanities for actual work in the hard sciences, I'm not surprised at all that most German Nobel Prize winners in history went to humanist high schools, as opposed to high schools specialized in the natural sciences. And I'm appalled by the short shrift the humanities are getting from ignorant educational policies designed to staff the next Silicon Valley.