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Abstract Detail

Education & Outreach

De Tullio, Mario C. [1].

How literature can help science: a practical approach to bridging “The two cultures”.

Science and the humanities are worlds apart, even more than they were almost 50 years ago when this problem was discussed by CP Snow [1]. The reciprocal distrust between scientists and men of letters explains in part the isolation of scientists in the ongoing debate on GM plants and the new frontiers of science. Of course, no magic wand can solve such an enormous problem, but maybe we can plant a few seeds and hope for change. Future plant scientists are presently attending our plant biology classes in Universities. I have carried out a few "experiments" with first-year BSc students in Environmental Sciences, suggesting that they read on a voluntary basis selected novels by Italo Calvino (namely "Mitosis" and "Meiosis") [2], and Primo Levi. The latter, largely known for his moving books on his internment in a Nazi concentration camp, was not only a refined man of letters, but also a chemist. His novel Disfilassi (to my knowledge no English translation is available) deals with the loss of interspecific barriers, and is a perfect starting point for a discussion on biotechnology. Levi also wrote a mind-opening novel on the carbon cycle [3]. Not all my students were interested in reading the novels, but those who did expressed their positive feedback in a questionnaire, and agreed that this approach, when coupled with guided discussion, can have beneficial effects on their understanding of scientific issues.
[1] C.P. Snow (1959) The two cultures and the scientific revolution. Cambridge University Press, reprinted 1993
[2] I. Calvino (1967) Ti con zero, Einaudi, Torino. English edition: T zero, 1967, Harcourt, Brace and World, New York
[3] P. Levi (1975) Il sistema periodico, Einaudi, Torino. English edition: The periodic table, 1985, Schocken Books, New York

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1 - University of Bari, Plant Biology and Pathology, via Orabona 4, Bari, 70125, Italy

science communication
Primo Levi
Italo Calvino
science teaching.

Presentation Type: Plant Biology Abstract
Session: P
Location: Exhibit Hall (Northeast, Southwest & Southeast)/Hilton
Date: Sunday, July 8th, 2007
Time: 8:00 AM
Number: P46002
Abstract ID:75

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