A moan about STEM communicators talking classics

In which I bemoan the solipsistic tendency for communicators in STEM fields to lament the anti-expert mood but then completely fail to actually ask authorities on antiquity when they talk about it.


  1. This is a very prevalent and current problem. Classical markers are still a major signifier of academic authority, and so inclusion of classical elements among STEM communicators' output is common. That's fine. What is a problem is that there is a synchronous tendency to treat the humanities in general and ancient history in particular as if they are non-subjects, and open to anyone to claim authority. You can't have your cake and eat it. You can't treat ancient history as junk, but then appeal to it to prop up your academic authority. And you can't bemoan the trend towards the rejection of authorities, and then fail to consult authorities in other fields.
  2. Many programmes do this: 50 Things is neither the only nor anywhere near the worst. The problem is I really like many of these programmes that strive to communicate complex scientific or statistical subjects in an accessible and rigorous way but show complete solipsism, arrogance and sloppiness to other subject areas.
  3. Just ask a classicist or ancient historian guys, we're friendly people! Also, I bet that one of us has written an article or book on exactly the thing that you are talking about.

  4. It's a really great radio series from BBC Radio 4 / World Service. Go listen to it. I also genuinely think that Tim Harford is awesome.
  5. At this point my friend Steve offered a friendly reply, and was unfairly put in the firing line.
  6. Specifically: The Guardian article says that 'she says Wikipedia should be a “jumping-off point”, rather than a source in its own right.

    "If you are going to do original research, especially if you are going to write a paper or do a piece for publication, it should go into more detail, talk to primary and secondary sources and the like. Wikipedia fills a different role.” '
  7. More or Less is also excellent programming, also from BBC R4 / World Service. It's an entertaining look at the numbers and stats in the news. Listen to that too.
  8. sc. 'an historian'
  9. I think the selection bias issue is a big part of this. It's difficult to know where to get information outside one's field sometimes, and so specialists turn to other specialists who are like themselves rather than those who actually know about the subject.
  10. Update

  11. After I an auto-tweet went out when I blogged the storify of the tweets (gotta love the internet), my friend and colleague Ioan chipped in. Recently having submitted his PhD thesis on Roman history and not just interested in STEM communication, but married to one, he's a well positioned commenter.