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Making Waves

Professors sit in front of blackboard that says "Bathtub Debate"

Imagine that aliens have just arrived on Earth, and Swarthmore has been tasked with appointing a department to initiate first contact with these extraterrestrial organisms. Which department does Swarthmore choose to mediate the most successful interaction?

At the annual Bathtub Debate, hosted by the Amos J. Peaslee Debate Society, Professor of French and Francophone Studies Jean-Vincent Blanchard, Professor of Economics Mark Kuperberg, and Isaac H. Clothier Jr. Professor of Biology Amy Vollmer debated one another to determine just that.

Blanchard argued that the Humanities Division is best suited to initiate conversation with aliens since it studies languages, which foster a powerful human connection. Kuperberg countered that economics already created a language to talk to aliens, as demonstrated by the behind-the-scenes optimization techniques in the popular film Arrival. Yet, both professors struggled to discredit Vollmer’s argument that biology is “literally designed” to study other species since it has been studying seemingly otherworldly species for years.

After fielding student questions about what each department could offer the aliens and how each would respond if the aliens turned hostile, the professors admitted that an interdisciplinary approach would be the most effective method for communicating with extraterrestrials. Still, as decided by an overwhelming majority of student votes, if there needs to be a designated department that’s prepared to initiate contact with aliens, the Biology Department in the Natural Sciences Division is best equipped.

The event was hosted in Science Center 101 by the Amos J. Peaslee Debate Society.

Jean-Vincent Blanchard, who represented the Humanities Division, argued that languages were the key to communicating with aliens.

Mark Kuperberg, the Social Sciences representative, said that economics has already created a language to talk to aliens.

Amy Vollmer spoke for the Natural Sciences Division and said that biology is “literally designed” to study other species.

Students participated by asking follow-up questions and ultimately decided the winner via popular vote.

Vollmer and the Natural Sciences Division came away with a decisive win.

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