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Social Sciences Claim Victory in 2017 Bathtub Debate

Carol Nackenoff

Richter Professor of Political Science Carol Nackenoff argues her case for the social sciences. Photo by Angelina Abitino '18 

After a convincing, passionate argument from Richter Professor of Political Science Carol Nackenoff, the Social Sciences bested the Humanities and Natural Sciences in the 11th annual Bathtub Debate.

As per tradition, three professors—each hailing from different academic divisions—gave their arguments as to why their division should survive in an apocalyptic scenario. In this year’s scenario, Russian President Vladimir Putin has, in confluence with Present Donald Trump, annexed the United States. To fund his expansionary efforts, the Putin-Trump regime has pulled funding and resources from many U.S. schools, leaving Swarthmore’s Board of Managers with only enough money to fund and maintain one academic division. Each of the three professors argued why their corresponding division should be prioritized and saved from demise. Joining Nackenoff, Associate Professor of Theater K. Elizabeth Stevens defended the Humanities and Assistant Professor of Biology Professor Liz Nichols defended the Natural Sciences.

Moderated by Nate Urban ’18, an honors political science major from Westtown, Pa., the debate began with opening statements from each of the three professors. Nackenoff argued that in order to overthrow Putin, we must study and understand him through the lens of politics, psychology, history, and education. Moreover, she dismissed the humanities as extraneous. She asked, “Who needs classes on comedy and tragedy when all you have to do is look around you and read the newspapers?” Then, in referencing the natural sciences, she cited the dangers of computer hacking and the “gazillions of dollars” that are spent on engineering endeavors.

Stevens, on the other hand, took a less incendiary approach. Opening to the tune of a Russian rap song, she argued that only our core human principles would see us through a Putin-Trump America. She proceeded to call the social sciences and natural sciences “scary” because, as she argued, “they are corruptible, [thus making them] useful.”

Finally, Nichols took perhaps the most straightforward approach, boiling her argument down to a simple equation:

Natural sciences + social sciences + humanities = natural sciences

She went on to argue the importance of practical thinking and understanding during the trying times that would inevitably come as a result of Putin’s rule.

After the three professor had made their arguments, they proceed to take questions from an audience of students and colleagues. When one student asked if the natural sciences were at risk of being abused by an authoritarian power, Nichols responded with an answer that apparently needed no explanation: “No.”

Another student asked what specific major the professors would cut from their respective divisions. Nichols initially answered chemistry but quickly changed her response to biochemistry—a safer response with the audience. Nackenoff argued that, rather than cutting an entire department, she would cut off “dead wood” from various subjects. Finally, Stevens argued that the humanities already don’t cost the institution much, so no such cuts would ever be made.

After brief closing statements from all three professors, the audience—by measure of cheers—voted for the winner of the debate. Ultimately, Nackenoff and the social sciences emerged victorious. That’s right; in the event of a Putin-Trump America, you can kiss the humanities and natural sciences goodbye. 

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