"If science students leave college thinking, as they usually do, that science offers a full, accurate, and literal description of man and Nature; if they think theories spring from facts and that scientific authority at any time is infallible, and if they think that science steadily and automatically makes for a better world – then they have wasted their time in the science lecture room and they are a plain menace to the society they live in".
One result of that situation is the durability of creation science in the US, where the practitioners can play on the general lack of understanding of the provisional nature of scientific findings at frontier of knowledge and the critical and imaginative approach required for good scientific research.
In 1968 he published his revealing and extremely well informed account of the alarming tendencies in American higher education due to explosive growth in the universities at a time of great confusion about their aims and about the traditions and disciplines which nurture learning and scholarship. As if to underline his concerns, The American University appeared in 1968, the very year that students around the world started setting fire to their campuses, including his own. The conflagration started in time for him to put a note in the Preface to state that this did not prompt him to change a word that he had written. The Australian universities, in their rapid expansion and loss of focus, followed much the same path, a decade or two behind the US lead, without anyone visibly learning anything from the US experience that was clearly spelled out in 1968. It is interesting to note that the name of Barzun appears to be missing from the debates that have raged on higher education in this country, which suggests that his work in this area was done in vain so far as our academics and intellectuals are concerned.
A more comprehensive overview of his career can be found here.
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