Professors from the humanities, social sciences and natural sciences are stranded on an island with a raft for one. College of William and Mary students get to choose which discipline survives. Who did they pick?
Students answered this question Wednesday night at the annual Raft Debate. Originating at the College in the mid-1900s, the Raft Debate ceased in the mid-’80s but was revived in 2002. Since then other universities have contacted the College for Raft Debate secrets, according to Raft Debate judge and Dean of Graduate Studies and Research Laurie Sanderson.
For the Wednesday evening debate, the shipwrecked educators were theater professor Steve Holliday representing the humanities; biology professor Mark Forsyth representiing the natural sciences; and psychology professor Danielle Dallaire representing the social sciences. Law professor Laura Heymann served as the devil’s advocate, a position that argues all three disciplines as equally useless.
For the debate, professors were given seven minutes to argue why their area of study should survive for the sake of humanity, followed by a three-minute rebuttal from each. Intensity of audience applause determined the winner.
Holliday began by arguing that the humanities exemplify the foundation of a liberal arts college.
“I am fascinated by [the other disciplines] because it is up to me to translate them to the rest of the world,” he said, subtly putting down his competitors.
Holliday also argued that the humanities are essential to society because they frame concepts into terms that “Joe Six-pack” understands.
Forsyth appealed to popular student pastimes to support his plea for the natural sciences.
“Scientists will find ways to produce alcohol from corn production,” he told the audience. “Science brought us much better beer; it is logical that they will provide more and better sex.”
Forsyth also argued that scientists are useful because they can release diseases upon their competition.
“When you can’t beat your competition, infect them and let them die,” he said.
Forsyth used stuffed creatures to represent diseases such as “the clap” to demonstrate how a scientist could infect his competition with STDs.
Dallaire used Hurricane Katrina as an example of social science’s usefulness.
Referencing a newspaper from the late 1800s, Dallaire showed that even after the devastating Johnstown. Penn. flood, history repeated itself with Hurricane Katrina. Scientists, she argued, were unable to respond to the destruction from the storm, and the humanities were rendered irrelevant.
According to Daillaire, it was the social sciences that helped people rebuild, cope with the trauma, and heal psychologically.
Daillaire concluded that social sciences “increase human knowledge to better the human condition.”
Last to speak was Heymann, who attempted to persuade the audience that the humanities, natural sciences and social sciences are one unit, and, therefore, none could survive alone.
Using a good deal of sarcasm, Heymann said that since the humanities created celebrities such as Miley Cyrus and Paris Hilton, the humanities “deserve to die.”
Heymann also said that society was better off without the natural sciences because society was much simpler and healthier before technology. She argued against the social sciences by stating that the discipline could never provide a clear answer to anything because each result contains a margin of error.
The audience clapped, cheered and stomped for the discipline they thought should be placed on the raft. Initially, the audience tied between the natural sciences and the devil’s advocate. After a second round, the College audience chose to save Heymann.
“[The College threw] all the disciplines into Davy Jones’ Locker,” Sanderson concluded. “The devil won.”