The post first appeared in the Tallahassee Democrat.
A bill intending to discourage students from enrolling in majors that “do not directly lead to employment” is winding its way through the Florida Legislature. Unfortunately, this bill seriously misunderstands the nature of current labor markets. A person’s major does not necessarily lead to employment in any particular industry.
Students who study the humanities are assuming more data-driven roles and approaching data analysis from new perspectives. Indeed, education panelists at the 2018 WISE@NY Learning Revolutions conference predicted philosophy and ethics skills will be in higher demand as access to computer science skills increases.
From sociologists working at today’s popular dating apps to anthropologists working at Nissan, successful data analysis requires both humanistic and technical skills.
This critical intersection is explored in Sam Dragga and Dan Voss’ work, “The Inhumanity of Technical Illustrations,” which argues humanism is an essential ingredient in “ethical illustrations,” such as data visualizations. The authors analyze a visual of Napoleon’s 1812 invasion of Russia, which highlights victory but fails to convey the 412,000 casualties of the campaign. The authors consider this omission of data a “distortion of the reality.”
It’s not just historical analysis. Those with backgrounds in philosophy, ethics, anthropology and humanities-related disciplines are contributing to innovation and product development for cutting-edge businesses such as robotics. They provide the frameworks and programming designs for how technology can and should be used.
When producing visual information of people and populations, data scientists must appropriately and accurately humanize the visualization. Employees with training in rhetoric, ethics and communication positively contribute to this improvement and make business products more valuable and useful.
American universities are integrating programs that focus on the benefits of exploring the humanities alongside data science. NYU’s Data Science and Humanities Initiative hosts events to facilitate these conversations by exploring archival research, visualization and historical data.
As a philosophy major at Florida State University, I have personally participated in meaningful, data-driven work as a Data Analytics Intern with the DeVoe L. Moore Center. This student-centered public policy think tank tasks its Data Analytics Group with the acquisition of Florida government data, the creation of digital data visualizations, the maintenance of the Florida Open Government website, and more.
Perhaps it’s not so surprising that, according to a report by the Strada Education Network and Emsi, more STEM employers are hiring individuals with humanities backgrounds. In fact, employees with backgrounds in humanities — the majors the legislation attempts to discourage — are likely to be in more demand.
With the rising emphasis on humanistic skills in the labor market, education institutions must prepare their students to collaborate in these interdisciplinary work environments. Universities should continue to prioritize integrated learning systems that facilitate interdisciplinary collaboration, not discourage the best and the brightest from contributing to them.
Angel Purganan is a research assistant in the College of Social Sciences and Public Policy at Florida State University. She is majoring in philosophy and political science with minors in Middle Eastern studies and history.
The feature image is from Pexels.