Chad has a post up The Innumeracy of Intellectuals, where he goes on a rant against humanities academics and their blithe complacency in relation to their ignorance of science & mathematics. Two points….
1) One of the major issues with humanistically oriented intellectuals, I believe, is a lack of anthropological fluency with the culture of science. As a case in point, a contributor to the literary weblog The Valve dismissed my assertion that scholars who study science should have some immersion in scientific education at some point with the quip that experience with multiple choice tests wouldn’t add anything to their comprehension. The reduction and dismissal of even an undergraduate science education to multiple choice tests bespeaks a lack of awareness of what science coursework for those majoring in the sciences often consists of (i.e., solving problem sets, laboratories and undergraduate research).
2) One of the major issues with scientifically oriented intellectuals is that they attempt to translate scientific methods into humanistic domains where there just isn’t the proven return on investment at this point. Some forms of Marxism were an attempt to reduce history into a deterministic process controlled by a few parameters; I suspect that explains the attraction Marxism, and socialism more broadly, had for scientific intellectuals early in the 20th century. The hypoethico-deductive methodology which the scientifically educated are habituated to engaging in must be used very judiciously when examining humanistic questions. What exactly do general axiomatic theories have to tell us about the influence of Hellenistic motifs on early Umayyad art? How exactly has Theory really worked out for the humanities so far? Certainly an appreciation of art can be reduced ontologically to neuroscience, but the outcome of the Superbowl can also be reduced to quantum level dynamics. So?
Finally, I also don’t think that the attitude of humanists toward science is really one of superiority. I think it is pretty clear that today science is the queen of the intellectual enterprise, and within science physics is the gold standard by which other disciplines judge themselves. I think most of the bluster by non-scientists about their ignorance is rooted in some embarrassment, just as I think most non-physicists (this is mostly aimed toward biologists) know that they wish their own field had attained even a fraction of the power of physics in modeling the world around us.
Janet touches upon most of the hypotheses re: science vs. humanities….