Once again, engineers are being asked to spend more time studying the liberal arts ( "Engineering schools strive to serve up Pinter with Planck). Frankly, I'm tired of hearing this proposition, and it's not due my disinterest in non-science subjects: I'd be happy to discuss Greek philosophers, James Joyce, Samuel Beckett, and William Shakespeare with anyone out there.
First, I see nothing other than anecdotal evidence that such purportedly well-rounded engineers will be better at their jobs than those who focus their studies on science and engineering. Second, as the clich goes, there are only so many hours in the day, and if you take time to study one thing, you'll have to give up something else. The concern I hear from engineers and scientists at all levels is that there is already so much to know in their field that they are remiss at keeping up with even associated topics. Even more annoying, every time I hear some interest group with an agenda say something like, "Doctors should study more about nutrition/geriatrics/eating disorders, etc.," all I can say is, "OK, sounds good, but what would you have them not study, then?"
I am tired of the presumption that it's the engineers who need to become "well rounded." The typical engineer has broader knowledge and interests than the average non-engineer, in my experience. Then look at the abysmal understanding the public has about basic science and engineering topics; it would be funny if it wasn't so sad. These are the same people who call upon the technical community to solve every problem quickly, painlessly, and without tradeoffs. Tell me: Who needs to learn more about the other side of life?
The split between the technical and the non-technical communities is not a new story. It was discussed widely even in the 1950s by physicist and novelist C.P. Snow, in his essays such as "The Two Cultures," among others. Since that time, the divide he deplored has become even more dramatic than he foresaw, as technology's advance has accelerated while the understanding of it by the public which consumes it has declined.
There are many reasons for this decline, including the sheer complexity of today's technologies, a lazy and jaded public, and the dumbing down of education (have you seen today's high-school chemistry labs?), to name a few. But the basic principles of science and engineering are still vital and unchanged (force, power, gravity, the list could go on and on). Why should our community accept the premise that it is we who need to learn more about that non-technical side, rather than the other way around?