Nate Silver Crunches the Humanities

By Mark Bauerlein for the Chronicle of Higher Education

In the debates over the humanities that have unfolded at TheChronicle and elsewhere, the statistician Nate Silver has emerged an authority on the numerical facts. Late last month, Silver wrote a post on his FiveThirtyEight blog at The New York Times titled “As More Attend College, Majors Become More Career-Focused.” He cited figures from the Digest of Education Statisticsdemonstrating that allegations of grave decline are unjustified. In fact, looked at in the proper way, the number of students choosing English and other humanities fields is stable or only slightly falling.

Silver’s calculations have been quoted as crisp rejoinders to the pessimists in a Chronicle Review article by Michael Bérubé and aNew York Times article by Jennifer Schuessler called “Quants Ask: What Crisis in the Humanities?” Bérubé even asserts, tongue-in-cheek, “Nate Silver is correct approximately 100.000 percent of the time.”

But while the numbers are indisputable, their implications are not. In fact, what Silver shows and infers, we can reasonably say, actually confirms the diminishing status of the humanities in undergraduate education.

Read the rest of this essay on the Chronicle of Higher Education.


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