On inclusive scholarship

Our proud alumnus Rebecca Barchas, MD (MED ‘68), who endowed the professorship held by Andrew Pieper, recently shared with me her parent’s interest in the history of science and medicine including an extensive book collection and their donation of said collection to the Green Library of Stanford University.

When I had a chance to visit that remarkable collection, I held (and photographed) the works of Galileo, Newton, Darwin and Harvey. There were also science books from the 16th to18th centuries from China, Egypt and India.

As you might imagine, these treatises were infused with the emergence of scientific logic developing from different cultures, philosophy and religions over time.

Fast forward to the solar eclipse this past week—a note in the New York Times science section by William J. Broad reminds us of the precise calculations made by the Greek philosopher Thales on the time of the next eclipse and the impact that prediction (correctly calculated) had on the war between the kingdoms of Medes and Lyndian in 586 B.C. Broad notes that Thales confronted superstition with rational calculations.

Add to that the recent perspective in Science magazine, Feb. 9, 2023, by Amanda Black and Jason Tylianakis (you might speculate on the 3-millennium link): “Teaching Indigenous knowledge alongside science” 10.1126/science. adi9606. They describe the added insight and discovery in studying ecology and ecosystems from current dissection of plants with longitudinal knowledge of local communities gained over many lifetimes. Much like the philosopher/scientific inquiry/religious environment of the 1500 to1600s in the Barchas collection, so too, Black and Tylianakis note: “Innovation, like evolution, draws from diversity, so that diversity of knowledge sources and transfer among them are known to positively influence innovation”.

It is this last comment that caught my attention. Inclusive scholarship is not new, it has been essential to scientific discovery, innovation and conceptual breakthroughs for 3,000 years. It is, to state again, as old as the Hippocratic Oath, linking medical practice, culture and scientific innovation. It is not a passive effort—it takes work to manage different voices and perspectives either coming from one’s global social perspective or collected from conversations with students and colleagues from different backgrounds. All contribute to the fabric of innovation and discovery. Our embracing this approach to inquiry in our age of inclusive excellence, expanding engagement across backgrounds, races, cultures, and socioeconomic classes, will help us break through to the next generation of discovery and improvements in health. May I suggest we all practice and promote inclusive scholarship. Our children will be grateful.

Stan Gerson, MD
Dean and Senior Vice President for Medical Affairs
School of Medicine, Case Western Reserve University