Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World
By: David Epstein
Riverhead Books (April 27, 2021)
David Epstein’s Range is an argument against increasing specialization. Honestly, I have always agreed with this on some level. For example, I think that little should be taught before high school that is outside of reading, writing, and arithmetic. Don’t misunderstand me. This is not a desire to limit the subjects taught. It is a desire to broaden them. We should be teaching students
how to think rather than exactly
what they should learn. For instance, teaching economics by reading good economics books and writing critically about the subject. Specialization has its place, of course, in technical endeavors. But this is not always true for direct innovation. For example, an oncologist, a chemist, a biologist, and an immunologist might come up with more original and promising ideas in treating cancer than four oncologists could come up with on their own. Pick a lane, but dabble as you go along. Knowledge and skill have ways of cross-pollinating that are not always immediately obvious.
Two of my favorite quotes:
When he recounts his own education at the University of Chicago, where he was captain of the cross-country team, he raises his voice. “Even the best universities aren’t developing critical intelligence,” he told me. “They aren’t giving students the tools to analyze the modern world, except in their area of specialization. Their education is too narrow.” He does not mean this in the simple sense that every computer science major needs an art history class, but rather that everyone needs habits of mind that allow them to dance across disciplines.
Biology and English majors did poorly on everything that was not directly related to their field. None of the majors, including psychology, understood social science methods. Science students learned the facts of their specific field without understanding how science should work in order to draw true conclusions. Neuroscience majors did not do particularly well on anything. Business majors performed very poorly across the board, including in economics. Econ majors did the best overall. Economics is a broad field by nature, and econ professors have been shown to apply the reasoning principles they’ve learned to problems outside their area.*