Bernard Allen
Bernard Allen

Can poets and clowns save the world?

People studying and working in the social sciences or arts are often called upon to justify the importance of their field in the world of academia. Which is quite normal — if anybody is going to devote huge amounts of time and brainpower to any pursuit it makes sense that others will question the usefulness of it. We do indeed live in a time where we cannot afford to waste precious human resources.

But what does seem quite silly is that comparison is still so often made with the physical sciences — the latter being regarded as superior. On leaving school I remember many parents (not mine) either openly or secretly balking at the idea of their intelligent children becoming artists or writers, instead of more “wholesome” academics such as doctors or engineers. I knew then already that they were missing out completely on the bigger picture, and more so now.

The truth is however that the fields need each other, and when inspired creativity combines with masterful scientific ability, they present an unstoppable force. One example would be the unbridled creativity found in science-fiction writing, which needs technical expertise to ever achieve realisation. I am of course thinking more along the lines of the works of Gene Roddenberry than those of L Ron Hubbard.

And today, on October 9, we have another example of how the two fields combine to great effect. A billionaire clown (yes, that is essentially what he is — take note parents) by the name of Guy Laliberté is broadcasting the efforts of creatives worldwide to illustrate the water shortages our planet is experiencing. From space.

Laliberté is the founder of the Cirque du Soleil circus group. In recent years he also launched the One Drop Foundation (, an organisation committed to global water conservation. To further the cause of the One Drop Foundation, Laliberté arranged to travel into space on board a Russian Soyuz-FG rocket.

Laliberté couldn’t be doing what he is without people who devoted their lives to science. The Russians who developed the rocket he is using are just as important as he is due to shaping and communicating his message of conservation to the world. It’s a symbiotic relationship.

So, can poets and clowns save the world?

They most certainly can. But not without their scientifically inclined brethren.

And for that matter, though not directly linked to the discussion here which revolves around arguments between science and arts in academia, they couldn’t do it without plumbers, accountants, farmers, garbage removers, lawyers, pilots, police officers, cleaners, and the millions of other people fulfilling extremely useful roles and working admirably hard to do so.

We all need each other.