Stuart Firestein - How Ignorance Drives Science
Posted: 25 June 2012 04:47 PM   [ Ignore ]
Total Posts:  170
Joined  2009-06-02

Host: Indre Viskontas

The idea that science moves forward by carefully peeling back layers of the onion of truth, one by one, in a deliberate fashion, is so prevalent that it borders on cliche. But the truth is that running scientific experiments often feels more akin to dipping a cup into a bottomless well of information: each new study simply raises more questions than it answers. Although scientific knowledge is vast, ignorance, or what’s left to learn, dwarfs what we think we know. Exploring this boundless frontier, neurobiologist Stuart Firestein explains how ignorance, rather than facts, drives science.

Stuart Firestein is the Chair of Columbia University’s Department of Biological Sciences where he studies the vertebrate olfactory system, possibly the best chemical detector on the face of the planet. Dedicated to promoting the accessibility of science to a public audience Firestein serves as an advisor for the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation’s program for the Public Understanding of Science. His popular course at Columbia University served as the basis of his new book Ignorance: How it Drives Science published by Oxford University Press.

Posted: 11 July 2012 11:56 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
Total Posts:  115
Joined  2007-12-09

This was an excellent interview which helped me form a new and better way of thinking about, and of describing, science.
Sincere thanks both to Indre Viskontas and to Stuart Firestein.

Just now I read this article from the New York Times, which made me want to ask both geneticists and linguists what questions regarding the early migrations of mankind would be on the table now, given the new findings.

The article also helps point up how useful very different disciplines can be to one another, and also how easily we humans, even the smartest among us, might be the victims of our own pet hypotheses, i.e., our attachments to them.  In this case, the victims happen to be linguists, at least apparently.

(Ms. Viskontas:  I’d like to offer a very, and I mean very, small constructive criticism.  I think if you put a bit of attention on how often you say, “you know,” your intelligence and humor and fine interviewing skills will shine all the more!  By the way, I share your unread New Yorker accretion guilt syndrome.  Although in my case, sometimes I start reading the magazine and then later feel guilty about all the other things I probably ought to have been doing instead…  What can you do?)



Posted: 12 July 2012 08:43 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
Jr. Member
Total Posts:  25
Joined  2012-06-04

I enjoyed this as well, and will be picking up the book.  I remember working on NSF grants in grad school, and going through this process of “putting in the hypotheses”.  Part of this was no doubt due to my discipline’s (archaeology) dubious status as a science, but it was reassuring to hear a scientist express doubts about that part of the process (and to hear it done in english, not grad-student speak).


Cogito cogito ergo cogito sum (Ambrose Bierce)