Three Robb Lectures will emphasise that science is about questioning and revising

Science should be about questions, inquiry and revision, not facts, certainty and dogma, according to visiting neuroscientist, Professor Stuart Firestein from Colombia University.

Professor Firestein will give this year’s Robb Lecture series at the University of Auckland in August.

His three public talks on the nature of scientific practice are intended to “dispel the common, but incorrect view of science as the 400-year-long accumulation of an impregnable mountain of facts, largely unavailable to all but the initiated”.

“We will replace this narrative with an approach to science that emphasises questions over facts, inquiry over certainty and revision over dogma,” he says. “This dynamic science is accessible to all who have a genuine interest in a particularly successful way of knowing about the world.”

Dr Firestein is the former Chair of Columbia University’s Department of Biological Sciences where his laboratory studies the vertebrate olfactory system.

He is also dedicated to promoting the accessibility of science to a public audience and serves as an adviser for the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation’s programme for the Public Understanding of Science. Recently he was awarded the 2011 Lenfest Distinguished Columbia Faculty Award for excellence in scholarship and teaching.

His three lectures in mid-August are entitled ‘Ignorance and Uncertainty – what makes science go’, and ‘Failure and Doubt – why science is so successful’, and ‘Pluralism – science maturing’.

“Science, and its product technology, are deeply woven into every part of our modern lives,” he says. “Indeed we think of ourselves as modern in large part because of the sophistication of our science and technology, but less and less of that science seems accessible to fewer and fewer of the world’s citizens.

“The sheer mountain of facts that have accumulated seems impregnable to all, but the very few willing to dedicate an enormous effort and immense time.

“This view is a distortion of a dysfunctional educational system that emphasizes a kind of bulimic approach to science (memorise and regurgitate facts) and its enduring effect on our relationship to science.”

“Can we fix this state of affairs and allow a wider participation in what is arguably the greatest adventure of our species? We’ll do our best in these three short lectures,” he says.

More on the content and timing of the lectures can be found here.

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