Sunday, February 10, 2008

How to think about science

As graduate students, we spend a lot of time thinking about science. But we tend to concentrate on the "how-to", the minutiae of daily experiments. Rarely do we concern ourself with the "why". Once in a while experiments work, and we're confronted with something unexpected and we begin to put the pieces of the puzzle together to form a coherent model of reality. This part is what most people would identify as the core of the scientific process. Yet we spend surprisingly little time thinking about epistemology. Do our model reflect reality, or do we impose our biased mental framework onto natural phenomena. What does it mean to do science, is it about the experiments or the theory? Recently I've stumbled upon a series of podcast exploring these types of questions with interviews of prominent figures in ethics, philosophy, history and science which examine science in a social and philosophical perspective. I highly recommend this CBC podcast (Ideas) and particularly this series of interviews "how to think about science". You may not agree with all that is said, but it will make you reconsider many aspects of science which we take for granted.... Here is the roster:

Episode 1 - November 14 - Simon Schaffer
Episode 2 - November 21 - Lorraine Daston

Episode 3 - November 28 - Margaret Lock
Episode 4 - December 5 - Ian Hacking and Andrew Pickering
Episode 5 - December 12 - Ulrich Beck and Bruno Latour
Episode 6 - January 2 - James Lovelock
Episode 7 - January 9 - Arthur Zajonc
Episode 8 - January 16 - Wendell Berry
Episode 9 - January 23 - Rupert Sheldrake
Episode 10 - January 30 - Brian Wynne


Anonymous Coward said...

Wow Rupert Sheldrake is a loon. And Margaret Lock has some ideas that are really out there...

Jer Breck said...

I was really excited when I heard the CBC was putting this on but David Cayley is creating a disaster here.

I am a grad student myself and know that there are a lot of valid criticisms of science out there and that science is not pure and is full of hard-headed scientists but this podcast is leading people in the wrong direction.

I liken it to democracy. Plenty of bad things happen under democratically elected governments but do we blame it on democracy or do we blame it on the people running the democracy. We the same can be said of science. David Cayley is (happily I might add) throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

That said, there are some high points to the series (Andrew Pickering, Simon Schaffer to a certain extent) but if I didn't have the knowledge I do, an unbalanced series such as this one could put me on a road too many people are on, resentment for all science.