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The scientific method: ignorance, uncertainty, doubt, failure...

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Science produces questions more than it generates answers. Every good answer leads to new, and ideally better, questions. This is a process termed The Principle of Question Propagation by Immanuel Kant, but among scientists it is a matter of such common knowledge that it is rarely stated explicitly. However, like the jargon filled language that passes as easy conversation for the trained scientist while effectively excluding the non-expert and nonscientist, this failure to be explicit about the value of ignorance has the unwanted effect of excluding much of the citizenry from the inner workings of science. Coincidentally it seems now also to have fostered a growing and easily manipulated mistrust of both scientists and science. Science has become dangerously divorced from the culture, not because it has grown too difficult or too impenetrable, but because it has hidden its inner workings of mystery, doubt, uncertainty, failure and revision, while turning an encyclopedic face to the public. There are numerous reasons that could be cited for this relatively recent (i.e., last 50 years) development, and historians and sociologists have enumerated a number of them. Rather than go over that territory, I would like instead to explore with you the potentially disastrous consequences of this distorted perception and ways in which philosophical and historical perspectives of science can be used to remedy this situation, with a particular emphasis on science education and policy.

This talk is part of the CamPoS (Cambridge Philosophy of Science) seminar series.

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