Ignorance: How It Drives Science Hardcover – Mar 27 2012
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"Firestein, a popular professor of neurobiology at Columbia...describes clearly how scientists continually uncover new facts that confront them with the extent of their ignorance, and how they successfully grapple with uncertainty in their daily research work. With ample examples from neuroscience he describes the limits of what we currently know, what the uncertainties are, and why they arise especially in the study of complex systems like the brain, the olfactory system, human vision, climate change, and earthquakes." --The New York Review of Books
"[A] sparkling and innovative look at ignorance . . . We should remember that when a sphere becomes bigger, the surface area grows. Thus, as the sphere of scientific knowledge increases, so does the surface area of the unknown. Firestein's book reminds us that it is at this interface that we can claim true and objective progress."
--MIchael Shermer for Nature
"Firestein challenges our culture's pat view of science as a simple process of placing one brick of knowledge on top of another in a simple progression toward greater knowledge."
"[I]t's the latter - the unanswered questions - that makes science, and life, interesting. That's the eloquently argued case at the heart of Ignorance: How It Drives Science, in which Stuart Firestein sets out to debunk the popular idea that knowledge follows ignorance, demonstrating instead that it's the other way around and, in the process, laying out a powerful manifesto for getting the public engaged with science - a public to whom, as Neil deGrasse Tyson recently reminded Senate, the government is accountable in making the very decisions that shape the course of science."
"Ignorance, it turns out, is really quite profound, and this is a good introduction to the subject." --Library Journal
"Stuart Firestein's Ignorance offers a pithier and more nuanced look at the fallibility of science." --Slate
Chosen by New Scientist's Culture Lab as one of the Ten Books to look out for in 2012
"This is a fascinating little book . . . it's Ignorance: How It Drives Science by Stuart Firestein, and it will blow your mind as we used to say back in the '60s..."
--Ira Flatow, NPR's Science Friday
"An excellent read, Ignorance would be a fine companion text for potential scientists at the beginning of their studies. The book reminds us that although we are repeatedly given the impression our world contains an endless amount of knowledge, most of that is inaccessible to us, and it is the absence of knowledge that should concern us. Firestein's short account may even make you embrace your ignorance, wearing it like a badge of
honor." -- Science
"[A] short, highly entertaining book aimed at nonscientists and students who want to be scientists. The book comes at an important time. Today's most vociferous scientific controversies turn on different interpretations of facts - about climate change, about contraception, about evolution. When politics are injected, the shouting grows louder, the thinking muddier. Uncertainty is a dirty word. Dr. Firestein, by contrast, celebrates a tolerance for uncertainty, the pleasures of scientific mystery and the cultivation of doubt. If more people embraced the seductive appeal of uncertainty, he says, it might take some acrimony out of our public debates." --Sandra Blakeslee, New York Times
"[I]ntelligent and entertaining." --Wall Street Journal
"Firestein's ideas about how science works will strike most scientists as obvious. But his examples are interesting enough to keep those already committed to his thesis turning the pages, and for the non-scientist he offers a valuable counterbalance to know-it-all scientists and the portrayal of science by the media." --Books & Culture
About the Author
Stuart Firestein is Professor and Chair of the Department of Biological Sciences at Columbia University, where his highly popular course on ignorance invites working scientists to come talk to students each week about what they don't know. Dedicated to promoting science to a public audience, he serves as an advisor for the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation's program for the Public Understanding of Science and was awarded the 2011 Lenfest Distinguished Columbia Faculty Award for excellence in scholarship and teaching.
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"In fact more often than not, science is like looking for a black cat in a dark room, and there may not be a cat in the room." says Firestein. Then you need to understand what a scientist does next is to run into another dark room to do it all over again!
And sometimes (like with the experiments on luminiferous aether) , failure can prove as interesting and move science forward as much as a successful experiment.
It's important to understand what by "ignorance" here the author is not talking about willful ignorance, but more about a what has yet to be found out and tested.
The book has several interesting case studies and anecdotes, such as one scientist using a talking parrot to find out what they didn't know about the human brain. Also, the author points out that when a scientist gets a chance to predict the future- he is very often wrong. The author also goes into his rather unorthodox and interesting professional history.
Science is a matter of taking a `educated guess'= (a hypothesis) , which is then tested repeatedly until it becomes a "theory". Many people don't understand that a `scientific theory" isn't a guess, but something that has been proven to be right after repeated rigorous testing. The hypothesis is the guess, not a theory.
I agree with the author in that what's truly exciting is all that's still left to explore and find, things that we may have no idea even exist.
Easy to read, even for the layman.
I loved that the book was short and pithy--Dr. Firestein took the time to write the short letter, and to collapse the arguments and stories down to their essence. He illustrates the fascination of science, its challenge, its compulsion, and its joy in a way no other book I have ever seen comes close.
I've been a scientist for 30 years, and this book says things I've known and understood for most of that career, but says it in a way that is fresh and novel. Even for me, its a rejuvenating reminder of why I went into science. A useful reminder when most of the day can get caught up in meetings and business instead of 'real' science.
It's important to note that the title is a little misleading. Maybe it should have been called "Questions and How They Drive Science". The author is not suggesting we be intentionally uninformed, but that we look to the areas where we don't have explanations and answers for future discoveries.
This is a thinking person's book and the point is that the more we discover the more we find we don't know the answers. Each question answered by science raises more areas of "ignorance"; more unknowns. This is a good book and worth reading. Please take advantage of the "Search Inside" feature of this book on Amazon. Read the available text in chapter one to get an idea about what the book is all about.
The book is light reading, although thinking about what you aren't thinking about can be slippery at times. Maybe that's why it's so fruitful to spend time on it. The ideas here are useful for anyone living in the modern world. Give more attention to questions than answers.