How to think about science

Via Matt Nesbit (in a post I’ll also try to comment on in my 3-day blogging rampage), I’d like to draw your attention to a wonderful series “How to Think About Science” from the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.  The host interviews sociologists, historians, philosophers, and even a couple scientists.  Unfortunately, the podcasts don’t seem to be available for download and so you’ll have to listen to them from your computer.  I’ve already listened to the first interview with Steven Shapin, co-author of the allegedly ground-breaking book “Leviathan and the Air-Pump.”

I can’t speak for the rest of the series just yet, but this first installment is excellent.  Shapin stresses the need for a more nuanced image of science to be more widely communicated, something I feel the STS community woefully neglects.  He also points out that the term “public understanding of science” can be taken to have two distinct meaning.  On one hand, it can mean that the public should know or accept scientists’ view of the world.  Alternatively, it can also mean that the public should know how scientists produce knowledge of the world.  A subtle difference that can lead to vastly different outcomes.

A couple other interesting tidbits from the hour-long piece:

  1. During the science wars, Shapin asserts that a few hypersensitive scientists confused the demystification of science with “catastrophic undermining.”  I like that phrasing.
  2. There are two conflicting, yet consistently promoted images of science.  Either scientists are superhumans capable of solving any problem (critiqued by both Ryan and myself), or science is simply organized common sense.  Both images are incorrect.

That’s it for now.  Stay tuned for an upcoming review of Natural Reflections.

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