How It Drives Science

Book - 2012
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"Knowledge is a big subject, says Stuart Firestein, but ignorance is a bigger one. And it is ignorance--not knowledge--that is the true engine of science. Most of us have a false impression of science as a surefire, deliberate, step-by-step method for finding things out and getting things done. In fact, says Firestein, 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. The process is more hit-or-miss than you might imagine, with much stumbling and groping after phantoms. But it is exactly this "not knowing," this puzzling over thorny questions or inexplicable data, that gets researchers into the lab early and keeps them there late, the thing that propels them, the very driving force of science. Firestein shows how scientists use ignorance to program their work, to identify what should be done, what the next steps are, and where they should concentrate their energies. And he includes a catalog of how scientists use ignorance, consciously or unconsciously--a remarkable range of approaches that includes looking for connections to other research, revisiting apparently settled questions, using small questions to get at big ones, and tackling a problem simply out of curiosity. The book concludes with four case histories--in cognitive psychology, theoretical physics, astronomy, and neuroscience--that provide a feel for the nuts and bolts of ignorance, the day-to-day battle that goes on in scientific laboratories and in scientific minds with questions that range from the quotidian to the profound. Turning the conventional idea about science on its head, Ignorance opens a new window on the true nature of research. It is a must-read for anyone curious about science"-- Provided by publisher.
"Contrary to the popular view of science as a mountainous accumulation of facts and data, Firestein takes the novel perspective that Ignorance is the main product and driving force of science, and that this is the best way to understand the process of scientific discovery"-- Provided by publisher.
Publisher: New York : Oxford University Press, c2012.
ISBN: 9780199828074
Branch Call Number: 501.9 FIRESTEIN
Characteristics: viii, 195 p. ; 19 cm.


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Dec 01, 2018

The book is divided into two parts: Part 1 is an essay of sorts on how scientific progress develops and Part 2 is a set of case histories illustrating the points of part 1. From Part 1, the essential conclusion is that although facts form a foundational framework, it is the questions and the pursuit of answers to those questions that really advance scientific thought. Questions are then really a formulation of specific ignorance. Part 2, while interesting, is much less successful. It is not at all clear that the subjects of the case histories are advancing scientific thought or going down blind alleys (dark rooms without a black cat to use the metaphor). The reading list at the end is most useful.

Oct 19, 2015

Well written, entertaining and enlightening. Great suggestions for attitude and advice in teaching science.

Aug 28, 2014

I personally did not enjoy this book as much as I thought I would. I've learned about it on a science podcasts about viruses TWIV, and podcast's hosts were really excited about the book and liked it a lot. I found it was written in a very difficult to get English, and maybe that is why I did not get the bug, because English is a third :) language for me.. .anyway, I found the title a bit deceptive, it is not about the ignorance the way it is most commonly perceived and generally book did not reveal much to me. I'm a scientists, so I knew most of the things book described anyway, because I know the system and rules of today science and was in it for more than 13 years already... The author himself was working in art industry before he turned to science at the age of 30 and you can really see his artistic side in the way he writes. Native English speakers might find this book more interesting, I had to consult my dictionary for unfamiliar words many many times while reading this book, and generaly I do not need to.


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