Stuart Firestein on 'Ignorance: How it Drives Science'

'Ignorance' by Stuart Firestein
Book cover courtesy of publisher

In Stuart Firestein's new book, he argues that ignorance is the engine of science. Should we really think of ideas like the scientific method as something set in stone?

Firestein joined The Daily Circuit to talk about his new book, "Ignorance: How it Drives Science," and better ways to think about scientific discovery and fact.

"It would be nice if [science was] so well-ordered and so thought-out and so carefully chronicled, but it's not," he said on Talk of the Nation. "It's complete chaos most of the time. I mean, all of us, of working scientists, have told our graduate students at one time or another, well, look, let's get the data, and then we'll come up with a hypothesis, because that's sometimes just the way it is. In fact, I think a hypothesis is, in some ways, a bad idea for science; because a hypothesis is, after all, your best, cutest idea about how something works. And it's bound to buy us everything you do after that."

From The Guardian review:

Stuart Firestein, a teacher and neuroscientist, has written a splendid and admirably short book about the pleasure of finding things out using the scientific method. He smartly outlines how science works in reality rather than in stereotype. His MacGuffin - the plot device to explore what science is - is ignorance, on which he runs a course at Columbia University in New York. Although the word "science" is derived from the Latin scire (to know), this misrepresents why it is the foundation and deliverer of civilisation. Science is to not know but have a method to find out. It is a way of knowing.


There needs to be more acceptance of informed ignorance in the science fields and scientists have to be open and transparent about it.

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