Ignorance : How It Drives Science

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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.
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Product details

  • Hardback | 208 pages
  • 136 x 182 x 21mm | 264g
  • New York, United States
  • English
  • 0199828075
  • 9780199828074
  • 93,832

Table of contents

Chapter 1. A Short View of Ignorance ; Chapter 2. Finding Out ; Chapter 3. Limits, Uncertainty, Impossibility, and Other Minor Problems ; Chapter 4. Unpredicting ; Chapter 5. The Quality of Ignorance ; Chapter 6. Ignorance in Action: Case Histories ; Chapter 7. Ignorance beyond the Lab
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Review Text

This is a lovely little book, which is truly about what drives science; and its not about physics, or chemistry, or engineering, but real biology. Jack Cohen, The Biologist
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Review quote

In Ignorance: How It Drives Science Stuart Firestein goes so far as to claim that ignorance is the main force driving scientific pursuit. Firestein, a popular professor of neurobiology at Columbia, admits at the outset that he uses "the word ignorance at least in part to be intentionally provocative" and clarifies that for him it denotes a "communal gap in knowledge." He 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... Especially valuable is Firestein's ability to capture how science gets done in fits and starts... He demystifies the day-to-day activities of research scientists across a variety of disciplines
with case studies illustrating how breakthroughs in understanding, however humble or grand, are essentially unforeseeable even to a seasoned mind. * New York Review of Books * The book is effectively conversational and can be read quickly, as intended. * The American Journal of Epidemiology * The fundamental attribute of successful scientists, Firestein argues in this pithy book, is a form of ignorance characterised by knowing what you don't know, and being able to ask the right questions. * Culture Lab * A splendid book ... Packed with real examples and deep practical knowledge, Ignorance is a thoughtful introduction to the nature of knowing, and the joy of curiosity. * Adam Rutherford, The Observer * 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. Ignorance is a thoughtful introduction to the nature of knowing, and the joy of curiosity. * Adam Rutherford, The Observer * a quietly mind-blowing new book. * Readers Digest * An excellent read, [it is] a fine companion text for potential scientists a the beginning of their studies ... You may gradually become more and more ignorant as you read, and you will enjoy the journey. Ignorance in this telling is truly bliss. * Moran Cerf, Science Magazine * It is important to emphasize the creative process in the sciences. This is not just another methodological book on the empirical cycle, but an unpretentious and smooth-reading plea for attention on an uncultivated but mineable area. * Tijdschrift voor Psychiatrie, Dec 2012 * A valuable acquisition for academic libraries, given the current emphasis on STEM education and undergraduate research. * R. E. Buntrock, CHOICE * [B]oth concise and splendidly aphoristic. * Robin Ince, New Statesman * This is a lovely little book ... Give it to your friends or relatives to explain why you do science. * Professor Jack Cohen FSB, The Biologist * This is a lovely little book, which is truly about what drives science; and its not about physics, or chemistry, or engineering, but real biology. * Jack Cohen, The Biologist *
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About Stuart Firestein

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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Rating details

967 ratings
3.85 out of 5 stars
5 28% (275)
4 38% (366)
3 25% (244)
2 7% (70)
1 1% (12)
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