Science of Learning Speaker Series


Thursday, October 26, 2017, 4:00pm to 5:15pm


Maxwell Dworkin- G125

Ignorance and Failure: Learning how to do Successful Science

Stuart Firestein, PhD
Chair, Department of Biological Sciences
Columbia University
Ignorance may be the most important finding of science. The first thing to recognize is how much we don’t know, that is the beginning of scientific investigation. The second thing to know is that even as knowledge increases, new ignorance appears even more rapidly. Not just new ignorance but better, more sophisticated ignorance. How do we keep that process going? How do we discover ever deeper kinds of ignorance? How do we discover what we don’t know we don’t know? One method for that is failure. When an experiment fails, a discovery is made. Something we didn’t know we didn’t know must be at work. Thus we can hitch failure to ignorance and thereby insure the continued growth of the scientific enterprise. This makes it simple - all we need to do is figure out how to teach ignorance and failure. 

Biography: Stuart Firestein, PhD 

Stuart Firestein is the 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. He was also recently named an AAAS Fellow.

Stuart Firestein is author of Ignorance: How it Drives Science and Failure: Why Science is So Successful, both released by Oxford University Press.