Month: August 2023

Reflections on doubt

The Good Science Project‘s first conference, the Day of Doubt, brings together leading scientists to debate today’s research culture and the values needed for good science. Any conference about research culture should encourage discussion and reflection, and in the Day of Doubt we hope everyone attending will feel free to contribute. All panel discussions will have plenty of time for audience Q and A; and after lunch, when we get into smaller groups, there should be ample opportunity for open debate.

Choosing your ‘reflection session’

We’ll be in touch with delegates in September to give you the opportunity to choose your ‘reflection session’. If you prefer to leave it to chance, or feel you cannot take your pick from such a rich offering, you can opt for ‘the lucky dip’, and the organisers will do the allocation for you. In advance, here is a short description of the likely themes of each session.

Questioning … public engagement

Join Professor Ken Arnold and Katherine Mathieson to discuss the role of public engagement as an increasingly important part of the scientist’s professional identity. What are the gains for a scientist, in doing public engagement work? How has public engagement progressed, in the last ten years? What do Ken and Katherine feel are the current challenges, in improving science-society relations? This session will also be an opportunity to learn about our facilitators’ institutions, the Medical Museion in Copenhagen, where Ken is Director, and the Royal Institution, where Katherine is Director.

Questioning … interdisciplinarity

All universities are busy encouraging interdisciplinarity, with multiple centres and institutes joining the traditional disciplinary departments. There are many areas of urgent concern where the interdisciplinary approach seems obviously necessary – climate science being an example. And we are often told that it is at the boundaries between disciplines that the best ideas and the brightest creativity can be found. But how true is this? How easy is it to be an ‘interdisciplinary scientist’? Are there specific issues for such people in terms of publishing and funding? How best can we introduce interdisciplinarity into the curriculum? And how easy is it for the traditional departments to encourage their ambulatory researchers? Join Dr Isabella von Holstein, Translation and Research Manager at the Institute for Molecular Science and Engineering, and Alyssa Gilbert, Director of Innovation at Imperial’s Grantham Institute, as they examine, and perhaps lay to rest, any doubts we might have about interdisciplinarity.

Questioning … excellence

Is it necessary for a scientist to be excellent? Does science require excellence, to advance and develop its solutions to our problems? Or is science basically dependent on being ‘normal’, as the historian Thomas Kuhn so famously said. Excellence is embedded in UK science because of its prime validator, the ‘Research Excellence Framework’ (REF). But how can excellence be measured? And when it comes to excellence, is it a concept that hardwires into science a fear of failure? Is excellence a competitive feature, a personal matter, or a collaborative one? Most pertinently, what is the significance of recent news about REF 2028, and its plans to broaden the way we judge ourselves. Join two acknowledged experts in the field – Professors James Wilsdon and Stephen Curry – to debate the issue and put your views.

Questioning … scientific truth

After Francis Bacon began to trumpet the virtues of the experimental method 400 years ago, science as we still understand it gradually came to be regarded as the ‘royal road to the truth’. And it has certainly had that status for the past 200 years. Yet, as we have come to learn more about science’s own history, working practices and institutional settings, doubt has been cast on the sort of ‘truth’ that results from scientific inquiry. After all, scientists are fallible creatures operating within limited resources, and scientific findings themselves – including very major ones – invite falsification and are periodically overturned and replaced. Join philosopher and sociologist Steve Fuller, and Dr Stephen Webster, to explore the shifting and elusive forms of scientific truth, and its role in the modern university.

Questioning … scientific expertise

Head of Chemistry Oscar Ces, technician and educator Kat Harris, and surgeon, author and teacher Roger Kneebone, together try to articulate, and weave together, the many forms of expertise that make Imperial College – and all universities – such interesting places. Increasingly we know that science benefits from diverse viewpoints, and that must imply ‘diverse skills’ too. How easy is it for a university to make use of different sorts of expert? Actually, how good is research culture at folding together the insights of scientists, social scientists and humanities scholars? And how easy is it for science to welcome diverse perspectives, while also trying to promote across society the scientific, Enlightenment world view?

And if you haven’t registered yet…

If you enjoy discussion about science, have views about its place in society and the way it organises itself in universities, then this conference is for you. Expect a lively day, with plenty of interaction, as we search for a better research culture. The conference is free and lunch is provided. Register here.