Pare com o treinamento científico que exige "não pergunte"!

sexta-feira, novembro 22, 2019


Stop the science training that demands ‘don’t ask’

It’s time to trust students to handle doubt and diversity in science, says Jerry Ravetz.

Jerry Ravetz

As a child, I realized that my parents spoke in Yiddish when they didn’t want me to know what they were talking about, so I became aware that some knowledge was intended only for grown-ups — don’t ask. In college, I was taught an elegant theory of chemical combination based on excess electrons going into holes in the orbital shell of a neighbouring atom. But what about diatomic compounds like oxygen gas? Don’t ask; students aren’t ready to know. In physics, I learnt that Newton’s second law of motion is not an empirical, approximate relation such as Boyle’s and Hooke’s laws, and instead has a universal application; but what about the science of statics, in which forces are balanced and there is no acceleration? Don’t ask. Mere students are not worthy of an answer. Yet when I was moonlighting in the social sciences and humanities, I found my questions and opinions were respected, even if only as part of my learning experience.

Observant students will notice that social problems surrounding science are seldom mentioned in official curricula. And now, these pupils are starting to act. They have shamed their seniors into including more diverse contributors as faculty members and role models. Young scholars insolently ask their superiors why they fail to address the extinction crises elucidated by their research. Such subversions are reminiscent of the mass-produced heretical pamphlets circulated by Martin Luther’s supporters at the start of the Protestant Reformation in sixteenth-century Europe. The inherited authoritarian political structures of science education are becoming brittle — but still remain largely unchanged from my own school days.

The philosopher Thomas Kuhn once compared taught science to orthodox theology. A narrow, rigid education does not prepare anyone for the complexities of scientific research, applications and policy. If we discourage students from inquiring into the real nature of scientific truths, or exploring how society shapes the questions that researchers ask, how can we prepare them to maintain public trust in science in our ‘post-truth’ world? Diversity and doubt produce creativity; we must make room for them, and stop funnelling future scientists into narrow specialties that value technique over thought.

In the 1990s, Silvio Funtowicz, a philosopher of science, and I developed the concept of ‘post-normal science’, building on the Kuhnian terms ‘normal’ and ‘revolutionary’ science. It outlines how to use science in a society confronted with high-stakes decisions, where both facts and values are uncertain; it requires drawing on a broad community with broad inquiries. Suppressing questions from budding scientists is sure to suppress promising ideas and solutions.