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the Complete Review
the complete review - science



Stuart Firestein

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To purchase Ignorance

Title: Ignorance
Author: Stuart Firestein
Genre: Non-fiction
Written: 2012
Length: 180 pages
Availability: Ignorance - US
Ignorance - UK
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Ignorance - India
  • How it Drives Science

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Our Assessment:

B : fine little overview; useful approach to science

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
New Scientist . 11/4/2012 Jonathan Beard
The Observer . 19/7/2012 Adam Rutherford
Publishers Weekly . 5/3/2012 .

  From the Reviews:
  • "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

  • "Firestein challenges our culture’s pat view of science as a simple process of placing one brick of knowledge on top of another in a simple progression toward greater knowledge." - Publishers Weekly

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Stuart Firestein's Ignorance is a clever take on how to look at science. Too often the media (and school textbooks, etc.) just trumpet results -- grand discoveries and advances -- without really giving a good sense of how science works in practice -- and, specifically, all that remains to be done. That, in particular, is what Firestein wants to direct readers' attention to: this huge area of the still-unknown, into which scientists look and stumble, often without really knowing what it is they might find there, Scientific knowledge is all well and good -- very good, in fact, and very useful -- but what's truly exciting is all that's still left to explore and find, much of which we likely don't even realize is out there. (As he repeatedly points out, predicting the future and what scientific advancements we'll have X number of years from now is a fun exercise, but the predictions tend to be completely off, with the actual advances coming out of left field (or, indeed, out of ignorance).)
       Firestein even teaches a course in 'Ignorance' at Columbia University. "Finally, I thought, a subject I can excel in", he amusingly notes (as have, no doubt, many of his students ...), but, of course, the 'ignorance' he's exploring is of a particular kind -- not that of willful blindness and indifference, for example. Most significantly, it's a state that isn't simply accepted, but rather one that is to be explored, examined, and tested, the biggest hurdle being exactly how to go about doing that -- asking the right questions, for example.
       Firestein invites scientists to talk about "the current state of their ignorance" in his class -- where, for example:

They come and tells us about what they would like to know, what they think is critical to know, how they might get to know it, what will happen if they do find this or that thing out, what might happen if they don't.
       He uses several of these 'case studies' as examples in this book, giving a good overview of how he (and they) see 'ignorance' as helpful in science.
       It's all kept fairly simple and approachable, but it's a welcome reminder of how science is done -- and it's also an inviting approach for students, who might be intimidated by the wealth of seemingly absolute knowledge their textbooks present but should realize that, in fact, there's still an enormous amount out there to be discovered and figured out.
       (Firestein also gives an account of his very unusual career path, which is also fascinating, and quite inspirational.)
       A nice little book, certainly recommended for any budding scientists but also a welcome reminder about the state of our knowledge and of our ignorance for those who get most of their science-news from the headlines.

- M.A.Orthofer, 16 April 2012

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Ignorance: Reviews: Stuart Firestein: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Stuart Firestein teaches at Columbia University.

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© 2012 the complete review

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