Another area where I saw the potential for further conversation between humanities and science research was in the way that scientists regard their own practice as researchers.When an audience member asked a question about subjectivity in research, many of the panelists became curiously defensive.While I am used to the idea that my work by its very nature is shaped by my cultural background and personal outlook, the discussion among the speakers saw subjectivity mainly as an attack on their professional rigour as scientists.Their calculations were based on maths, and therefore had to be completely objective; any sense that mathematics was simply another system devised by humans of a particular society to make sense of the world seemed to have been lost., an event hosted by Dara O’Briain at the Smock Alley Theatre as part of the Dublin Festival of Curiosity.The panel of five speakers, all either researchers in different fields of science or science writers/ communicators, opened the event by telling their own ‘curious story’ about science before taking part in a general discussion about science, scientific research and curiosity in general.
Looking back to another age of huge scientific innovation in eighteenth-century Britain – the work of just a few decades led to a host of crucial developments like the steam engine, gas lighting and early experimentation with electricity – there was no hint of the specialisation we have in academia today.
These turned out to be pulsars, the signals emitted by neutron stars.
However for me at least it was just as fascinating to hear Jocelyn’s description of the process of research and making sense of a new discovery, as about the science itself.
Although the subject of numerous bad Hollywood films, apparently no government except for the Vatican (as pointed out by science correspondent Alok Jha), actually has a policy on how to handle an encounter with alien life.
While it seems far-fetched, even the possibility of knowing there is alien life would necessitate a whole new understanding of what it means to be human and this is an area where the humanities would surely have a role.