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Visiting Distinguished Lecturer Spreads Philosophy of Science

Steven GoldmanSteven Goldman

Steven Goldman, one of the nation's most respected university lecturers and philosophers, gave multiple audiences at Old Dominion University on Tuesday, March 5, a new appreciation of the scientific method. He fosters awe as a response to the power and utility of scientific ideas, while also squarely confronting the belief that a philosophical cloud hangs over scientific knowledge.

What scientists know, he points out, tends to change over time, and there is no way to prove what is true with a capital 'T.' What is scientific fact in one generation may be eclipsed in the next by new discoveries. Still, he believes that science has an impressive track record in moving public policy and public opinion in the right direction, sometimes against stiff opposition.

Examples he cited include efforts to force vaccinations against disease, to fluoridate water, to get the lead out of gasoline and to fund government campaigns against cigarette smoking. "Science and the decisions it has made surround us and pervade our lives," he explained. These could be consoling words for scientists - such as those involved in the Climate Change and Sea Level Rise Initiative at ODU - who are trying to win public-policy acknowledgement of manmade global warming and its consequences, he added.

Goldman is a philosopher and historian of science who is known for the lectures he has delivered in The Great Courses series of video and audio recordings by highly regarded college faculty members nationwide. He was at ODU for a full day of meetings with faculty and students, and to deliver an ODU Presents public lecture, "What Scientists Know and What Should We Do About It."

The visiting scholar is the Andrew W. Mellon Distinguished Professor in the Humanities at Lehigh University in Pennsylvania. ODU Presents brings speakers to the campus for presentations that support the research initiatives and outreach efforts of the university's six colleges.

At ODU, Goldman was busy for 12 straight hours, beginning at 8 a.m., with his visits across campus, including one to the Department of Philosophy and Religious Studies, and others to several departments in the College of Sciences.

"They've kept me moving," Goldman said, referring to his ODU hosts. "I've learned about the sea level rise initiative and several other initiatives. I didn't realize you had such a Scottish ethos here" to get the most out of a visiting scholar.

The Teaching Company, which produces The Great Courses series and has sold millions of its recordings over the last two decades, counts Goldman as one of approximately 100 great college teachers it has enlisted for its courses. In addition to the "Science Wars: What Scientists Know and How They Know It" course that Goldman recorded, his titles in the series include "Great Scientific Ideas that Changed the World" and "Science in the 20th Century: A Social-Intellectual Survey."

Goldman earned a bachelor's degree in physics from Polytechnic University of New York, but his master's and doctorate from Boston University are in philosophy. Before joining the faculty at Lehigh, where he has been for 30 years, he taught at Penn State and established one of the first academic programs in this country in science/technology/social studies.

A prolific author, Goldman has written or edited eight books, including "Science, Technology and Human Progress," and has an impressive list of scholarly articles and reviews to his credit. He has been a national lecturer for the scientific research society Sigma Xi and a national program consultant for the National Endowment for the Humanities. He is the recipient of the Lindback Distinguished Teaching Award from Lehigh.