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Renowned Guest Lecturer Looks at Science as a Philosopher

Steven GoldmanSteven Goldman

Hampton Roads residents will have the opportunity March 5 at Old Dominion University to experience the brilliant teaching of Steven Goldman, the 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.

Goldman, the Andrew W. Mellon Distinguished Professor in the Humanities at Lehigh University in Pennsylvania, will draw on one of his best-known courses, "Science Wars: What Scientists Know and How They Know It," when he delivers an ODU Presents lecture at 6 p.m. Tuesday in the Hampton/Newport News Room of Webb University Center. The title of his ODU Lecture will be "What Scientists Know and What Should We Do About It."

The lecture is free and open to the public, although those who plan to attend are asked to RSVP at http://ww2.odu.edu/ao/univevents/odupresents/index.shtml. Free parking will be available in the garage at 49th Street and Bluestone Avenue.

ODU Presents brings speakers to the campus for presentations that support the research initiatives and outreach efforts of the university's six colleges.

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" 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.

At ODU, Goldman will delve into questions such as: Are scientific theories true because they correspond to reality? Then how can we know that they do, given that we have no access to reality except through experience, which scientists themselves tell us is profoundly different from the way things really are?

Or, he may ask, according to a summary he provided for the "Science Wars: What Scientists Know" course, "Are theories true because they account for experience and make correct predictions? This sounds plausible, but theories that we now consider wrong once were considered true because they accounted for our experience and made successful predictions then! Should we assume that as new experiences accumulate, current theories will be replaced, as all previous theories have been? But in that case, theories are not really knowledge or truth, in the strict sense of those words, but a special case of experience-validated educated opinion."

This leads to Goldman's answer when he is asked what is the greatest scientific idea of all time: "One is tempted to speak of scientific discoveries as the source of science's power to be the driver of social change - that scientists have been discovering new truths about nature, and that the change follows from that. But I argue that it is scientific ideas that are responsible for this change. Ideas are the source of science's power-not discoveries. The idea of science itself is an idea that had to be invented."