Week one: Galileo (1638), Lehrer (2009), Hazen (1991)
This weeks readings explored the history and nature of science in both their content and language. Published in 1638, Galileo’s discourse on “Two New Sciences” acts as an example of the beginnings of the scientific method as peer-reviewed experimental research. His now famous findings on terrestrial constant accelerated motion (known today as gravity) are presented here as a conversation between three contemporary scientists. The character Salviati presents Galileo’s hypothesis, along with the observations and experiments that support his theory. The characters Sagredo and Simplicio act as surrogate students for the reader, presenting competing theories and allowing Galileo to disprove the popular concept that constant acceleration was a function of distance traveled. Galileo uses language that would have been accessible to his peers and the greater educated public to present his hypothesis, observations, and experiments, thus establishing the format for presenting ideas still used today as well as the importance of science as discourse.
Jumping forward 371 years, we see Galileo’s formatting at the base of Lehrer’s presentation of his theory on the potential for modeling to produce greater engagement and understanding in the classroom. Lehrer presents his hypothesis in the context of contemporary literature and alongside competing theories (science as logic v. science as modeling), going on to present observations and experiments in support of his hypothesis and discussing its application. Reading Lehrer together with Galileo, we see that scientific practices have become relatively well established and the question becomes how to present and teach science in a manner which promotes in students the same curiosity and relationship with inquiry that allowed scientists like Galileo to understand natural processes and relationships in the first place.
Hazen’s chapter on Knowing ties Lehrer and Galileo together in his discussion of the history and core values of scientific study. In relatable prose, Hazen presents examples from the early scientific endeavors of Newton and Galileo to emphasize the beauty in the simplicity of natural laws and the importance of the capacity to see and share trends throughout scientific disciplines. Hazen establishes Newton as an example of what science should be- simple governing laws based in observation and open to potential relationships, like that of the apple and the moon. While nature in actuality may not be as predictable as Newton envisioned, Hazen emphasizes the importance of evolution of theory and scientific humility- the ability to listen to what the data is telling you and alter your hypotheses accordingly, and to feel comfortable in the chaotic theory that there exist systems with variables outside of currently measurable realms.
Across the three readings, the theme of scientific language and discourse especially struck me this week. While Galileo and Hazen were both conversational and clearly had a thoughtful relationship with their chosen audience, I struggled to define the audience in the Lehrer piece. Was his goal to present his findings to teachers or to peers in his specialized branch of research? Though I have a background in reading scientific papers, I found his diction, especially in his introduction of terms and contemporary literature, to be pretentious and alienating, far too entrenched in the specialized language of his field to feel relatable to the average classroom teacher. This all spurs many questions for me; what does is mean to ‘know’ in your discipline? What is the required language, and should one exist? When did science abandon clean, conversational, logic-driven prose? Reading Lehrer and considering my own relationship with niche research, I wonder if science has become too specialized and insular to discover the relationships between disciplines Hazen points to as critical in the understanding and advancement of knowledge. How important is perspective in the ability to draw connections? Hazen describes science as a seamless web of knowledge, but I wonder if specialization, with its distinctive styles, organizations, and languages, is inhibiting scientists from accessing this web to its greatest potential.