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Nobelist Kroto: What's the Evidence for What You Accept?

At the Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting in Germany, 1996 laureate Harold Kroto told the assembled students that science as a way of evaluating what is true is, for him, its most important quality. Steve Mirsky reports

Harold Kroto won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1996 for the discovery of buckminsterfullerene, the soccer ball shaped form of carbon better known as buckyballs. On June 28, he spoke to students [at the Lindau Nobel Laureates meeting] about science as a philosophical construct:

"I'm going to talk about what science is because it's a totally misunderstood sort of subject. There are aspects of science which are important, and of course we know the body of knowledge that you learn at school, alright. The applications of that knowledge, technology, the only thing that journalists ever ask, in general, 99 percent of the time.

"Perhaps most important is that it's the way that we discover new knowledge. But for me the most important, by far, is that it's the only philosophical construct we have to determine truth with any degree of reliablity. Think about that. Because then it becomes a much bigger subject. In fact, for me, perhaps the most important subject there is. And the ethical purpose of eduction must involve teaching children how they can decide what they're being told is actually true. And that's not the case in general. The teaching of a skeptical, evidence-based assessment of all claims--all claims--without exception is fundamentally an intellectual integrity issue. Without evidence, anything goes.Think about it.

"Common sense says the sun goes around the Earth. Who agrees with me? Look at it! Starts over here, ends over there. It's uncommon sense that was needed to recognize that the Earth was turning on its axis. The uncommon sense of Copernicus, Galileo and Giordano Bruno, who burned to death. We have to learn to be very careful and to question everything. Let me just check--how many of you know the evidence for Galileo to say that the Earth was going around the sun? Put your hand up. You've accepted it. Almost nobody's put their hand up. It's incredible. Look at yourself, you've accepted this. You've accepted a lot of things without evidence. Find out what the evidence is for that, and find out what the evidence is for everything that you accept."

--Steve Mirsky

[The above is a transcript of this podcast.]

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