One hundred years ago Albert Einstein published three famous papers, which changed the course of Physics and our understanding of the world. To celebrate this centenary the United Nations has declared 2005 to be the International Year of Physics and in the UK and Ireland the physics community is taking the opportunity to promote physics under the banner of “Einstein Year” (See http://www.einsteinyear.org). In “Einstein as Philosopher”, Friedel Weinert explains some of the background to Einstein’s contribution stressing, in particular, his philosophical perspective. Such a critical contemplation of theoretical foundations is vital otherwise, according to Einstein – science just ends up in a muddle!
Mention the controversy surrounding the teaching of creationism and most scientists hold up their hands in horror. Such an emotional reaction may be understandable, but in the end, false ideas are only destroyed by rational argument. It is thus important in any controversy to fully understand what the precise positions are and how they fit into the broader culture. In “Opening up the controversy about teaching creation/evolution”, Joachim Allgaier dispassionately and forensically exposes the complexity and range of opinions and beliefs of “creationists” and how the debate is played out in the media.
“How can a philosophical analysis of the nature and function of evidence help scientists?” This question, addressed by David Boersema in “The Phenomenon of Evidence”, is part of a broader prejudice against philosophy by some scientists. Boersema addresses the way this question is answered in Peter Achinstein’s book, The Book of Evidence (Oxford: OUP 2001). He also promotes the idea of “surprise” as the salient feature of exploratory evidence: when unexpected phenomena (or lack of expected phenomena) occur.
One of the problems facing science, as reported in the media, is the promotion of presentation over content. Particularly on television, without the “wow” factor, science does not get a look in. In “The rhetoric of breakthroughs in the communication of science”, Fernando Cascais discusses the cultural alienation of science, which in spite of the multiplication of media, has increased, leaving the gap between science and the public wider than ever. The rhetoric of breakthroughs describes the state where science is defined in purely functional terms as a “subject for consumption”
This issue of The Pantaneto Forum marks the start of the fifth year since its foundation. To celebrate this anniversary, I am planning to publish a book of some of the articles which have appeared in the Forum to date, under the title “Motivating Science: Science communication from a philosophical, educational and cultural perspective”. Watch this space!