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Cosmic Variance
By Sean Carroll
Sep 7, 2007 10:04 PMNov 5, 2019 8:13 AM


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We outsource to Clifford the task of advertising the Categorically Not! events that KC Cole organizes at the Santa Monica Art Studios. Except for this Sunday, since I'm going to be one of the presenters, and I never shy from doing my own PR. The event (see blurb below) will begin at 6:30; everyone is welcome. The topic is Mistakes! I think we're all familiar with them. As the scientist, I suppose it's my job to talk about mistakes made by scientists, and I'm not too proud to stoop to using Einstein as my example. He made some whoppers, and that's not even including his personal life. Any fun examples of scientific mistakes? Best would be those that teach some cute lesson about how true progress is impossible if you're too timid to make mistakes, etc etc. Ideas are welcome. Here is the blurb:

Blunders, boo boos, bloopers, errors, slip-ups, goofs, misinterpretations and misunderstandings. Everyone makes mistakes. In science, the notion of "mistake" is often itself misunderstood. Frequently, a "mistake" often turns out to be nothing more than a limited or skewed perspective. Or as Einstein put it, discovering a new theory is not so much like tearing down a house to build a new one as climbing a mountain from which one can see farther; the old "house" is still there, but is seen in a vastly different context. Mistakes in personal life and matters of policy can ruin lives; but "mistakes" in a humorous context can also make us laugh. For our September 9th Categorically Not!, Caltech theoretical physicist Sean Carroll will talk about how mistakes are an inevitable part of scientific inquiry. From Aristotle through Kepler to Einstein, leaps in understanding have often been the offspring of wrong ideas, or right ideas that were suggested for the wrong reasons. (And what about Einstein’s so-called "biggest blunder"?) Sean is the author of a textbook on general relativity, lecturer in a course on cosmology offered by the Teaching Company, and a blogger at Cosmic Variance. For a psychological perspective, social psychologist Carol Tavris will talk about her new book: Mistakes Were Made (But Not by Me): Why we justify foolish beliefs, bad decisions, and hurtful acts. She’ll describe the biases that blind us to our mistakes, make us unwilling to change unsupported beliefs, and allow us to think ourselves above conflicts of interest. She’ll also explain how the need to justify mistakes prevents us from realizing we might be wrong, ensuring we make the same mistakes again. The antidotes are the scientific method, and a sense of humor. And as for sense of humor, the endlessly talented Orson Bean will talk about how mistakes are the basis of comedy. Orson won a Tony nomination for his role in Subways Are For Sleeping, appeared regularly on the Tonight Show with Jack Paar (and later Johnny Carson), and hosted numerous game shows (he is the last surviving panelist from To Tell the Truth). More recently, he played Dr. Lester in Being John Malkovich as well as numerous other film and TV roles. He is also the author of the book Me and the Orgone: One Guy’s Search for the Meaning of it All.

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