Lecture by Helga Nowotny in UMC Utrecht about the “messiness of the world”

‘(Re)Discovering the Messiness of the World – Science and We’

By Prof. Helga Nowotny

Date: Friday 25 November 2016
Time: 15.15 – 17.00, drinks afterwards
Location: Green Lecture Hall (‘Groene collegezaal’) – University Medical Center (UMC) Utrecht

What will prof. Nowotny talk about?
We have arrived in a postfactual era. The rise of populism coincides with the denigration of expertise and elites are accused of having disconnected from ‘the People’. Categories and boundaries once established through the world ordering that underpinned science and modernity have become blurred. In their place we witness the rise of complexity, uncertainty and indeterminacy. World ordering is increasingly delegated to algorithms. Are science and society out of sync? The response depends on how we position ourselves vis-à-vis a science system in transition, where the We are individuals, academia, STS and Society. At stake is a reordering of science and democracy, beginning with the (re)discovery of the messiness of the world.

Who is prof. Nowotny?
Prof. Nowotny is former President of the European Research Council (ERC), of which she was a founding member. She is Professor emerita of Science and Technology Studies, ETH Zürich.

She holds a PhD in Sociology from Columbia University and a doctorate in jurisprudence from the University of Vienna. She has held teaching and research positions at the Institute for Advanced Study, Vienna; King’s College, Cambridge; University of Bielefeld; Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin; Ecole des Hautes Etudes an Sciences Sociales, Paris; Science Center for Social Sciences, Berlin and Collegium Budapest; Budapest. She is a foreign member of many learned societies, and was awarded seven honorary doctorates.

Recent book publications include Insatiable Curiosity: Innovation in a Fragile Future (MIT Press, 2008) and Naked Genes: Reinventing the Human in the Molecular Age (MIT Press, 2011). Her latest book is The Cunning of Uncertainty, about which the reviewer of Times Higher Education observed:

Prof. Nowotny’s view on uncertainty
In Nowotny’s experience, scientists work in a culture that embraces uncertainty. But what is less certain is what politicians, governed by deliverables and value, do with this uncertainty. Value, audits, quality assurance and performance culture, all mechanisms designed to control future outcomes and are all in some way performative: ‘Money, Aristotle observed, is the measure that enables equality between what is not really equal’. A key question she poses is: ‘How good are we in educating young people for uncertainty, while continuing to train them for certainty?’ I cannot think of a discipline in which the book would not be relevant, drawing as it does on fields as diverse as corporate finance, bioethics and archeology.

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