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2016 Wilkins–Bernal–Medawar lecture The curious history of curiosity-driven research

Agar, JE; (2018) 2016 Wilkins–Bernal–Medawar lecture The curious history of curiosity-driven research. Notes and Records: The Royal Society Journal of the History of Science , 71 (4) 10.1098/rsnr.2017.0034. Green open access

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Abstract

Curiosity has a curious place in the history of science. In the early modern period, curiosity was doubled-edged: it was both a virtue, the spring for a ‘love of truth’, but also the source of human error and even personal corruption. In the twentieth century, curiosity had become an apparently uncomplicated motivation. Successful scientists, for example Nobel Prize winners in their lectures and biographies, frequently attributed their first steps into science to a fundamental curiosity, an irrepressible desire to ask the question ‘why?’. The aside made by Albert Einstein in private correspondence in 1952—‘I have no special talents. I am only passionately curious’—has now become a meme. Yet in the twentieth century, science was shaped by many forces, and the practical utility of science in the real, messy problematic worlds of its formation seem far removed from the seeming innocence of curiosity-driven research. In my lecture and this paper, I ask why scientists say they ask ‘why?’, and trace the curious history of the idea of curiosity-driven science. In particular, I distinguish between a long and short history of curiosity in science, with the latter associated with the term ‘curiosity-driven science’ and the UK administration of Margaret Thatcher.

Type: Article
Title: 2016 Wilkins–Bernal–Medawar lecture The curious history of curiosity-driven research
Open access status: An open access version is available from UCL Discovery
DOI: 10.1098/rsnr.2017.0034
Publisher version: http://dx.doi.org/10.1098/rsnr.2017.0034
Language: English
Additional information: This version is the author accepted manuscript. For information on re-use, please refer to the publisher’s terms and conditions.
UCL classification: UCL
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL BEAMS
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL BEAMS > Faculty of Maths and Physical Sciences
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL BEAMS > Faculty of Maths and Physical Sciences > Dept of Science and Technology Studies
URI: https://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/1565586
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