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An Enlightenment tradition of characterising and caricaturing science and scientists: why words (and nerds) matter.

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If you have a question about this talk, please contact Dr Stephen D Hoath.

The word ‘Geek’ was deemed ‘word of the year’ for 2013 by at least one dictionary. This talk will begin with tracking the significant shift in usage of words like Geek and Nerd (both are seen emblazoned on T-shirts from a certain high-street store) to reflect on the place of science in popular culture today. This will serve as introduction to considering the place given to science in the Age of Enlightenment in France and its role within the world of letters. Particular reference will be made on the one hand to the monumental Encyclopédie ou dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des arts et des métiers edited by the philosopher Denis Diderot and the mathematician Jean le Rond d’Alembert who sought to create a network of knowledge in anticipation of the world wide web. On the other, there will be reflection on the satirical yet informed treatment by the philosopher Voltaire of Fontenelle, permanent secretary of the French Academy of Science, and the scientific team led by the mathematician, astronomer and physicist Maupertuis who led an expedition funded by the Academy to Lapland where he verified Newton’s theory that the earth was flattened at the poles. In both cases, the importance of words for scientific communication can be foregrounded.

This talk is part of the Wolfson College Science Society talks series.

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