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Professor Sunetra Gupta on questioning lockdown – from Reality, models, and mayhem

Michael Shermer, Sunetra Gupta and Bjørn Ekeberg discuss the relationship between scientific models and empirical reality.

What does it mean to “trust the science”? Do mathematical models resemble the real world? Should we expect them to?

In the last 100 years, some of the greatest minds – from the founders of quantum mechanics such as Heisenberg and Planck to Hawking – have moved away from thinking science can capture an objective ultimate reality. And yet from dark matter to string theory, we still look for the correct answer, sure that the next theory might be the one. Is this a fundamental mistake? Hawking in his final book certainly concluded it was, saying ‘There is no unique picture of reality’, but rather that each competing model frames its own version of reality.Should we give up on a single true account and accept that there are many alternative scientific accounts of the world, each with their own effectiveness? Would this enable a greater plurality of theories and enable faster technical advance? Or does an account of science as mere models risk encouraging the pursuit of empty alternatives with no way to choose between them, threatening the whole edifice of science itself?

Watch the full debate here

About the Authors

Sunetra Gupta

Dr Sunetra Gupta is a professor at Oxford University, an epidemiologist with expertise in immunology, vaccine development, and mathematical modelling of infectious diseases.

She is also an acclaimed writer, with her novels: Memories of Rain (1992), The Glassblower’s Breath (1993), Moonlight into Marzipan (1995), A Sin of Colour (1999), So Good in Black (2009) and Pandemics: Our Fears and the FactsPandemics: Our Fears and the Facts (2013).

Follow Sunetra Gupta on X (formerly Twitter) @SunetraGupta

Follow Collateral Global on Twitter @collateralglbl

Michael Shermer

Dr. Michael Shermer is the Founding Publisher of Skeptic magazine, the host of the podcast The Michael Shermer Show, and a Presidential Fellow at Chapman University where he teaches Skepticism 101. For 18 years he was a monthly columnist for Scientific American. He writes a weekly Substack column. He is the author of New York Times bestsellers Why People Believe Weird Things and The Believing BrainWhy Darwin MattersThe Science of Good and EvilThe Moral ArcHeavens on Earth, and Giving the Devil His Due: Reflections of a Scientific Humanist.

Follow Michael Shermer on X (formerly Twitter) @michaelsherme

Bjørn Ekeberg

Bjørn Ekeberg writes and creates high-end scripted drama and has a special affinity for thrillers with contemporary relevance.

He is known for works such as Valkyrien (2017)Grenseland (2017) and Quisling.

With more than a decades’s experience from North America, Bjørn writes fluently in Norwegian and English and works professionally in Danish, Swedish and German. He has practical experience as showrunner and as director.

Follow Bjørn Ekeberg on X (formerly Twitter) @doctorbjorn.