Learn more about Ariadne Labs' response to COVID-19

Atul Gawande to Caltech graduates: Science is not a major, it’s a commitment to a way of thinking

Ariadne Labs Executive Director Dr. Atul Gawande delivered the 2016 Commencement address at the California Institute of Technology June 10, telling graduates that as the newest member of the scientific community they “also inherit a role in explaining it and helping it reclaim territory of trust at a time when that territory has been shrinking.”

In his address, The Mistrust of Science, he spoke of the growing skepticism of the scientific community and the need to defend the sometimes messy scientific process of “pursuing ideas with curiosity, inquisitiveness, openness, and discipline.” What they have gained at Caltech, he said, is not any special authority on truth, but “an understanding of what real truth-seeking looks like.”

Dr. Gawande addressed the Caltech Class of 2016, which included 249 BS graduates, 140 MS graduates, and 190 PhD graduates.

“When I came to college from my Ohio home town, the most intellectually unnerving thing I discovered was how wrong many of my assumptions were about how the world works—whether the natural or the human-made world. I looked to my professors and fellow-students to supply my replacement ideas. Then I returned home with some of those ideas and told my parents everything they’d got wrong (which they just loved). But, even then, I was just replacing one set of received beliefs for another. It took me a long time to recognize the particular mind-set that scientists have. The great physicist Edwin Hubble, speaking at Caltech’s commencement in 1938, said a scientist has “a healthy skepticism, suspended judgement, and disciplined imagination”—not only about other people’s ideas but also about his or her own. The scientist has an experimental mind, not a litigious one.”

Read the full transcript of Dr. Gawande’s Commencement address on the website of The New Yorker.