Register

Professor Stuart Firestein, Department of Biology, Columbia University, and author of Ignorance: How It Drives Science, and Failure: Why Science is So Successful
Professor Emily Oster, Professor of Economics, Brown University, creator of COVID Explained and author of Cribsheet: A Data-Driven Guide to Better, More Relaxed Parenting, from Birth to Preschool.

Moderated by Rabbi Geoffrey A. Mitelman, Founding Director of Sinai and Synapses.

Thursday, July 2nd, 12:30 pm to 1:45 pm Eastern.

Perhaps the greatest emotion many of us are feeling right now is uncertainty — surrounding COVID-19, surrounding the trade-offs for ourselves, our family, and our community, and even surrounding the future of our country.

So what does it really mean when we say “we don’t know,” and what’s the difference between “the data is unclear” or “our recommendations have changed” versus “we don’t care what experts have to say”? Where is there value in living in the unknown, and how can we accept uncertainty? How do we frame questions in terms of risk v. reward, especially because most people are looking for certainty? How does our framing impact the recommendations we give? How do we live with trade-offs? And what happens if we felt like we had made the wrong decision afterwards?

This webinar is presented by Sinai and Synapses, in consultation with the American Association for the Advancement of Science’s Dialogue on Science, Ethics and Religion, and funded by the John Templeton Foundation. It is run in partnership with Clal – The National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership, the Central Conference of American Rabbis, the Rabbinical Assembly, and the Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association.

Once registered, we will send you a link on the morning of the webinar.


Professor Emily Oster is a Professor of Economics at Brown University. She holds a PhD in Economics from Harvard. Prior to being at Brown she was on the faculty at the University of Chicago Booth School.

Dr. Oster’s academic work focuses on health economics and statistical methods. She is interested in understanding why consumers do not always make “rational” health choices — why do people not eat a fully healthy diet, or pursue all recommended preventative health behaviors? Her work also concerns methods for learning causal effects from observational data. Earlier academic work included studies of HIV in Africa (the topic of a 2007 TED talk) and medieval witchcraft.

In addition to her academic work, Dr. Oster has written two books. Expecting Better analyzes the data behind many common pregnancy rules, and aims to improve decision-making for pregnant women. Cribsheet does the same for early childhood — what does the evidence really say on breastfeeding, co-sleeping or potty training.

Dr. Oster lives in Providence, RI with her husband (also an economist) and two children.

Professor Stuart Firestein is the former Chair of Columbia University’s Department of Biological Sciences where his colleagues and he study the vertebrate olfactory system, possibly the best chemical detector on the face of the planet. Dedicated to promoting the accessibility of science to a public audience, Dr. Firestein seeks to reach broader audiences through nonscientific writing, public appearances, and his support of science in the arts. Dr. Firestein also serves as an advisor for the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation’s program for the Public Understanding of Science. Recently he was awarded the 2011 Lenfest Distinguished Columbia Faculty Award for excellence in scholarship and teaching. Most notably, Dr. Firestein’s commitment to engaging the public in science can be seen in his TED Talk entitled “The pursuit of ignorance”, which has garnered 1.5 million views and counting.  His book on the workings of science for a general audience, Ignorance: How it Drives Science, was released by Oxford University Press in the spring of 2012. Dr. Firestein’s first book captures the hard work of science, the informed curiosity found among scientists, and the exhilaration of discovery. The book has received esteemed praise from the public and critics and has even become integrated into the curricula as required readings among several high schools and colleges. In 2015, his next book, Failure: Why Science is So Successful, was published.