Campus Lecture: Saul Perlmutter

Saul Perlmutter, sharing the 2011 Nobel Prize in Physics for the discovery of the accelerating expansion of the Universe, was at EPFL on 8 April 2019 for a Campus Lecture untitled: Science, Reality, Credibility.


There is a body of techniques and practices, a language and culture, that is usually implicitly taught by apprenticeship and osmosis to graduate students and postdocs in the sciences. This is the underpinning of an approach to building a credible sense of the “real world” that is shared by scientists, but not much used (or understood) by the rest of society. Equipping future generations with this scientific-style critical thinking could be one of our most reasonable defenses against confused thinking and misinformation, both major challenges to our democratic societies’ ability to make deliberative decisions.

Can we make these implicit concepts explicit, and teach them to scientists and non-scientists alike? Could this help our society address difficult issues such as are raised by the global environment and economics?  And how could citizen scientists use these tools to help build sources of credibility on the web and in the news.

Saul Perlmutter is a 2011 Nobel Laureate, sharing the prize in Physics for the discovery of the accelerating expansion of the Universe. He is a professor of physics at the University of California, Berkeley, where he holds the Franklin W. and Karen Weber Dabby Chair, and a senior scientist at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. He is the leader of the international Supernova Cosmology Project, and director of the Berkeley Institute for Data Science and executive director of the Berkeley Center for Cosmological Physics.

His undergraduate degree was from Harvard and his PhD from UC Berkeley. In addition to other awards and honors, he is a member of the National Academy of Sciences and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and a fellow of the American Physical Society and the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

In addition to over 200 scientific publications, Perlmutter has also written popular articles, and has appeared in numerous PBS, Discovery Channel, and BBC documentaries. His interest in teaching scientific-style critical thinking for scientists and non-scientists alike led to Berkeley courses on Sense and Sensibility and Science and Physics & Music.