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Department of Philosophy

Abstracts of our colloquium presenters:

Friday, April 17

Morning Keynote Address, 9 to 10 a.m.

What is the relationship between science and distributive social justice? Science is a resource, a source of power for supporting decisions, for categorizing, and for revealing levers of action. As such, it is a matter of justice how this resource is distributed. The history of science over the past century reveals many ways in which the pursuit of science can be structurally unjust as well as ways it can be part of the pursuit of a more just society. I will describe aspects of science and justice in the access to science, the use of human subjects, the relationship with communities, and the shaping of the research agenda. This overview of some of the key aspects of science and social justice will be used to show that the values that drive research agendas are not just an ethical matter, but also a political matter. Both scientists and philosophers of science need to attend not just to ethical values in science but also to power, and how science can ameliorate past injustices and current unjust inequalities.


Morning Panel, 10:20 to 11:40 a.m.

Conservation biology emerged in the 1980s as a rigorous science focused on protecting biodiversity, and as a discipline distinct from ecology. Two algorithmic breakthroughs in information processing made this possible: place-prioritization algorithms and geographical information systems. They provided a defensible, data-driven methodology for designing reserves to conserve biodiversity. This obviated the need for largely intuitive and highly problematic appeals to ecological theory to design reserves at the time. Despite this and other unquestionable advances, that they constitute scientific “progress” has recently been criticized. Ecological theory is required, it is claimed, for genuine progress about reserve design; algorithmic innovation in data processing is insufficient. Place-prioritization algorithms are supposedly less scientifically grounded and produce reserves that poorly protect biodiversity. On all accounts this criticism is indefensible. It involves numerous inaccuracies about the science. But more importantly, it relies on a narrow and untenable conception of progress for applied sciences with ethical objectives. For ethically-driven sciences a defensible conception of progress must be a broad, value-laden one.


Morning Panel, 10:20 to 11:40 a.m.

Famously, sustainability is defined as development that meets the needs of the present without sacrificing the ability of the future to meet its needs. Research in finance aims at, amongst other things, correctly pricing and managing risky assets in the long-run. Can research in finance contribute to clarify the demands of sustainable development, or does research in finance need to change in order to do so? To address this question, we distinguish between two views: "narrow" and "broad" sustainability in finance. "Narrow" sustainability is the view that standard research in finance can contribute a great deal to investigate questions of sustainability. In contrast, "broad" sustainability is the view that fundamental changes in concepts, models, and theories of finance are needed in order to address sustainability in finance. We use the distinction between narrow and broad sustainability in finance to argue for two claims. Firstly, we show that this distinction is subtly, but importantly, different from similar-sounding distinctions that have been advanced for economics, such as the distinction between "weak" and "strong" sustainability, and the differences between environmental and ecological economics. Secondly, we show that the distinction allows for a relatively strong separation between facts and values: "narrow" sustainability in finance aims at identifying facts about sustainability, and "broad" sustainability in finance aims at values.


Presentation, 12:40 to 2 p.m.

Central to the pragmatic pluralist theory of values is the concept of moral imagination. Value judgment requires considering stakeholders and the various implications and consequences of various courses of action connected with values. As such, it requires exercising imagination via empathy, dramatic rehearsal, and creative-problem solving. The exercise of moral imagination is not mere fantasy but a part of all evidence-based inquiry. The emphasis on imagination is an important feature of this theory of values, one compatible with any ultimate ethical theory.

Based on this account of values, I define a new ideal for values in science, a replacement for the value-free ideal, which has been undermined by the contingency argument. I call this ideal, “the ideal of moral imagination,” defined as follows: Scientists should recognize the contingencies in their work as unforced choices, discover morally salient aspects of the situation they are deciding, empathetically recognize and understand the relevant stakeholders, imaginatively construct and explore possible options, and exercise fair and warranted value judgment in order to guide those decisions. This is an open-ended ideal to strive for, difficult in principle to satisfy, just as the value-free ideal was. It is not a minimal criterion for all inquiry to satisfy, but it is a genuine ideal.


Afternoon Panel, 2:20 to 3:40 p.m.

Agricultural extension work has been in the fabric of American scientific research since the formation of the U.S. Land-Grant University System in 1862. Extension work consists in the interpretation and communication of scientific results to local communities, and in the formulation of scientifically-informed responses to community concerns. Historically, extension has centered around agriculture, food, and homemaking, and more recently has come to include broader environmental and health topics. The scholarly literature on extension work is quite limited, relative to the reach of the work being done, and extension work has not yet been a subject of interest in the philosophy of science. This might be explained by the humility of the professed epistemic goals of extension work: extension agents and clients see extension as a largely translational and educational enterprise, rather than as a creator of new scientific knowledge. However, given the central role that extension plays at the interface of science and community, and especially in light of recent shifts in the public perception of science, I believe that it is now more important than ever to understand the role that extension plays in both the construction and communication of scientific knowledge.


Afternoon Panel, 2:20 to 3:40 p.m.

Researchers are developing biotechnologies to prevent or reverse species extinction and to preserve ecosystem function. If we assume that biotech policy should conform to public attitudes, we need to understand how public attitudes toward it might be different in cases where biotech is used for non-profit conservation goals. Specifically, in the US, the public’s attitude toward agricultural biotechnology can best be described as apathy, but there are passionate and influential minorites who support it and others who oppose it. Medical biotechnology, on the other hand, has reasonably strong public support across the board. Before conservation biotech comes up for regulation in the next year or two, it’s important to anticipate how environmental values may interact with existing value claims in debates about biotech. This talk will survey those values and demonstrate how public attitudes toward conservation biotech are likely to be different than attitudes toward agricultural biotech.


Afternoon Keynote Address, 4 to 5 p.m.

The hegemonic food/agricultural system, whose trajectory is shaped in significant part by agribusiness corporations, is responsible (according to IPCC) for as much as a quarter of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions; and, despite its enormous productivity and success in attending to the food requirements of vast numbers of people, it has become increasingly a concern (e.g., within UN-related bodies) that this system is unsustainable and failing to realize the right to food security for many others. In contrast, agroecology is an approach to farming, informed by a body of scientific knowledge that is in continuity with some traditional forms of agricultural knowledge, that helps to safeguard the right to food security for many people for whom this right is not being realized today, and that is sustainable, minimizes greenhouse gas emissions, and (more generally) is fostered by social movements aiming to strengthen the values of social justice, food sovereignty, democratic participation and environmental sustainability. I will discuss the strategies of scientific research adopted in agroecology, the role of the just stated values in choosing to adopt them, the sound empirical credentials of this research and its results, and the prospects for the expansion of agroecology.


Friday, April 24

Morning Keynote Address, 9 to 10 a.m.

Increasingly, there is interest in quantifying the extent to which extreme weather events, such as heat waves and floods, can be attributed to rising greenhouse gas concentrations. Climate scientists, however, disagree about which methods should be used for this purpose; some favor a risk-based approach, inspired by methods in epidemiology, while others advocate a quite different ‘storyline’ approach. I will provide an overview of this methodological debate and offer two different interpretations of the roles that values are playing in it, one focused on inductive risk and the other focused on research aims. I will also explore whether a proposed pluralist solution to the debate – calling for the use of both methods – might create further problems for the public credibility of climate science.


Morning Panel, 10:20 a.m. to 12:20 p.m.

In several papers, I explain how Probabilistic Weather Event Attribution studies (PEAs) work, and explore various ways they can be used to aid in climate policy decisions and decision-making about climate justice issues (e.g. how to effectively deal with climate refugee cases). In this paper, I will critically evaluate the limitations of PEAs and consider whether or not it is ethical for PEA researchers to attribute responsibility to specific countries for specific extreme weather events, and to make claims about liability for losses and damages due to those events as they do. In particular, I will focus on showing that PEAs routinely presuppose that the methods they use aren’t prone to inductive risks and presuppose that PEA researchers thus have no epistemic consequences or responsibilities. I will argue that although PEAs are nevertheless crucially useful for practical decision-making, the “attributions” of liability made by PEA researchers are in fact prone to indicative risks and are driven by value judgments that PEA researchers should make transparent to make such studies more ethical. The paper will conclude with a discussion of the implications of my argument for the ongoing and very influential debate about how PEAs should guide climate policy and relevant legal decisions, and critical reflection on the implications for Evelyn Fox Keller’s argument in “Climate science, truth, and democracy.”


Morning Panel, 10:20 a.m. to 12:20 p.m.

The inclusion of members of the lay public in the conduct of scientific research has gained prominence in some fields of science and received attention in science and technology studies. A handful of proposals have been made regarding how to categorize and what to prioritize about including members of the public in research, but theory of participatory research is still very limited. In this paper, we survey two approaches to delimiting varieties of participatory research, and then build upon both approaches to advocate a more general framework for classifying and assessing approaches to participatory research. In our view, relevant variables in approaches to participatory research include level of public participation in the research, the epistemic and ethical advantages of public participation, and degree of overlap in public participants' and researchers’ goals.


Morning Panel, 10:20 a.m. to 12:20 p.m.

Democratic view theorists contend that if social values are going to be used in science, then the public or its representatives should select the values. To show that this is plausible, democratic view theorists appeal to examples of science-oriented activism or scientific efforts at public engagement. However, it is not clear that the values gathered through such efforts would be politically legitimate, or what political legitimacy amounts to on the democratic view. To remedy this shortcoming, I appeal to deliberative democracy in order to formulate a notion of political legitimacy friendly to the democratic view. I then demonstrate that this notion of legitimacy may permit a wider set of social values to legitimacy influence policy-relevant science than is often supposed.


Afternoon Panel, 1 to 3:40 p.m.

It has become increasingly uncontroversial that ethical and social value judgments (often referred to as non-epistemic value judgments) can play roles throughout the scientific research process. Yet, if scientists must make value judgments, which value judgments should be endorsed and (perhaps even more importantly) who should decide? I compare and contrast two approaches that might guide individual scientists and scientific communities. The first approach, the “value-management model” (informed by Helen Logino’s critical contextual empiricism) encourages a multitude of research projects, methodological approaches, and evidentiary standards informed by the diverse and representative range of values held by citizens. While this approach is attractive for a variety of reasons, I defend a second approach: “the social justice model.” This second approach, informed by feminist standpoint theory and decolonialist philosophers of science, involves an explicit commitment to social justice as a central aim of science and requires scientists and scientific communities to critically examine and challenge the ways in which power can shape both epistemic and social practices. This approach does have the consequence that certain values and interests may be contingently privileged, but I argue that a commitment to these ethical values is actually consistent with (and perhaps even mandated by) a commitment to the importance of a democratic pluralistic society.


Afternoon Panel, 1 to 3:40 p.m.

Feminist philosophers of science have long argued for the importance of bringing feminist perspectives into scientific research. Proponents of citizen science argue for the importance of bringing the public into science. A key claim in both cases is that broadening participation in science will improve the quality of the resulting science. In this paper, I set aside what might be regarded as ancillary or indirect benefits (such as the social benefits that flow from having more women in science, or the increased public understanding of science that might be the result of citizen science) and focus narrowly on direct benefits to scientific research itself. I argue that we can distinguish three respects in which both feminist philosophers and proponents of citizen science think science can be improved through greater inclusion: epistemically (yielding more accurate or precise knowledge), ethically (grounding science in values that are more informed or ethically superior), and politically (grounding science in values that are politically legitimate). Comparing case studies from the two literatures, my tentative conclusion is that the epistemic and ethical reasons to bring feminist and citizen perspectives into science are similar in important respects. But the political reasons to bring the public into science are quite different from the political reasons to bring feminist voices into science. Put another way: incorporating the public and incorporating feminist voices can both increase the legitimacy of the resulting science, but they do so in importantly different ways.


Afternoon Panel, 1 to 3:40 p.m.

Community science—scientific investigation conducted partly or entirely by non-professional scientists—has many advantages. For example, community science mobilizes large numbers of volunteers who can, at very low cost, collect far more data than traditional teams of professional scientists. Participation in research can also increase volunteers’ knowledge about and appreciation of science. At the same time, there are worries about the quality of data that community science projects produce. Can the work of non-professionals really deliver trustworthy results? In recent years, this has become a scientific research question in its own right. Attempts to answer this question generally compare data collected by volunteers to data collected by professional scientists. When volunteer data is more variable or less accurate than professionally collected data, then the community science project is judged to be inferior to traditional science.

I argue that this is not the right standard to use when evaluating community science, because it relies on a false assumption about the aims of science. If you think that science aims at truth (or significant truth), then research techniques that yield less accurate data are worse at satisfying the aim of science than research techniques that yield more accurate data. But, as Angela Potochnik (2015) has argued, science has a diverse and open-ended set of aims which are sometimes in tension with one another. I show that on this view of the aims of science, the success and quality of a community science project depends on much more than the accuracy of the data collected by volunteers. Thus, it doesn’t make sense to evaluate community science simply by comparing its outputs to the outputs of traditional research.


Afternoon Panel, 1 to 3:40 p.m.

Conservative critics of mainstream climate science and environmental health science often "weaponize" traditional scientific virtues to manufacture doubt and slow the regulatory process. For example, climate skeptics appeal to Popperian falsifiability and Mertonian norms such as organized skepticism, arguing that mainstream climate science is unfalsifiable and propped up through closed scientific communities. The "Secret Science Reform Act," which was passed by the US House of Representatives in both 2014 and 2015, would have prohibited US EPA from using "scientific technical information" unless it was "publicly available online in a manner that is sufficient for independent analysis and substantial reproduction of research results."

These rhetorical appeal to traditional scientific virtues make it difficult to dismiss these anti-environmentalists as "anti-science." Indeed, the effect of these appeals is to represent anti-environmentalists as defenders of science from the threats of politicization.

I first argue that this kind of appeal to scientific virtues depends on a "narrowly epistemic" conception of the aims of scientific research. On this conception, the sole constitutive aim of science is to produce impartial knowledge. Other aims — such as protecting human health and the environment — are less important. The traditional scientific virtues reflect this strict separation of constitutive epistemic aims and practical uses of science.

I go on to propose an alternative conception of the aims of scientific research, according to which epistemic and pragmatic aims of science can be equally important and mutually influencing. This view of the aims of science supports an alternative understanding of scientific virtues. On this understanding, when traditional scientific "virtues" are weaponized by conservative anti-environmentalists — when they are used to delay protective regulation, frustrating the constitutive pragmatic aims of a scientific field — they are actually vices rather than virtues.


Afternoon Keynote Address, 4 to 5 p.m.

Both scientists and philosophers have recently emphasized the importance of promoting transparency in science. Under the auspices of the open science movement, the scientific community has been promoting transparency as a way to promote reproducibility, progress, trust, and public access to research results. Meanwhile, philosophers of science have been promoting transparency as a strategy for responding in a responsible fashion to the value-ladenness of scientific research and the diverse interests of stakeholders.

Nevertheless, the concept of transparency merits much more careful analysis. Scientists can be transparent about many different things, including data, methods, code, values, conflicts of interest, and value judgments. Moreover, transparency can be pursued for many different reasons, and transparency initiatives designed to serve the needs of some stakeholders (e.g., members of the scientific community) may be designed poorly for serving the needs of other stakeholders. Transparency initiatives can also be exploited for harmful purposes, such as harassing scientists or reanalyzing data in misleading ways.

This paper attempts to bring greater clarity to discussions about transparency in science. Using a contemporary case study involving conflicts over chronic Lyme Disease, it clarifies different forms of transparency in science that can serve different social goals. Moreover, it shows how a system of activities by a range of different individuals and institutions can help achieve meaningful forms of transparency for the wide range of stakeholders who draw on scientific information.


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